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 Hebrew called Bethesda, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water: whoever stepped in first after the troubling of the water was healed of whatever disease he had. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “The Man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, 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 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.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 befall you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.
John 5: 1-15 (Gospel of the Sunday of the Paralytic)
Christ is Risen!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a man at the pool of Bethesda, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. At this pool, the Gospel tells us, an angel of the Lord would come periodically and trouble the water and whoever stepped in first after the troubling of the water was healed of whatever disease he or she had. When Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be healed, the man said “Sir, I have no one man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going, another steps down before me.” (John 5:7)
Let’s pause for a moment and put ourselves in the shoes of this man. Thirty-eight years is a long time. Many of us reading this message are not thirty-eight years old! So, imagine thirty-eight years of suffering from illness. Back in the time of Christ, they didn’t have large hospitals and trauma centers. They didn’t have rehabilitation centers or skilled nursing homes. Many people thought those who were sick were forsaken by God, their disease was of their own making. And so those who were sick were forgotten, left to sit around the fringes of the city, relegated to begging for food and struggling to just survive. Imagine sitting in one place for thirty-eight years and living like this.
Then, to make it worse, there is a remedy for sickness only a few feet away. An angel comes to trouble the water in the pool several times a year. We are not told if these times are set times or random times but we are told that at certain seasons (so those are predictable) that an angel would do this. Whoever got into the pool first was healed from whatever disease afflicted him or her. So, imagine this very sick man has his healing only a few feet away, but lacks someone to put him into the pool. He doesn’t have one friend, one family member, anyone. So, when Jesus comes to him and asks if he wants to be healed, his first response is a cry of loneliness and despair, “I have no one.”
In our world today, there are lots of people who make this cry, “I have no one.” Your first thought perhaps is of the panhandlers on the street corners who sit by themselves and beg for money or food. And yes, there are probably a fair number of them who are alone, like the man by the pool. We don’t know their names and perhaps we should. There are agencies in every city that can provide resources for those who want and need them—and we can all do a better job of supporting these agencies.
But let’s leave this thought aside for the moment and think about someone you know well who is “paralyzed” by a life circumstance—a struggling marriage, a difficult child, lack of success at a job, depression, grief, etc. This circumstance has brought the idea of a joyful life to a halt. Do you know someone like that? Many people in these circumstances feel isolated—they either feel ashamed to talk about their circumstance, or feel like no one will understand it, or feel guilty for feeling bad or think that others will not validate their feelings. To put it simply, there are many people all around us who feel just like this paralyzed man in the Gospel lesson—I have no one. I have no one who understands me. I have no one who really cares for ME—perhaps they like what I do but they don’t care for ME. I have no one who will accept me as I am, faults and all.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus healed the man immediately. It didn’t matter that it was the Sabbath. He didn’t want the man to be paralyzed any longer. The man, when asked by Jesus if he wanted to be healed, didn’t say to Jesus “go away, I’ve been neglected for so long, there is no chance of me being healed.” Rather, he looked at Jesus at perhaps the man that would put him in the pool, the man who he needed to help him, the man who could be his “someone.” He looked at Jesus first and foremost with hope, not with cynicism. And Jesus rewarded the man’s trust with healing.
There are lots of people who need a “someone” to help them “get into the pool and not be paralyzed anymore.” This can happen with simple conversation, with some empathy, compassion, genuine concern, and a little help. “I have no one” is a statement we need to eradicate from our society. “I have no one” contributes to the mass violence we read about in the paper nearly every day. Yes, there are people in our society who need professional medical or psychological help. Someone who indeed is physically paralyzed needs a good doctor in addition to a good friend. Someone who is mentally ill needs a good doctor in addition to a good friend. But good friends can get those who need help to the people who provide help. A good friend may not be able to be a healer, but can be a conduit between someone who needs healing and someone who can provide it. In the instance where the paralyzed person needs a sympathetic ear, we are all in the position to provide that.
Let’s think carefully about this phrase, “I have no one.” Think of people in your life this may apply to. And think of specific ways that you can be a “someone” to that person who has “no one.”
Lord, it was not the pool that cured the Paralytic, but rather it was Your word that renewed him. Not even his chronic ailment could impede it; for the energy of Your voice proved to be more potent. He threw off the oppressive burden, and carried the weight of his bed, as testimony of Your abundant mercies. Glory to You. (Doxastikon, Feast of the Sunday of the Paralytic, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Let’s work to eliminate this phrase “I have no one” from our society, starting with our little corner of it!