“Do you want to be made whole?” Anger rose up in me when I looked at the man who asked me the question. “Do you want to be made whole?” What a stupid question! What fool would dare ask such a question of a poor man such as myself?
For thirty-eight long and miserable years, I had suffered. I had lost everything and everyone I ever cared about. My friends and family had long since deserted me, leaving me to lay here in my misery beside the pool of Bethesda. Bethesda! The name of the pool had two different meanings… For some, Bethesda was known as the “House of Mercy” or the “House of Grace”, while for others such as myself, it was known as the “House of Shame and Disgrace.”
Perhaps I sound bitter to you, but if you had suffered as I have, then you too, would be bitter. And now, as I looked into the eyes of this stranger who squatted beside me, thirty-eight years of pain and sorrow welled up within me. It was immediately obvious to me that this man had never suffered a day in his life! He certainly didn’t know what it was like to be in anguish, while everyone you love rejects and abandons you. I sighed deeply, as I tried to explain my situation to this ignorant man, “Sir,” I said, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred up. While I am trying to get there, someone else always gets in ahead of me.”
“Now that should shut him up,” I thought to myself, rather proud of the self-restraint I had shown, when I could have given him the tongue lashing that he deserved. But sometimes, I surprise even myself with the kindness and patience I show to others, even though I have endured so much agony. I looked around to see if anyone else noticed my commendable behavior, but everyone else was too consumed with themselves to pay any attention to me. Sometimes I’m astounded by how self-absorbed so many people are.
“Very well then,” I thought to myself in irritation. “I’ve tried being polite and kind, but that doesn’t seem to work with this one, so I’ll just do as he says, and when he sees that I am unable to get up by myself, maybe then he’ll be ashamed of himself!”
And so I turned over, getting to my hands and knees, and I arose! I was amazed! I hadn’t been able to stand unassisted in thirty-eight years, and now, I was standing. Unbelievable! I looked at the man, who was smiling at me, dumbfounded, and I rolled up my sleeping mat and picked it up, as he had commanded, not knowing what else to say or do, as I walked off.
“Who was this man?” I thought to myself as I walked outside for the first time in decades, wondering where I would go now and what I would do. Perhaps you’re wondering about my lack of enthusiasm over this whole event, but you must understand that I didn’t ask to be healed. And now that I was healed, my life would change dramatically. I had no place to live, and no money to live on. Now I would have to try to find work, because people certainly wouldn’t pay alms to a man who was no longer ill.
And then, as if my life hadn’t suddenly become complicated enough, a group of Pharisees came dashing towards me, looking very angry. “You there!” one of them shouted, “stop!” I stood there nervously, as they approached me, wondering what they could possibly want with me. “You can’t work on the Sabbath! It’s illegal to carry that sleeping mat!”
I looked at them, appalled by their accusation. Me? Working on the Sabbath? I hadn’t worked for thirty-eight years, let alone on the Sabbath, and now suddenly these men were hurling their accusations at me.
Really — it was all just too much! I hadn’t asked for any of this, and who knew what these men would do to me now. The Pharisees weren’t known for being compassionate, so I quickly replied, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Pick up your sleeping mat and walk.'”
“Who said such a thing as that?” they demanded, but I was unable to give them his name or any other information about this man who had so completely disrupted my life. When they finally realized that I truly was ignorant about this man who had healed me, and that he could no longer be found, they left me alone, after throwing several more threats against me.
Frustrated, I hid my sleeping mat, hoping no one would steal it. I certainly didn’t want to wind up in jail for working on the Sabbath! Then, I wandered around Jerusalem looking at the sights — something I hadn’t been able to do for such a long, long time. Finally, I walked into the Temple, observing the money changers and thinking that perhaps this would provide a lucrative living for me.
It was while I was pondering the possibilities of this, that he sauntered up to me again. I was scarcely able to hide my irritation when he said, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.”
Enough was enough! This man had entered into my life uninvited and turned my world upside down. I hadn’t asked him to heal me! Indeed, this whole thing was his idea. And now, he accused me of sinning and threatened me.
As soon as he walked away from me, I asked the people who were standing nearby if any of them knew his name. When I learned that his name was Jesus, I rushed to find the Pharisees who had approached me earlier that day, and told them that it was Jesus who had healed me and commanded me to fold my sleeping mat and carry it, all on the Sabbath!
It didn’t take them long to leave my presence, and to go and find him, while I stood watching from a distance, careful to remain hidden from his sight. There was something about this man that frightened me. It seemed as though he had the ability to read the thoughts and the motives of my heart.
Perhaps you think I should have been grateful, especially when I heard people claim that he was the son of God. However, if this was true, then why did God wait until I was an old man and allow me to suffer for thirty-eight years before he decided to heal me? I believe I’ve earned the right to be bitter… What do you think???
Author’s Note: The account above is my interpretation of John 5:1-15. This particular passage has challenged me for a long time, and I’ve often wondered about this man who was healed, and his response to Jesus… or perhaps I should say his lack of response to Jesus. I’ve read this passage many times, and I always leave this portion of scripture with many questions…
- Why did Jesus ask him, “Do you want to be made whole?”
- Why didn’t the man give Jesus a direct answer?
- Why didn’t the man seem thankful for his healing?
- Why did Jesus go back to the man and tell him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you”?
- Why did the man run back to the Pharisees and tell them about Jesus, knowing that they intended to harm him?
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Hebrews 12:15 ESV)
Cheryl A. Showers