After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
I'm the type of person who loves to compete. If I'm good at something, I like to work at it until I'm great. I enjoy developing the gifts and talents that God has given me. But anyone who enjoys competition must also become thoroughly acquainted with losing – and learn how to press on. At the end of every competition journey is something that the competitor has recognized as a worthwhile object of pursuit. It may be a trophy, it may be recognition, fame, or monetary reward, but whatever the case may be, those who compete strive to achieve something which they ultimately view as meaningful.
Each of us pursues what we hold dear. Anyone who has been in a committed relationship knows the struggle and passion which is involved in growing closer to another, developing a meaningful bond, and working every day to maintain said bond. We pursue that which is of value. In relationships, we will find both rewarding success and crushing losses which go hand in hand. We endure the losses in the hopes that the rewards will still be more meaningful.
The man at Bethesda dwelt by the pool in pursuit of restoration and healing, but he had become thoroughly acquainted with loss. What chance does an invalid have of making it to the waters before everyone else who wishes to be healed? And yet the chance to walk again meant the sting of every failure was still a necessary loss to overcome. One day – perhaps many years down the road – it would be his time.
But this doesn’t mean the failures hurt any less. Every other healing had to feel like yet another slap in the face. Consider what it must be to sit, day after day, hoping for that brief moment of restoration – and then, as the waters are stirred for healing yet again, to find once more that someone else made it before you could muster the strength to move; or perhaps worse yet, that healing was just within your grasp… and someone managed to make it mere seconds before. Soon hope begins to fade and despair overtakes the sufferer. The question begins to linger: “Is it even worth trying?”
Jesus enters the story and everything changes. There is no struggle. There is no risk of failure. There is a question and a command.
“Do you want to get well?”
The question doesn’t even register. Clearly he does – otherwise, why would he sit beside this pool all his days? It’s assumed that Jesus must be asking if the man wants his help in getting to the pool.
For us, there is often one possible solution to our problems. Outside of that, no options could exist. For the man, the pool is his only hope. God, however, sees all the options – and His ways are not the ones we see for ourselves.
Following the question is a command: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Although previously another option had not been considered, the command of God comes into play and suddenly a new path has arisen, one which never would have been thought of as a possibility before. God views the impossible option as the preferable one, in my experience. He is the One who sees a path through the sea where we see only water. He is the One who stops the sun in the sky where most would see only a necessary change of plans. He is the One who chooses a resurrection instead of viewing death as a finality. His ways go beyond what we can see.
Although we have struggles which may seem limited or impossible, the question must be posed: what might God’s path forward look like? What is the impossible option I hadn’t previously considered?
I love the story of Abraham as it’s elaborated on in Hebrews 11: “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death” (11:19). Abraham’s faith is so extraordinary that, when presented with logically irreconcilable ideas, he finds the path of God in the midst of it.
1. I know that God is good and speaks the truth.
2. I know that God has told me that my offspring will be reckoned through Isaac.
3. I know God has told me to sacrifice my son.
Confronted with these essential truths, Abraham concludes, “It must be that God is going to resurrect my son.” There is no question of impossibility; only a recognition of what is possible with God.
At the pool, a healing takes place – but this time, not in the waters. This time, healing occurs where no one anticipated it. No one saw it coming. And yet it happened nonetheless.
Take a step back in your prayers. Perhaps the sole solution you’ve been seeking to a problem isn’t coming to pass because it’s inferior to the option God wants you to consider. Perhaps God is up to something beyond what you would ever have imagined yourself.
When the disciples ask why the man born blind was afflicted in John 9, Jesus answers that his affliction is not due to any sin, but for one reason: “…so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (9:3).
Maybe your present affliction is because a new possibility exists: that the work of God might be displayed in you, and that you might go on to tell the story of His work.
Your ways are higher than my own, O Lord. I know full well of the work You have done within me and the work You continue to do in transforming me into the image of the Son. In those times I fail to see Your hand at work, help me to rest in knowing that You are working whether I detect it or not. Help me to walk in alignment with Your will and help me to see as You see. Let me not look only to my own understanding of that which is possible, but to look beyond what I see as limitations into the places of that which You deem right and good. Cultivate within me a faith which views the mountains as moveable, which sees the dead places as those potentially brimming with new life. Open my eyes to look beyond that which is immediately visible and to see instead the paths which You deem possible. Move within my heart and bring me to pray impossible prayers, knowing You desire to do just that.