With chapter five, we jump forward in time to a later date. Jesus heads up to Jerusalem, into the heart of the nation. There is this pool which has a tradition of being a healing place, where angels show up and heal people who can help themselves. The tradition was that when the angel would show up, the water would begin to stir around in the pool. The first blind, lame, or disabled person in would be healed. It was religion at it’s best. God would show up, and you had to jump in and do your part for the miracle to occur.
Jesus is walking by all of the people at the gate, and notices this one man. He asks how long the guy has been unable to walk, and finds out it’s been 38 years! That is a long time to be an invalid. It’s possible that he might have been older than this, and suffered some kind of injury that made him paralyzed. (In vs. 14, Jesus says “you are well again.”) This man would have had every reason to give up hope. He can’t get into the water on his own, and when he tries, someone else beats him in.
But notice that he is still there. This is a place where legend says that God heals. That is enough for him. He is there. Somehow, he is there. Hoping. And Jesus takes all of this in. With all of the other people who are there with physical issues, Jesus spots this guy who has been hoping for healing for almost four decades, and Jesus comes to him.
It’s a simple discussion. “Do you want to get well?” The guy answers the wrong question. The man answers why he isn’t well yet, why he hasn’t made it to the pool. But that isn’t what Jesus is asking. He asks if the man wants to be healed. Jesus ignores his answer, to a point, and goes on. “Pick up your mat and walk”, He tells him. The man does.
But there’s a problem. It’s Saturday, the Holy Day for the Jews. You weren’t supposed to work on the Sabbath. Only rest. Carrying a mat around definitely qualified as work for those immersed in religion. They believed that God met you halfway, and it was up to you to meet Him the other half. So, it became a battle of the fittest. A process of natural elimination. The weaker wouldn’t make it, the stronger would. So the rules got tougher and tougher to make it to God, and only the strongest, most fit spiritually would make it. So, when God said to take a rest once a week so you don’t burn out, they turned rest into a process of extreme work about what you could not do. It was religion at it’s best. Like the pool earlier.
Jesus takes it head on. Unwaivering. “Pick up your mat…” He knew what would happen. He was asking for it. And he set the formerly paralyzed man up to. He wanted to get the man to separate from the religious mindset of meeting God halfway. It seemed to work. When the Pharisees’ got on him, he didn’t waiver.
I wonder where I am trying to meet God halfway? I know I do it with my role in ministry. I need to produce certain things to be successful. But God says “no, you don’t.” I do it in my relationships, trying to make sure I’m in control so God will be impressed with me. But this is just religion. Religion makes us disabled and lame. God doesn’t meet us halfway. He comes for us when we least expect it. May we take time today to see where we are trying to “do our part” and simply quit and trust Him.