Maybe it’s because my ankle reconstruction recovery seems slow, we recently received the diagnosis that my dad will be battling cancer for the third time, and I am facing my 8th eye surgery, but sometimes it seems like everyone else is being blessed and I have a target on my back.
My dear friend, Stephan Tchividjian, shared a new interpretation of an old, familiar Bible story recently and the thought he shared keeps returning to my mind. The layers of complexity and nuance he found in this story have been revelatory to me in this intense season of physical challenges.
The story is the one of the lame man by the healing pool of Bethesda in John 5:1-17. As the story begins, we are told this pool is a place of healing where many lame and disabled people gather waiting for the “water to be stirred” and it’s healing properties made available to them should they enter it. Then, the focus of the story turns to one disabled man in particular who has been laying by the pool for 38 years and had not gotten into the water to be healed. Jesus approaches him and asks if he wants to be healed, and the man’s response is a laundry list of reasons why it’s never happened. Instead of responding to the man’s excuses, Jesus tells him to get up and walk. After 38 years of sitting by the healing pool, the man was healed by Jesus right where he was.
What we have to remember about this story is that it’s not a compassion story. Yes, Jesus has compassion and heals, but this is also a beautiful illustration.
What’s the point of this illustration? Jesus is trying to get his disciples—and even us today—to understand the heart of God. Jesus is always teaching the disciples. He’s trying to get them to understand that after He’s gone, they will need to be prepared to carry on the massive task of continuing Jesus’ work—and to do it to the ends of the earth! He’s gently illustrating, “Do it like this—this is how to be my hands and feet.”
I have to say, though, it probably felt like a pretty bad day for the guy sitting next to the man who was healed that day. As we know from the story, there were many disabled people waiting for healing. Therefore, we can assume some of them watched as this lame man was healed by Jesus, but found themselves still sitting there, unhealed and as helpless as before.
People, pastors, ministries—we do this often. We wonder why God has chosen to bless someone else, but not me or the church or ministry I am a part of. We compare and wonder why other people were chosen, and we were passed over.
Here’s what I think Jesus wanted us to learn from this story:
- Be honest with your circumstance. Clearly the lame man in the story was stuck, and making excuses about why. We, too, are lame in sin. Too often we aren’t honest with ourselves, making excuses for why we don’t take the time to see where it is that we’re stuck. We must be humble enough to admit where we are and figure out what needs to change. We must fight off the temptation to feast on toxic thoughts and focus on recognizing our situation for what it is. Satan is deceptive, but patience is a weapon that forces deception to reveal itself. The man may have been lame for 38 years, and made a lot of excuses as to why he was still there waiting for healing instead of getting in the pool, but he was still waiting.
- Be humble with your ability. You can’t fix everything. There are many times in life where we have to realize our own limits and release things to God who gives us the power to operate in His strength. We need to stop trying to prove to God that we can do everything ourselves—let go, and let Him do His work in us.
- Be hopeful with your Savior. One of the most powerful realizations about this story is that the lame man’s hope isn’t in the pool, it’s in his Savior. So many today seek healing through regimens and “right living” and fail to recognize that Jesus is right here in our midst giving us the strength to face any trial. There were many times over the 38 years the man laid waiting for his healing that he saw the water stirred and others get the healing he desired, but didn’t go for it himself. When Jesus said a few simple words to this lame man, he got right up, grabbed his mat, and walked right out of there, telling everyone what happened. Knowing the Source of permanent and lasting healing, that goes beyond the physical, is worth waiting for.
When I get frustrated with my ankle and devastated about Dad’s cancer, this story reminds me that God doesn’t promise an easy life just because we follow Him. When we hit hard times, we have to surrender early, recognize that we belong to God, and that He is faithful. I choose to put myself in the position of the man that was sitting next to the lame man who was healed. Instead of allowing myself to feel like I just had a really bad day because someone else was healed and I wasn’t, I am going to look through eyes of faith and see that if healing is possible for him through Jesus, then it is possible for me through Jesus.
There’s nothing I can do to fix my own ankle or eyes, or Dad’s cancer, or the suffering of the world. All I can do is pray, trust, hope, and wait in faith, knowing all of this is in God’s hands. The earlier I surrender my own striving to change things I can’t change, the better able I am to remain in hope and faith in the long run. This surrender is what it means to be a follower of Christ. Others are watching—they will see how I respond differently when trouble comes. Instead of looking at my infirmity or the others being carried to the pool and blessed with healing, my prayer is, in all circumstances, I recognize that Jesus—the ultimate healer, the author, perfector and finisher of my faith—is with me.