In Jerusalem there was a pool around which a great number of disabled people used to lie. Here one would find the paralyzed; the blind waiting for a chance to get into the pool. The name of the pool was Bethesda: House of Mercy. Tradition held it that the waters of the pool had special healing properties for the first person to enter once the waters had been stirred. Those who gathered here had more than a disability in common: they have all placed their faith in the healing properties of the waters in the pool. And so, there they would lay waiting for the opportunity to be the first to enter. Among them was a paralyzed man who had been in that condition for 38 years. He had been there for such a long time, that he had almost forgotten why he was there in the first place.
It was to the House of Mercy that Jesus went when he next found Himself in Jerusalem. The place was well-known as a gathering place for the sick and disabled. By now, Jesus had already proven His power to heal. Yet, He does not enter the pool area and declare everyone healed, but being the express image of God, He singles out one man in order to show him mercy. According to verse 14, most scholars deduct that the man was suffering from a paralyzing disease because of some sin he had been caught up in. It appeared he had long ago given up hope of being healed. Jesus introduces Himself to this man with a question: “Do you want to get well?” Surprisingly the man’s first response is not an emphatic “Yes!”, but instead a list of excuses that sound almost defensive, as if he assumed Jesus’ question was an accusation. No one is there to help him into the pool. Others always get in ahead of him. He stands no chance. The reason he is not well is because of all the above-mentioned factors. He never said yes to the question of Jesus, but instead used the opportunity to voice his complaints and shift the blame.
Jesus by-passes his sinful history, his blame-shifting as well as his misguided faith in the waters of the pool, and very simply says, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Mercy Himself entered the House of Mercy that day. Mercy looked beyond the man’s weaknesses and failures, so that immediately the man was healed, picked up his mat and walked. Mercy still does the same for us today.
There was a little problem, however. This miraculous act of kindness took place on a Sabbath, so it wasn’t very long before the local religious police patrolling the area noticed the healed man walking with his mat on a Sabbath day. The interrogation began without delay. It didn’t matter that this man was given another chance at a normal life. No, this was insignificant. Nor did it matter that his healing was evidently miraculous, giving much reason for rejoicing because of such goodness shown to him. No, all that mattered was that the healed man was carrying his mat around on a Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath, according to these leaders, was much more important than showing kindness to others. When it came to Sabbath keeping, people were of less importance. According to the thought pattern of these leaders, God made the Sabbath in His image and not man. So the next important step in their investigation was to find the man responsible for telling someone to carry his mat on a Sabbath. When they finally found Jesus, they questioned Him. However, they were left the worse for it, because His response only aggravated their anger. In responding to them, He was “making Himself equal with God”. Because of this “the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him.”
There is such a thing as wilful blindness which is evident here in the way the Jewish leaders responded to the sign of the paralyzed man’s healing. They ignored what was staring them right in the face: what happened to this man was a miracle –a display of God’s power, but all they preferred to see was that a Sabbath law was being broken. Instead of the sign provoking faith in them, it fuelled a murderous plot against Jesus.
This sign points us to the fact that Jesus came precisely for those people who cannot help themselves. This man could not help himself into the pool. He needed someone else to do it for him. Jesus did for this man what he couldn’t do for himself, and He didn’t even use the pool. He still does the same today for those who realise that they need help from an outside source in order to get out of the predicament their sin has helped them in –the source being God.
The Jews missed the sign and where it pointed to because they were more concerned with religious rule-keeping than the wellbeing of their neighbour. Religious fanatics like these still have many successors even today. “…rigid moralists, ramrod stiff with righteous rectitude. There is never any doubt about their dogmatically asserted position. But their principles are hammers that crack skulls and bruise flesh. The world makes a wide circuit around such persons. It is very dangerous to be in their company for very long, for if they detect any mental weakness or moral wavering in us, we will be lucky to escape without at least a headache (Eugene H Peterson). There was just no room in them to rejoice with others. They placed every kind deed under a microscope for analysis to see if it matched their preconceived ideas of how God should be working. Anything that happens outside of the confines of their religious boxes are ignored or scoffed at or persecuted. As a result, they miss God and His action among ordinary human beings, transforming their very ordinary lives into lives on fire for the love of Christ. They miss all that and in many cases, that’s precisely the ignorance they prefer. It’s better to make a lie their refuge than to be challenged with the truth that God may not be operating according to their prescriptions and might, in fact, be doing things without asking their permission.