Among the crowds of afflicted people that Jesus sees this day in Jerusalem, the man that Jesus fixes his eyes upon is a loser, a cripple, and a seriously sinful man — not an ideal candidate for a miracle.
This man (I’ll call him Amasai) has been an invalid for 38 years — the greatest part of his life. If anything defines him, it is his paralysis. His legs have been paralyzed so long that they are thin, withered, atrophied. There was no strength in them at all.
Some invalids became beggars so they can eke out a living. Others engage in some trade, if they have the strength and manual dexterity to do so. But Amasai spends his days lying on a mat beside the public pool — waiting, useless, depressed. In the morning, someone carries him to the pool. In the evening, someone carries him home.
The Pool of Bethesda is just north of the temple walls. It consists of two pools fed by springs and runoff. The southern pool is shallow enough to wade in. Around the sides of the pool are tall columns that support a porch to make it bearable during the long, hot days.
Pilgrims to Jerusalem come to the pool to perform ablutions, acts of ceremonial cleansing. But most of the people at the pool this day are invalids — blind, lame, paralyzed.
They gather because of a legend that an angel will sometimes stir up the waters. The first invalid who can get into the waters after they are stirred up will be healed — so the story goes.
But there are scores, sometimes hundreds of the sick and lame waiting for such an occurrence. Many are regulars, each in his or her own spot — many in the shade somewhat back from the edge of the pool. On the irregular occasions when the water bubbles up, there is a mad rush to get in.
Amasai is never first, not even close. Because he is crippled, he needs help to move — and there is no one to help him. No friend to intervene and get him into the waters. So, though he comes day after day, Amasai is never healed.
On this particular day, as part of a divine appointment, Jesus leaves the temple and strides down to the Pool of Bethesda. He has been there before, but today he is looking for someone, the one his Father will point out to him. He approaches Amasai, dressed in rags, lying on his mat, trying to fill out his days.
No one recognizes Jesus — though he is well-known in Jerusalem by this time. So Jesus goes over to Amasai, squats down so he is closer to the crippled man’s eye-level, and asks him a question:
“Do you want to get well?”
What a foolish question! Of course, a sick man wants to be healed! But Jesus asks it anyway. There are people, you know, whose lives are so focused on their illness or their problem, that though they say they want to be freed from it, the attention they get, the pity they receive from others, conspires within them so that they really don’t want to get well after all.
By this question, Jesus is seeking to engage Amasai in conversation. He is probing to see if Amasai has faith for healing. But it’s pretty clear that faith isn’t really there.
“Sir,” Amasai says to Jesus, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Oh, woe is me! This is my sad story. The reason I’m not healed isn’t my fault. Nobody will help me. It’s their fault.
Jesus looks deep into Amasai’s soul. He doesn’t see great worth. He doesn’t see a man facing his illness with courage. He doesn’t even see a basically good person. Rather, Jesus sees an evil, chronic sin that is at the root of his illness. Amasai is a miserable, old, selfish sinner, who has no future, no hope — except for Jesus.
Jesus looks at him and then straightens up to his full height, and with a voice full of the authority of God says: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!”
And all-of-a-sudden — the Bible says, “immediately” — he is cured. Where Amasai has been weak and withered, suddenly he can feel strength flood into his body, into his legs. And he stands up! Then bends down to pick up the mat he has lain upon for so many years, tucks it under his arm, and begins to walk.
All around him people become aware that something has happened. There is a stir, and the people who can move, rush towards him.
Jesus backs up. He isn’t there to draw attention to himself. He is there to heal a man who doesn’t deserve it at all.
People are mobbing Amasai. As he tries to get out of the courtyard, some strict Jews, probably Pharisees, stop him. “It’s the Sabbath day,” they cackle. “You’re not allowed to carry anything — much less a bed — on God’s holy day. It’s against God’s Law!”
Amasai is taken aback. He reverts to his time-tested pattern and shifts the blame from himself to his Healer. “The man who healed me told me to pick up my mat and carry it.”
“Who is this?” they demand. “What is his name?”
“I don’t know,” says Amasai.
Later that day, or perhaps the next, Amasai goes to the temple to give thanks for his healing. Jesus is there, teaching under the covered Porch of Solomon that surrounds the temple grounds. Jesus spots Amasai, pauses his teaching, and comes over to him.
Now Jesus says something so unexpected that it troubles people to this very day: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
Stop sinning? It almost sounds like his paralysis is some kind of punishment. How could that be? God is a loving God. He would never do that! But a number of times in the Bible, we find instances where God does just that. Is all sickness a result of sin? No. Some sickness has nothing to do with sin. But sin is at the root of Amasai’s life.
“Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” What could be worse than being crippled for 38-years? I’ll tell you: missing out on eternal life forever! Sin eventuates in eternal death, make no mistake about it.
What is the man’s sin? Lying, slander, cheating, some sexual sin, bitterness, unforgiveness, terminal selfishness? We’re not told, but it must have been so serious that Jesus needed to speak to him about it. He is only half-healed. Now his soul must be healed or his sin-sickness will destroy him.
We aren’t told how he replies to Jesus. But we know he hurries off to tell the “sabbath police” that it is Jesus who has healed him and told him to carry his pallet on the Sabbath day. Has he repented? I don’t think so. Instead he tattles on Jesus. Gets Jesus in trouble and shifts the blame from himself. It’s Jesus’ fault, not mine.
So where does that leave us? What do we learn from this sad story that began with such promise?
First, Jesus heals people who don’t deserve to be healed. He operates on love and grace — on favor that is neither earned or deserved. Jesus blesses you wonderfully — by no goodness of your own. Praise the Lord!
Second, a complete healing requires a healing of your soul — and that requires repentance from your sin.
Does Amasai repent sometime later on? I don’t know. I hope so. I know he goes to the temple and is religious. But does he repent, receive God’s forgiveness, and find a healing for his soul? I hope so, dear reader, both for him and for you.