John 5: 1-9
Sometime later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “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.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
Every New Year I have believed in taking some resolutions. But in my heart itself I know this won’t go a long way. When I was a kid, every new semester was a time to ritually believe and convince myself “This semester I will do really well. I will study hard and be up to date with my homework.” But by the end of the week all the resolve vanished in thin air. Why am I saying this? What is this leading to? Well as humans there are many areas that we need to improve on. Life is a constant journey where we evolve form the ‘Me that I am’ to the ‘Me I want to be.’ There are habits and patterns in our behavior that hold us back as humans. This can range from having the tendency to be grossly disorganized to be a full blown addict to social media, gadgets, movies, sex, alcohol and drugs. As they say that the feelings of guilt is the way of God whispering to us. It is a call to be healed. To become whole.
It is in such a situation that we should get acquainted with the lame man who was so for 38 years. Along with the blind, the lame and the paralyzed had gathered at the side of the pool of Bethesda. This pool it seemed had miraculous healing power and it was believed that an angel stirred it occasionally and at that moment, the one that fell first in the pool would be healed. So this man must have been struggling to get well for past 38 years and to such a person, Jesus asks a very ‘silly’ question. “Do you want to get well?” What kind of a question is that? Isn’t it plain and obvious? But the shocking fact is that there are many people who do not want to get well. In regards to the lame man G. Campbell Morgan says that there are probabilities that this man resorted to begging. If so, he being cured would have deprived him of the income that he got through begging. This is plainly true in regards to addiction and in the area of behavior modification. It is observed that our weakness, our addiction, our brooding lust, our lack of integrity all too often provides us a comfort zone. It becomes too costly to give it up. Let me give you an illustration. In 1993, it was reported that a small order of Franciscan nuns in Prague decided to subsidize their convent by opening the downstairs of their facility – formerly an underground detention center used by the Communists to imprison and torture their enemies – as a hotel. For $33 a night, you could stay in a former prison cell. The proprietors say they try to achieve a middle ground between comfort and authenticity in the “hotel.” Many people are really looking for just that – a “comfortable prison cell”. We too are too cozy in our own ‘comfortable prison cell’ of behavior and addiction. Therefore the question “Do you want to get well?” is a very important one. What is your answer to that?
While you are thinking about your answer, let us see what the answer of the lame man was. “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.” (John 5: 7). The question that was asked to him was a straight one. And here his answer too is very logical. But here he offers excuse for his state. He plays the victim. He is in a pitiable situation where he has nobody to help him. These are the answers that we too give. ‘I have tried but I did not get enough support.’ ‘People do not want me to change.’ ‘I want to change but the effort is futile.’ Like the lame man we too have given up. We have compromised to the so called reality that ‘We have to be realistic, nothing is going to change. The future is just the repeat of the past.’ Let us take a minute to ponder over these self-justifications that we are too familiar with.
While you do that let us see what Jesus asked this man to do. “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5: 8). His method was seemingly clear. The first part “Get up” looks an impossibility. He is asking the lame man to do the impossible. It is definitely impossible with our set of thinking where excuses come very easily. In such a position the first two principles of 12 steps of Alcoholic Anonymous should give us perspective. 1) We have to admit that we are powerless and our life the way it is, has become unmanageable. 2) We have to believe that only God can restore us. “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18: 27). Why did Jesus ask him to “Pick up your mat”? G. Morgan Campbell gives a good explanation. “In order to make no provision for a relapse.” The man might have said to himself, “I’m healed, but I had better leave my bed here; I may need it tomorrow.” If he had said that he would have been back in it the next day. But he did not. Jesus said, “Take up your bed. Get rid of it; don’t leave it there.” This is not easy. He asks to burn the bridges that will lead us back to our comfortable prisons. To do away with the self-justification theories that have become part of our system. To give up on friends and support system that lead us to patterns of behavior that we are struggling with. At this time I am reminded of a parable. Let me share it with you.
Once there was a king who received a gift of two magnificent falcons from Arabia. They were peregrine falcons, the most beautiful birds he had ever seen. He gave the precious birds to his head falconer to be trained.
Months passed and one day the head falconer informed the king that though one of the falcons was flying majestically, soaring high in the sky, the other bird had not moved from its branch since the day it had arrived. The king summoned healers and sorcerers from all the land to tend to the falcon, but no one could make the bird fly. He presented the task to the member of his court, but the next day, the king saw through the palace window that the bird had still not moved from its perch. Having tried everything else, the king thought to himself, “May be I need someone more familiar with the countryside to understand the nature of this problem.” So he cried out to his court, “Go and get a farmer.” In the morning, the king was thrilled to see the falcon soaring high above the palace gardens. He said to his court, “Bring me the doer of this miracle.”
The court quickly located the farmer, who came and stood before the king. The king asked him, “How did you make the falcon fly?”
With head bowed, the farmer said to the king, ” It was very easy, your highness. I simply cut the branch where the bird was sitting.”
Finally Jesus asks, to walk. Do not expect to be carried- walk. Many expect to be carried and comforted which leads to the next stage of dependency. Ray C. Stedman says that “If Jesus gives us the power to get up then he will give us the power to walk every day. Your eyes not on your friends or on yourself, your eyes on him. ‘Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith,’ (Hebrews 12:2 KJV).”
My dear friends this is the stage of the New Year where we must have given up on your resolutions. But Jesus asks us to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Rev Dr Easow Mathew in the Delhi Clergy Conference told us that he saw a bumper sticker on a car that says “Do not follow me, Follow Jesus.” He gave a good interpretation to this. He says this is the excuse of our life. ‘I am a sinner. I have my weakness. Do not look at me. Just look at Jesus and follow him.’ This is the branch we are stuck to, as Christians. We have come to believe the fact that the great standards set by Jesus of his followers is impossible to achieve. We deem it as impractical. It is good if someone else is following but it is tough for me. This is how we manage our guilt. We are called to fly high. Let us resolve to say what Paul said to the Corinthians. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1Corinthians 11: 1.)
Get up. Pick up your mat. And Walk.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church