Have you ever been physically incapacitated? Unable to move on your own? It’s often a condition of life that assign to the very young and the very old, but I had a brush with it a decade ago. I broke my tibia in half playing soccer while in seminary, and they casted my leg from toes to the middle of my upper leg. The cast kept my toes angled down, so I couldn’t even put my foot flat on the ground. Even with crutches, it was initially impossible to walk unassisted.
The worst part was that I couldn’t get up from a seated position on my own for the first week. Needed to go to the bathroom? Had to call for help. Wanted something to drink? Had to call for help. Wanted to find the remote, read a book, stop lying in the bed staring at the ceiling? Had to call for help.
That lasted for about a week to a week and a half. I thought I was going to lose my mind! When they finally let me walk on my foot, I remember trudging between the stacks in the archives section of the seminary library: I was going to do anything to get better, to get back to walking, and driving, and standing up!
But my incapacitation was temporary- I had hope that it would change.
What happens when there’s no hope?
In our Scripture today, Jesus arrives at a pool called Bethesda. The pool is known for all of the people who are suffering, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed, who are brought here to the waters. They come here because they want to get in the water, because an angel of the Lord stirs the water, and the those who enter while the water is moving are healed.
Here’s their chance, their hope, their opportunity!
Jesus meets a man who has been unable to care for himself for thirty-eight years. He tells Jesus that whenever the water moves, he tries to reach it, but there’s no one to help him. Whoever brought him to the pool, in an action of compassion or pity, has forgotten about him; he is thisclose to but he’ll never make it.
The hope has been offered to him, but it dangles just outside of reach.
And in one moment, his life changes forever. Jesus tells this unnamed man to “get up, take his mat, and walk.” In the blink of an eye, this man goes from being helpless to well. He is leaving the pool and taking his mat with him because he’s not coming back! This is not a temporary cure or a quick fix, this is a permanent restoration by Jesus that makes him whole.
This is a miracle.
The thing about miracles is that there are always miracle squashers. Now, this man had to have been a known commodity: he’s been unable to move for thirty-eight years! We figure he has to have been known to the people of Bethseda for awhile. But Jesus healed him on a Saturday, so he’s carrying his mat on a Saturday… which is “work.”
So, the religious-political leaders stop him and fuss at him. They want to see his papers. They want to know why he’s carrying his mat. They want to know why he’s not following the law.
Seriously? This guy was lifeless, hopeless, broken, and isolated, and a stranger befriended him, he can walk, and you want to know why he’s carrying his mat?
[Sidebar: Do we ever miss the point in church? That is all.]
So he tells these guys, who he is supposed to be mortally afraid of: “Look, this guy healed me, and he told me to take my mat, so I’m taking my mat!”
Well, he didn’t get Jesus’ name, because, well, he was just too excited to be walking! So the Pharisees have no idea who to pin this on (yet) and the man goes to the Temple, probably to sacrifice, to thank God for this miracle.
Where Jesus shows up and tells him to make sure he doesn’t sin. So that nothing worse will happen to him!
Imagine that: immobilized for thirty-eight years, I’m sure you get to the point where you think, “seriously, what’s the worst that could happen?” And Jesus shows up and says, “that may have been bad, but sinning, breaking God’s law by not loving, that can be worse!”
Again, Jesus shows up and heals the body and urges the man to keep his soul well, too.
Jesus gave this man hope and dignity and the ability to walk. Jesus gave him what he knew he needed first: the man knew he couldn’t walk, but sinning was probably the last thing on his mind. So he took care of the “felt needs” first, and then worried about the preaching later.
My former missions professor in seminary, Darryl Whiteman, talked about being a missionary, and arriving in a town in Papa New Guinea and boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the natives. Of course, the natives… looked at him like he was crazy and went about their lives.
When Whiteman figured out, what I’m sure many missionaries figured out, that there was a shortage of water and medicine, and he helped them build a well and get some medical supplies, suddenly, the natives paid incredible amounts of attention to Whiteman and his family.
The missionary breakthrough was in taking care of what they needed, in gaining their trust, and then they were ready to hear the message. They knew that he cared, they knew they could trust him, and then they knew that his message was important, too.
Jesus heals this guy physically and then he heals him spiritually. He didn’t stop and look down and go, “wow, stinks to be you, and by the way, God wants you to love and obey him!” No, he took care of the man’s immediate problem and then he launched into the eternal, everlasting, spiritual part of it.
I wonder what it would look like if we, individually and as a church, took care of people’s immediate problems. I don’t mean to enable them, to keep funneling money and time into things that won’t last, but to show them that they mattered, that there was hope, that they weren’t alone.
I know that my Facebook “friend” list is full of people I’m not even sure I know. That’s the ironic thing about “friending” someone these days. But the truth is that real friendship, real compassion, happens when someone is known and knows that they matter.
What acts of kindness, service, and compassion can you perform in the next few weeks so that when you invite someone to church on Easter, that they will know you really care? How can you shows that this love thing isn’t just skin deep, isn’t just about “doing the right thing,” but is actually a way of life for you where you care about them as a person?
My friends, there are people waiting by “pools” everywhere, hoping that someone will stop and share a kindness with them, to help them get in, to acknowledge they exist, to remind them that they are loved and not alone.
Facebook would have you believe that friendship is merely a click away. But real friendship rises through shared storms, jointly carried burdens, problems overcome, late night conversations, and a willingness to put the other person above ourselves. Sometimes, it’s as simple as stopping to take a moment to assess a situation that someone else can’t solve for themselves.
In Pay It Forward we see that real friendship looked a lot like solving a problem for someone that they couldn’t solve for themselves. It looked like helping a person get unstuck from the thing that they couldn’t fix on their own. It looked a lot like recognizing that a man who couldn’t walk needed healing but couldn’t get in a pool.
Would you stop and help if you had the power? Do you recognize the power in you to make a difference? Would you be willing to give of yourself to make someone else whole?
Jesus said, “No greater love has a man than this, that he lay his life down for his friends.” Admittedly, Jesus was going to die on the cross for his friends (and everyone else). But are we significantly doing anything to better anyone else’s life? Are we willing to make sacrifices so that our friends, families, and even neighbors might meet God? Are we able to put the emphasis on them because we see them the way God does?
Jesus changed a complete stranger’s life absolutely. He stopped, noticed him, and did what he could. Isn’t that what we want from our friends? Can we do that for each other?
Will you be that kind of friend today?
I’d like us to practice it. Here are a few suggestions. Ask someone near you what’s the opportunity they had this week to see God move. Share a concern about your upcoming week with them. Then, take a few moments to pray. (Take time to do those).
Friends put themselves aside to pick up the other. Jesus was good at making friends, in deeper ways than clicking ‘like’.
In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Do you think people understood that when he said it, or was is just as strange to them then? Do you think after he died, and they reflected on what he said about heaven and a relationship with God, that it made more sense? Do you think they considered what they did in this life and how it might matter in the next?
Jesus, passing by, stops and singles out this thirty-eight-year paralytic. One of a “great number” of people waiting to get in. But the act of kindness, the stopping to speak, the acknowledgment of the man’s existence, and the willingness to do something about it, that changed everything.
Jesus befriended the man. Jesus ‘be a friend’ to him. He healed him! But that was nothing compared to the opportunity Jesus would later give him, to be right with God forever, when Jesus died on the cross.
Will you be that kind of friend today? Will you recognize the calling of Jesus to practice the shema, “to love the Lord your God with your heart, mind, and strength,” and “to love your neighbor as yourself?” And recognize that in those moments, when we serve each other, when we recognize those lying on the fringes, waiting to be loved, that we have done just a foreshadowing, a faint glimmer, of the most excellent way that Jesus showed?
Be a friend. Put yourself aside for a moment. Meet Jesus in the process.
That’s worth clicking “like.”