We have been talking for a couple of weeks about hope. Hope is essential to our life for without hope life seems to lack purpose and meaning. Hope has only one source, that is God. God always instills hope and never takes it away. Yet, despite God’s grace in giving us hope, we still can feel hope leave us. Sin we commit, or sin others commit against us, depletes hope within us. We learned that forgiveness restores hope lost through sin. Forgiveness of offenses between us is possible because God forgave us. We then are empowered to forgive each other and restore hope.
Other difficulties in life deplete hope. Medical issues and illnesses deplete our hope. Bickering and endless conspiracy theories between our political parties depletes hope. Harsh words between racial groups deplete hope. And the violence inflicted upon people of faith, as was the case a couple of weeks ago at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh depletes hope. How is hope restored when lost through such diseases of our bodies, our minds, our spirits? How is hope restored when lost through diseases of anger and jealousy and mistrust of our neighbors, and our countrymen? In a word, we must be healed to have hope again. In being healed, then we are empowered to extend healing to others. What is the source of such healing? It is God who brings such healing because God is the source of hope.
Psalm 147, our Old Testament reading today, describes the workings of God. The psalmist wrote, “Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!” Why is that so? The psalmist explained: “The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and [he] binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and [he] calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. The Lord sustains the humble but [he] casts the wicked to the ground. Sing to the Lord with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp.”
The psalmist laid out that God is mighty in power and deed and he uses that power to build, gather, heal, bind, determine, call, understand, and sustains those who come to him. God’s actions bring together that which is broken. God wanted people to see his power to bring healing in a personal and lasting manner so he sent his son, Jesus, to bring hope and healing to the people. Jesus healed people of illnesses as a sign of his identity as God’s Son. Jesus healed people of their brokenness as a sign of God’s power to save. Jesus did not heal all people of all brokenness because not everyone asked him to do so. That is a funny thing about Jesus’ authority and God’s power to heal. As powerful as God is, God will not build, gather, heal, and bind the brokenness of our life against our will.
We see this limitation on healing played out in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus preached and taught the people with whom he grew up. “And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” This little story shows us that Jesus did not just enter a town and suddenly everyone was healed. Healing occurred through personal interactions between Jesus and those who had the faith to believe He could heal. Because there were few willing to be healed, few were healed.
This theme of faith-based healing was prominent in our New Testament reading today from the Gospel of John. Let’s see how faith played out with Jesus. “2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.” John was painting a picture of a great many people distressed by severe physical limitations all collected by a pool of water, a public bath if you will.
If you are using a King James Version of the Bible you will see why these people lay near this pool. In verse 4, it would say, “4For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.” If you are using a more contemporary translation of the Bible you will see that there is no verse 4. Your Bible goes from verse 3 to verse 5. The reason is many contemporary scholars believe verse 4 was not part of John’s original writings but was added by scribes years later.
Either translation in use, we have the scene of a great many people distressed by severe physical limitations all collected around a pool of water waiting it would seem for a moment of turmoil within the waters as a signal that the first one entering those waters would be healed. Illness, injuries, and insults to the body had diminished the hope of these people. Now it would seem all that could be done was wait by the water.
John acquainted us with one of those waiting in verse 5, “One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time.” .” Into this man’s life, a figure entered in the person of Jesus. “He [Jesus] asked him [the man], ‘Do you want to get well?’” In other translations, Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to be made whole?”
Jesus took the initiative and contacted this man who was paralyzed for some 38 years. But in that contact Jesus asked what at first might seem like an odd question, “Do you want to get well?” We could envision the paralytic man responding sarcastically, “No, I lie around here for the view!” But Jesus question was a serious moment from self-reflection by the man. “Do you want to be made whole?” This question needs to be asked because sadly there are hurting people who do not want to be made well. Their pain is real, but their discomforting circumstances have been come their identity and their pain has become their excuse for the way they live. They do not want to change the way they live and therefore, do not want to be made well.
Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be made whole?” was intended to have the man confess his fears, his faith, and his hopes. The man gave Jesus his answer in verse 7. “‘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.’” The man does not directly answer Jesus’ question and instead offers the reason why he has not been healed. It would seem when the waters are stirred, this mass of humanity, blind, ill, lame, and paralyzed lurch forward in chaos trying to be the first in the pool and thus healed. This man could not get into the pool faster than anyone else because he has no one to lift him over the others. The man painted a macabre scene of twisted bodies all trying to push their way into the water in the belief that at certain moments the water was curative. There is not any evidence the story about the healing waters of the pool was true. It may well be simply folklore. But for this man, that had become his only hope.
In this scene, Jesus wanted the man and us to understand the power of wholeness is found in God, not in some water in a pool. Jesus wanted the man to see that hope is found in being made whole. Verse 8, “8 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ 9 At once the man was cured [he was made well]; he picked up his mat and walked.” Jesus had performed a miracle. The miracle was a concrete example of the presence of God’s power in Jesus. This healing miracle was visible expression of compassion and love. It was a display of hope in the present and in the future with God. John does not record the man’s response. For 38 years, the man could not move off the mat by himself. We can well imagine a sense of relief, awe, and joy in the healing. We can also well imagine the true sense of hope the man now had in the future because of man named Jesus.
What then does this passage tell us about hope and healing? There are three points to consider.
First, when Jesus came to earth there were an abundance of people with illnesses, disease, and pain. Jesus took the initiative and offered healing to those who expressed faith. Jesus did not suspend or eliminate all illness, disease, or brokenness. He offered healing as a concrete way of showing God’s love and compassion for people. So, healing must be rooted in the love, power, and presence of God. Jesus offered healing to move people toward hope. Jesus offered healing to make people whole. Jesus did not offer healing so that people would live forever upon this earth. Everyone Jesus healed, even those he raised from the dead, all eventually died. Therefore, the wholeness offered by Jesus must be something that lasting longer than our physical life itself. Wholeness is restoration of the soul that transcends the pain of illness and life. God sent Jesus to meet us where we are and to offer us eternal life. This brings us to our second point; we will not heal alone.
Jesus approached the man on the mat, an invalid of 38 years, who was laying by the pool, waiting for the water to stir and looking for someone to put him in it. The man understood that healing and hope cannot be achieved alone. The man knew that just laying on a mat would not heal him. The 38 years he spent laying on a mat proved that point. The man knew he could not get into the healing waters without someone to lift him. Hope and healing require community. When Jesus entered the man’s life God was present and the aloneness ended. Jesus was not going to lift the man into the pool and heal the man in the way he had imagined. Jesus was going to make the man whole by bringing God into the act and ending the aloneness. This leads to our third point; do we want the healing Jesus offers?
God took the initiative to offer hope and healing. Jesus entered the aloneness of people in pain. But there was an important question that needed answering. “Do you want to be made whole?” Where there is no faith, there is no healing. But Jesus’ offer of wholeness was not about physical health, it was about wholeness of our spirits. Jesus offered a new way of life with hope from God in our circumstances and the capacity to share that hope with all other people in our lives. Do you want to be made whole?
Hope, healing, and wholeness are rooted in God. God sent Jesus to break into the aloneness of pain. Jesus asked us to join him being made well. These three steps apply to you and me today just as much as it applied to the man lying beside the pool.
Jesus gave those who accepted his offer of hope and wholeness an enduring symbol of remembering his purpose and his call upon their lives. We call it the Lord’s Supper and we have it laid out before us. Jesus gave his friends this meal of remembrance and hope with the bread and cup. Jesus reminded those of faith that he came from God and broke into the aloneness of all pain. The bread and cup reminded Jesus’ friends they were well in God’s eyes. Jesus reminded his friends to take the initiative and share the hope of God with all they meet. This meal is not finished until we reach out to the poor, strangers, lonely, weak and hurting world around us with the same love and healing power that is at work within us.
This day, we too can be friends of Jesus and remember and share that our God builds, gathers, heals, and binds the brokenness of our life. Let us pray.