Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Gospel: John 5:1-18
Can you see him? He is a man without a name. He lies on his mat there in one of the porticos at the Pool of Beth-zatha in Jerusalem. We are told that the unnamed man had been ill for 38 years, but we’re kept in the dark about his exact affliction. We can reasonably conclude that he had great difficulty walking if he could walk at all. He braved the enormous crowds gathered in Jerusalem for a religious festival, with the little mobility that he had, hoping to reach what he believed was a source for the healing of his sick body.
The helplessness he felt in not being able to reach the pool and the hopelessness of the debilitating illness were exacerbated each time he was stepped over and pushed aside by the other invalids who were seeking their chance at healing in the pool’s waters. The man’s failure to reach the pool was not due to his lack of trying. He was desperately trying to tap into the mode of healing, and so was everyone else. It was every man for himself, trying to save himself.
The sense of urgency to reach the pool was high because it was believed that when the water was “stirred up” that it was being stirred up by an angel of the Lord. The first person to get into the pool when the water was stirred-up, would experience healing. Even though no one could predict exactly when the water would be stirred up, there was a hopeful expectation, that it would be at some point. Anyone focused on “being ready” whenever the pool would be stirred up, would be focused on little else. Certainly, there would be little concern for helping one’s neighbor into the pool. There’s an “ancient” saying that might be properly applied to this scenario—“You snooze, you lose.”
The stranger, Jesus, made his way through the crowd, and said to the man, “Do you want to be made well?” The man replied with frustration, wrapped in what might easily be labeled as an excuse, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and even when I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” I imagine the man looked up at the stranger, and thought to himself, “Is this guy for real? Has he seen me? I’m in pretty bad shape. Of course, I want to be made well.
This question, “Do you want to be made well?” was deeper than whether or not the man wanted restoration of his physical body. “Do you want to be made well,” is a soul question, asked by the source of eternal life and answered through the depths of this man’s soul.
The Greek word for “made well” is the word Sozo, which means “to save.” When Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to be made well?” he was asking, “Do you want to be saved from illness?” “Do you want to be saved from your spiritual suffering?” Do you want to be saved from the oppressive Scribal Law that forbids you to carry your empty bed, from one place to another on the Sabbath? There’s no doubt that the man’s illness enslaved him physically, but it was the Jewish Scribal Law that paralyzed him.
On the one hand, the law kept him from taking up his mat and moving it from place, making it impossible on this day to find a more favorable location closer to the pool. On the other hand, it is because of his less-than-optimal positioning to the pool waters that he was uniquely positioned to engage in the life-restoring encounter with Jesus.
So often in the healing narratives throughout the Gospels the afflicted person, or the person asking for healing on behalf of a loved one, came to Jesus, and Jesus told them, “Your faith has made you well.” In this narrative, there is no mention of the man’s pre-existing faith. It was Jesus who initiated the encounter by going to the man and meeting him where he was—shackled to his mat by Sabbath law.
The power of Jesus’ words, “Stand up, take your mat and walk,” at once made the man well, and he did as Jesus commanded. The combination of Jesus’ commands, which disregarded Sabbath Law, and the man’s obedience to those commands, transformed the man into a walking, talking SIGN—a sign that pointed not to the pool, but to Jesus, the one through whom all things are made well.
This passage is a powerful reminder that we must not be fixed on temporal, fleeting modes of healing, like the “stirred-up” pool. The man was so fixed on getting into the pool that he was unable to recognize the ultimate healer standing before him.
Just as Jesus went to the man and met him where he was, Jesus seeks each one of us out to meet us right where we are, just as we are in our daily lives, to liberate us from the human condition of suffering that can make one’s soul feel paralyzed.
This scripture reminds us of the truth that we are powerless to heal our own brokenness. We cannot save ourselves. We can’t make ourselves well. But there is a sense of urgency for us to “get ready” for Jesus’ return when all of creation will be “stirred up” and all who believe him will be saved from death through the SOURCE of all healing.
Jesus came into the world so that we might have life and have it abundantly. May we, empowered by the Holy Spirit, have the courage to stand up; take up our mats and boldly walk in newness of life. And, may we all be restored to wholeness and made well in Christ Jesus.