On the morning of my friends wedding all the other bridesmaids were sitting reading their bibles. I felt slightly bad, but I also did not want to – you know, get up – from the very comfy chair I was sitting in. So I thought instead about John 5 – that I’d been reading the previous day – and I started reiterating it to myself, closing my eyes and reading in my own head.
The story in the beginning of John 5 follows a man that I don’t think gets enough credit. Or at least is used far too often as a warning example instead of a pointer to something relatable and inexplicably human within ourselves. The man in question had been an invalid for 38 years and was laying on the ground close to a pool of water, where every know and then the water was said to be stirred by angels and heal whoever bathed in it. I was going through the lines of the story in my head, and when I said to myself, as the man did to Jesus: “I have no one to help me get to the water,” it hit me square in the chest. (To be honest I looked it up, and that’s not exactly how he says it in any translation, in the NIV for example it says: “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.”) But as I said those words out loud – in my head (so not really out loud), I found myself saying it as if it was me, talking to Jesus out of my own current circumstances. Which leads me to my first point:
- We have no one to lead us to the water. Now, the critique I’ve heard against this verse is that the guy had like 38 years to get to the water. Sure, he couldn’t move much, but even if he would have moved just one inch a day, I’m fairly certain that in 13 879 days he would have gotten there. I heard a preaching about this once – about just moving a little bit every day. You don’t want to find yourself 20 years into the future with the same problem you’re carrying today. It was by all means a great preaching, but here’s the thing: I have no one to help me to the water. That is how I feel, in the midst of my sin and worry. Sure, maybe I’m constantly growing and moving, but in the end, when it all comes down to it, I am that man waiting for someone to help me to the place of healing I am incapable of reaching myself.
- Now here’s what complicates this: Was he actually incapable of reaching it? As said in the previous point: he could have reached it himself. He could have moved. So why shouldn’t we? My previous point doesn’t seem valid, because how can we ask God for help with something we should just be able to do ourselves? But this, I think, is what strengthens this example, rather than weakening it, and is a better than many other example of a broken world. Because there’s no one directly stopping you from doing what is right. There’s influence, but there’s no one standing there forcing your hand to choose what’s bad. No human except for Jesus has ever been able to live life without choosing sin, but each and every one had the free will to do so. Each and every one was able to live only being good, but also no one was able to. We can’t make our way to the water, not because we technically can’t, but because we don’t. This is the great mystery of our inability to not sin: The fact that we technically can not sin. I know, I don’t get it either. But if the man in the story had all the excuses, was completely bound to the ground, could never have fought for freedom himself, this would not be as good of an example for us. We find ourselves where the man is, broken, on the ground. Capable of moving, but never quite capable of reaching.
- This weakness is the key. Our inability to get there. I have heard people point out (once again, in very great preachings), that the man never answered the question Jesus asked. Jesus asks him: “Do you want to be healed?” and that’s when he just answers that he can’t get to the water. But honestly, that’s the most natural response. For him, the water is the place where the healing takes place. And this is actually the real point, scratch everything that’s been said until now. Scratch your failed attempts at reaching whatever source or path you think will take you to healing, will take you to a place of redemption; Jesus was standing right next to him. He was looking at the water, and Jesus was looking at him. And we stand, like this, next to the saviour of the universe, and we ask him how we can climb a mountain he has come down from to meet us. It is okay that you can’t. It is okay that you can not climb the mountain of God (every culture has tried), that you can’t reach the place of healing and purity and perfection, because he has come to meet you now, and to your inability to get to the water he answers a simple: Get up. Grab your bed and walk. Not towards healing, but in the healing you have already received.