He was not a very likable guy. He’d been lame for 38 years, but when Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed, the lame man didn’t say “Yes, please!” or even “Can you help me?” Instead, he griped about not having any friends to put him in the pool when the angel stirred the water. I’m not surprised that he had no friends. After Jesus healed him, he didn’t jump up and down with joyful excitement. He didn’t say “Thanks!” He didn’t even ask who it was that had healed him. Instead, he wandered off into town carrying his sleeping mat. When the Sabbath Police caught up with him and demanded to know why he was carrying something on the holy day, he blamed “Whoever it was that had healed him.” Later, when he ran into Jesus at the temple, he didn’t say, “You changed my life. Sign me up as one of your followers!” Instead, he went directly to the Sabbath Police and turned Jesus in to save his own hide. How’s that for saying “Thanks”?
I do not know why Jesus chose to show his grace to this uncouth and undeserving slob. His emotional and spiritual lameness were even worse than his physical ailment. Perhaps Jesus felt especially bad for this guy. After all, he’d been sick for a really long time. Maybe he’d been hanging around the pool longer than anyone else. Maybe Jesus healed him out of pure pity. But if so, I’m guessing that there were many other pitiful but more deserving people who were waiting for the bubbles in the water. Why this man?
The Sabbath Police were not very likable either. These guys had made up all kinds of rules on just about everything. Rules about when you ate, what you ate, and where you ate it. Rules about what you could carry, where you could carry it, and when you could carry it. Rules about what you did, where you did it, and when you did it. Worse than having endless rules for themselves, they were convinced that God had appointed them to enforce their rules on everyone else. They did not care that the lame man was now walking. They did not rejoice that he’d received a miracle. They did not marvel at the power of the man that healed him. Instead, they wanted to punish Jesus for violating their rules about the Sabbath.
Despite the amazing miracle of healing, the story about the healing of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda is not a very happy one. The lame man did not deserve to be healed. He was ungrateful, discourteous, and ill-mannered. He was not a very likable guy.
Worse, his healing on the Sabbath and subsequent ratting out of Jesus began tumbling the dominoes that led to Jesus’ untimely death at the hands of the unlikable Sabbath Police.
Surely Jesus was aware of the risks associated with healing a repulsive traitor on the holy day. He knew what was to come. That’s why he came.
The more I reflect on the story of the lame man’s healing, the more I find myself relating to him. No… I’m not physically lame. I have lots of friends and I don’t feel like a victim. But I have plenty of emotional and spiritual lameness. Like the lame man, I’m often negative, ungrateful, and unfaithful. Even worse than the lame man, I’ve often refused to get up at Jesus’ command. I’ve refused to pick up my mat and walk. More than once, I’ve utterly betrayed the trust of my Savior. I do not deserve his grace. There are many people more pitiful, but far more deserving of his grace than me.
Today, as I reflect on this story, I find myself more thankful than ever that Jesus is kind to the ungrateful and wicked (Luke 6:35b). He brings healing and wholeness to the lame… to the undeserving… to the unlikable… to me.