LINK: John 5
If you were paralyzed wouldn't you long to be set free? This chapter begins with a man who is paralyzed, who has lain beside the healing pool of Bethesda (which means "house of mercy") for thirty-eight years, hoping to somehow make it into the pool for healing when the waters are stirred. He has no one to help him so others always get there first. Yet he remains, helpless, and I suspect, hopeless.
Jesus finds him there and asks him if he wants to be healed. When I read that, I wondered why Jesus asked him that. Isn't it obvious that he does? The man answers that he has no one to help him into the water of healing. Jesus replies, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." And the man does. Just as simple as that.
But this is a problem for the Pharisees. It's the Sabbath and there are rules upon rules of what may and may not be done on the Sabbath, which God had prescribed as a day of rest. The Pharisees had taken that delight and made it a nit-picky hardship for the Jews. They had taken a mercy and made it into binding ropes. There was a rule against carrying things and so the Pharisees, seeing the man carrying his mat, reprove him and when they find out that Jesus is the one who healed, renew their persecution of Him. Jesus doesn't get into a squabble over words with them - but instead points out that His Father always works - a wonderful reference to God's continuing care and sustenance of all.
What follows in the chapter is a long discourse by Jesus. He declares himself equal with God the Father - saying that if people don't honor Him, they are not honoring the Father. He reiterates that He is the giver of life - and that that is the reason He has come. Jesus reprimands the Pharisees and points out that they have had many witnesses to the truth that He is God. John the Baptist testified that Jesus was God; Jesus' own works (actions) show that He is who He says He is; the Father Himself testifies; their own Scriptures point to Jesus as the life giver; even Moses, "in whom their hopes are set," wrote about Jesus. Yet they have not believed. They are paralyzed by their pride - they care more for the praise that comes from men than God's praise. They look to themselves for life and find death.
I can't help being struck by the juxtaposition in this chapter of the man at the pool of Bethesda and the Pharisees. Jesus' discourse to the self-sufficient Pharisees follows the account of a helpless man who longs for mercy. That man, knowing himself to be helpless, came to "the place of mercy" and waited for thirty-eight years - hoping against hope that someone outside himself would help him so that he could be healed, be freed from the paralysis that bound his body.
The Pharisees, who were as helpless spiritually as that man was physically, who'd been brought to the "place of mercy" by the Scriptures, by Moses, by John the Baptist - didn't realize it! If Jesus had asked them (as He did the paralyzed man), "Do you want to be healed?" their answer would have been that they didn't need healing! There they were, paralyzed by their own sin and pride, and they didn't know it. They didn't want help and mercy, because they didn't think they needed it. They were content to live in bondage to themselves and other people rather than admit they were helpless, bound, and unable to set themselves free.
We are often locked into seeing the Pharisees as legalists (which they were) and forget to see them as self-sufficient people who prided themselves in having the answers. It also was important to them what others thought of them! It's easy for us to get caught up in those traps, too.
Jesus is the "place of mercy" for us all. The trouble is, many of us don't think we need mercy and grace. We think we are fine just as we are. We compare themselves with others and think we measure up - not realizing we are paralyzed people comparing ourselves to others who are helpless.
Jesus came that we might have life. Right now and forever. Are you like the paralyzed man, helpless and hopeless in sin, needing to be made whole? Jesus, in His mercy, will heal you and set you free. Or are you like the Pharisees, confronted with mercy, yet thinking yourself capable and self-sufficient? I hope not.
So I'll ask the question again: If you were paralyzed wouldn't you long to be set free?
Believe Jesus. It's that simple.
It is easy, Lord, to fall into the trap of the Pharisees - to trust in myself rather than in You - to want to see myself as capable and worthy rather than as helpless, to care more what others think of me than what you think. Help me to rest in your loving mercy always. I am so thankful that you have set me free from the burden of myself and given me life. Also, if there's someone who is reading this who knows she is helpless, who longs for spiritual healing, please reveal yourself to her, so that she can receive mercy and be made whole.