Reflection on John 5:1-9a

Scripture: John 5:1-9a

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 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 making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.


Today will be entry one on a two part story. The larger narrative is that of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. We’ll focus this post on the actual healing that Jesus does, and next time we’ll look at the response to Jesus’ actions.

I think this is one of those stories that we’re so culturally distant from that it can be hard to understand what exactly is going on. The idea of “invalids” laying around a pool rushing to get in when the water gets stirred up sounds like a strange scene. However, the particular pool at which this interaction between Jesus and the sick man takes place was thought to have healing powers. In fact, other ancient manuscripts of John’s Gospel that archeologists have found explain the whole practice a little better. Those versions read, “In these lay many invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed – waiting for the stirring of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.” Basically, it was a race to the water. Whoever got there first became completely healed.

The sick man from our story has been competing in this race for thirty-eight years, and he’s lost every single time. While some might lose hope after nearly four decades of failing, I don’t get the sense that this man has, yet. Despite having no one to help him, he wants to be alive and healed so badly that he continues trying. So, when Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well?” the answer is obvious. Of course he does, he just needs a helping hand. Jesus offers him that and more. Jesus offers him healing and a chance at new life.

Like this sick man, we, too, need a little help in running this race of life sometimes. I worked in a homeless shelter during seminary. One of the most insightful things I heard while I was there came from one of our residents. He said, “Man, I’m not looking for a handout. I’m just in need of a hand up.” That’s such a profound way to express the situation we all find ourselves in sometimes. Whether it’s financial, emotional, or spiritual, we are all in need of a hand up from the mat sometimes. And likewise, we can all be that hand that reaches down to give someone a lift up. The key is to not be afraid to ask for help when you’re down and to offer the hand when you’re up. When we do either of these things, we receive something greater than healing or needed resources, we get to experience the power of grace and compassion. We get to experience the life of love that Christ has called us to.


Thank you, God of grace, for sending people to me when I was in need of help. Send me, now, to someone who needs help from me. Amen.

Thought for the Day:

Most of us aren’t looking for handouts, we just need a hand up sometimes.


3 thoughts on “Reflection on John 5:1-9a

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