John 5:1–18 recounts the story of Jesus healing a man at the pool of Bethesda.” I reviewed it the other day, and suddenly a light bulb turned on in my mind.
Don’t forget: Not one story in the Gospel of John is literally true. John is full of figurative truths, metaphors, and gross exaggerations but light on details, which leads to much speculation.
The story is set in Jerusalem at a pool called Bethesda or Beth-zatha (meaning “house of mercy”), depending on the translation. This pool’s location was unknown until the nineteenth century, when archeologists found a likely match.
The story describes “many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed,” including an unnamed man who had been “ill” for thirty-eight years, which may be an exaggeration (John 5:5). John never names the illness, but my guess is that the man is paralyzed because he’s described as “lying there” (John 5:6).
Suddenly Jesus enters, sees the man, and asks, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6). Interesting question!
In my mind’s eye, I see many disabled people hanging around the pool. Jesus is conversing with this man, who is lying on a mat. Suddenly, Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well?”
The man’s response exudes victim mentality: “I have no one to put me into the pool.” He blames others as he states, “When the water is stirred up . . . someone else steps down ahead of me” (John 5:7). (Rumor suggested that an angel of the Lord stirred the water, and the first person to get in was healed.)
Jesus commands the invalid to “stand up, take your mat and walk” (John 5:8). And darned if he didn’t.
I realized that for years, this man’s identity was that of a hopeless, helpless, paralyzed victim. Whatever Jesus said or did, (notice he used no prayers, touching, or hocus-pocus, only words), this guy gained a new perspective and identity.
This is an Easter story. The man’s Good Friday was thirty-eight years of playing the victim. His Easter was when he “arose” and started life anew.
I’ve been there, lots of times. When I entered college (by the skin of my teeth), my identity was that of a jock who liked to party more and study less. The Korean War was heating up, and it wasn’t Jesus who spoke to me but the dean, who said, “Get serious or be cannon fodder in Korea.” My Good Friday was living with my self-imposed identity as a loser. My Easter, thanks to Dean Bailey, was transforming into a young man who was serious about studying, playing sports, and being a leader. That was and still is one of my greatest Easters!
I used to be the program director for a drug treatment program at a neuropsychiatric hospital. Almost daily, new patients trapped in the identity of an addict entered the program. Most of them had been forced into the program by the courts, their employers, or their families, and they weren’t interested in a new identity as a permanently sober person. That meant severe changes, and most weren’t ready. Only about 5 percent of the patients were able to change their Good Friday (addiction) into an Easter (drug free lives).
My payoff was seeing the few who were willing to go through the excruciating pain of detox achieve their Easter.
What is your identity? Want to change it?