Today, I happened to read John 5:1-9. It’s about the man who sat by one of the five porticoes by the Sheep Gate. There was a pool called Beth-zatha, and he was sitting with others who had ailments and needed healing. When Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed, he answered that no one was available to put him into the pool when the water was stirred up. When he attempted to move in by himself, others went ahead of him.
Many commentaries and notes blame the man for not taking enough initiative or for making excuses. I might have thought the same had I not sat in the Emergency Room not too long ago with a middle-aged woman who had unexpectedly lost her mother to a heart attack due to blood sugar over 1500.
Carey (not her real name) was crying so hard in the family waiting room that she began to sweat profusely. We brought her water and finally, a cool washcloth to wipe her forehead. When I asked her if she had anyone I should call to be with her, she responded, “No. I don’t have anyone. My mother was all I had.” Her father had died when she was fourteen. Her husband had divorced her eighteen months before and taken custody of their son. Her grown daughter had moved away and was not in communication with the family. Her brother was alienated from the family. Her uncle lived several states away and could not afford to come. Her mother’s best friend had just had major surgery. Her mother had been her best friend, and now she was gone.
When I read the words, “I don’t have anyone to help me into the water,” I have a new understanding of that kind of aloneness. No friends. No family. Everyone else looking out for themselves. Jesus came along and showed interest. He asked the man a question that was so basic, and yet, I bet no one else had even cared to ask it: "Do you want to be made well?"
I can’t imagine having no one. Can you imagine being ill for 38 years and having no one ask you if you needed a ride to the doctor? If there was anything they could do to help? Maybe they had asked. Maybe the man was unreliable. Maybe he was mentally ill. Maybe he was simply a pain the neck. And yet, Jesus, in that moment, became his friend. Jesus showed interest, cared and then healed him. A little while later Jesus did say to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.”
Well, that was pretty blunt. Was this man’s condition due to sin? I don’t think so. I think Jesus was saying, “You have a new life. A clean slate. Use it well. There are things worse than being an invalid…” Like being lost in the crowd. Like having no one. Like wasting the gift that was given to him. Interesting, that word “invalid.” Pronounce it differently, and you will see “invalid” as being worthless. That would be far more devastating than any illness...