The Paralytic at the Pool, Part 1 [and Part 2]
What if wellness was up to you? Would you be made whole?
It seems like a crazy question, eh? Our minds turn it over, suspicion curdling expectations. There must be a catch! Who wouldn’t want to be healed?
I think, maybe, me — until recently. Studying the story of the paralytic healed by the pool of Bethesda, I’m surprised to recognize myself. Zoom in, if you dare? Perhaps you’ll find a familiar face, too.
Recall the story: Jesus encountered a paralytic among a multitude of afflicted lingering at the pool, desperate to be healed. Jesus inquired if the man would like to be well. The man explained circumstances beyond his control. Jesus threw him a lifeline: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Responding at once, the man was cured. (John 5)
Jesus’s inquiry: Do you want to be healed? seems an odd question to ask of a man thirty-eight years a paralytic! But it was a fair question from the God who sees.
“Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time… “ John 5:6 (ESV)
Among a multitude of lame, blind, and otherwise afflicted, Jesus saw this man. He really saw him, in the way only God could. With laser sharp perception, Jesus knew the extent of his suffering. Most of his life restrained to a mat, affliction was his closest companion.
Jesus understood that to heal the man would turn his world inside out. Healing would separate from a community grounded in suffering. The continuity of daily life, no matter how sorrowful, would be disrupted. Healed, he must stand on his own two feet and make his own way, accountable and responsible. Healed, he would work for the rest of his life. Healed would mean an entirely new identity.
The location of the pool of Bethesda, north of the temple mount and near the sheep gate, is an important aspect of this encounter. When ancient Israelites were released from Babylonian captivity, they’d rebuilt city walls and the temple. The sheep gate was the first to be restored. It was the only gate consecrated as holy (Nehemiah 3).
Thousands of years later, Jesus routinely chose to use the sheep gate. This is fitting for God’s only Son who would be slain like a lamb in the ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 10). Surely this was on His mind whenever He used the gate. In John 10, Jesus called himself the door or gate by which we (sheep) enter the kingdom. Jesus said He was the Good Shepherd and His sheep knew His voice.
It’s a beautiful illustration. Shepherds gather their flocks for safety in a shelter or enclosure. Multiple flocks in the region may use the same sheepfold. The sheep enter by a narrow gate, and mix together. Shepherds stand watch, defending from predators. In the morning, they call their flocks out to pasture. Sheep know their master’s call, and respond only to the summon of his voice.
The paralyzed man near the sheep gate had long since given up on healing. He felt powerless, resigned to life on a thin mat — at a (presumably) pagan healing site, no less (read Part 2)! Yet when he heard the voice of the Good Shepherd — emanating from a man he had never before laid eyes on — he instantaneously knew it as Truth. Amazing!
This story bounced around in my brain for a long time until I had an epiphany. Like the paralytic, I’d become comfortable with my afflictions. I had excuses, too. They seemed reasonable enough. But eventually I, too, heard the Good Shepherd’s call. “Do you want to be well? Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” It is a hopeful, healing journey on which I’ve embarked at the pace of grace.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 (ESV)
This is Good News, indeed. The One who truly sees us and knows us calls us us out of misery and defeat. Responding in obedience, we may receive healing. Wholeness (shalom) is God’s good idea, from the beginning of time in the garden. Faith over fear, my friend. Pick up your mat!
P. S. Don’t miss Part 2, Where Healing Starts.