Summary: A look at the paralized man at the pool of Bethesda.
Caught in a hurricane or the aftermath of one… how would you cope if you lost everything? Folks do rally, but one wonders how we’d react. Surely some simply cave in.
Ever been in a situation that you thought was absolutely hopeless? Physical, relational, financial.
Scuba story – being stuck and nearly dying in the ocean off Va Beach
How about you? What was your reaction? To work harder, or to give up? Probably says something about our personality, perhaps about our faith and our view of God too.
Picture the scene – like a hospital ward – sick people all around. Tradition has it that an angel would come down from time to time and stir the waters and the first person who could get down into the water would be healed of whatever their ailment was. Not sure whether or not a healing ever happened.
Can’t you just imagine kids from Jerusalem High School throwing rocks into the pool from over the fence… making folks jump into the water?
We are told that he was there for 38 years. Think about it. 38 years is a long time to be doing anything. To put it in some perspective:
Elvis married Priscilla in 1967
Israel captured all of Jerusalem – 6-day war
Bart Starr and the Packers beat the KC Chiefs in Super Bowl 1
Beatles release Sgt Pepper album
Cool Hand Luke and the Graduate were two of the top films
Viet Nam War in full swing
Riots in Newark, Harlem and Detroit
3 Astronauts killed on Apollo 1 in pre-launch fire
George Thurgood Marshall first black justice on Supreme Court
Cost of a postage stamp: 5 cents.
And in 1967 Carl Corson turned 16 and got his driver’s license
So this guy is sitting by a pool for 38 years. Jesus comes into the picture and surveys the situation. He is aware how long this guy has been there. But rather than healing him, he asks him a question. “Do you want to get well?”
What kind of question is that? Doesn’t it seem obvious that this guy would want to get well? After all, he is lying beside a pool that was purported to heal people.
Perhaps. But Jesus asked the question for a reason. And he expected a response. We may think it was a silly question, but Jesus didn’t. There were some dynamics in play that made it a really good question.
This guy is really emblematic of 2 kinds of people. One kind is the person who wants things to be different but is investing in the wrong hope. The other kind is the person who finds themselves in a predicament and decides that they don’t want to change.
Let’s look at the first kind of person. Let’s assume that our friend at the pool, and let’s call him Thaddeus, really did want his situation to change. He really did want to get well.
What was this guy’s plan? He tells Jesus that nobody will help him to get into the water when it is stirred up. Someone else gets there first. That is really unfortunate.
But before we feel lots of sympathy for this poor guy who is unable to get into the water, let’s think for a minute about his plan. He’s at a pool which presumably is the answer to his problem. But it is also the answer to everyone else’s problem. And one would imagine that at least some of those other folks are able-bodied enough to get in first. Yet he stays there, with this as his strategy. How many years would it take for you to figure out that this is a bad plan? Maybe a bit less than 38? This is a guy without any real hope and any real plan.
Dr. James Montgomery Boice in his commentary on John says that our friend Thad is “An eloquent symbol of the helpless spiritual state to which sin has brought all men and women.”
Thad’s situation is not ever going to change by hanging around that pool. You would think he has at least that much figured out by now. But still he stays. Presumably because he doesn’t have a better plan.
As Dr. Boice points out, this is a great picture of people without spiritual hope. You and I see it every day in family and friends. Thad trusted in a rumor about a pool and in invisible friends who would put him in when the water was stirred. How many of the people we know continue to trust in things that are doomed to fail?
Thad was trusting in “if only” and so are people today. Thad trusted “if only someone would help me”. As someone who has worked with teenagers for 30 years I see it all the time. “If only I can make that team.” “If only I can get into the right college.” “If only I could date him or her.” Then my life would be better. But trusting in “if only” is a pointless exercise. Because whatever we put in the space after “if only” is something that does not really change who and what we are fundamentally.