I have been enthralled, lately, with the way that Jesus interacted with people during his short time on this earth. I’m reading steadily through the Gospels (the first 4 books of the New Testament that chronicle His life). The other morning, I found myself at the story of the man who had been ill for 38 years, at the pool of Bethesda (found in John 5).
One noteworthy aspect of this story is that, at this pool, during certain seasons, an angel of the Lord would stir up the water and whoever entered first afterwards would be healed of their afflictions. We tend to breeze over this part, because what Jesus did for human beings was far more significant than what this angel did. He didn’t stand afar off and do the miraculous. He engaged. He engages.
I once heard someone speaking of this man like he was kind-of disgusted with him (I’d like to also say that the person I heard say this is usually much more compassionate). When my friend read this story, they were annoyed at the man’s response to Jesus, when asked if he wanted healed (verse 7). They took this man’s answer to mean that he didn’t actually want healed, like if he was healed, he would lose the sympathy and the alms given and he may actually have to work for his wages.
I don’t see the same thing when I read this story. I see a man who is utterly discouraged and has no hope of healing. Jesus later tells this man, in verse 14, not to sin anymore so nothing worse will happen to him. Based on Jesus’ exhortation, it’s easily assumable that his ailment was a result of his sin. But, upon reading the story, we realize that, even if this were the case, Jesus is not deterred from helping him.
The reason I bring up these two differing perspectives is that I think we often pass judgments on people who are in circumstances that have maybe led them to some sort of despondence or sickness. We see a drunk and we curse them for being a drunk. Or a homeless person and we assume that their sin has brought them there. Perhaps we assume that the man begging on the street corner is there because he knows he can make more money off our sympathy than he can off his own labor. In our hearts we call these folks lazy, greedy, hostile.
But usually people in “inferior” circumstances are not there because they want to be. Perhaps it is my own sordid past that leads me to see things this way. Or perhaps it was my years of living on the road that have enabled me to engage many of these people that live on the fringes of society, and to hear their stories and see the pain in their eyes.
Either way, I think we do well to look at Jesus, who didn’t pass judgment on the man, nor did he allow the man’s answer to deter Him from giving the grace of healing him. Instead, Jesus took notice of this man, this Image Bearer, and healed him. I wonder how much better we would represent Jesus if we stopped looking away, if we stopped passing judgment, if we stopped assuming that someone else’s sin put them where they’re at and our righteousness afforded us better circumstances. Because all is grace, anyways, right?
And if we really want to see ourselves in the right light, it could be any one of us that lived like a vagabond… and any one of us that can become God’s instrument to heal and restore the brokenness we see all around. Thanks for reading this with an open heart.