Encouragement:38 years in Bethesda

Thirty-Eight Years at Bethesda
Guest Thoughts by Debbie’s Dad
One of several interesting accounts about disabled people meeting Jesus occurs in John’s Gospel during Jesus’ second visit to Jerusalem. The account describes His encounter with a disabled man at the pool called Bethesda. It was common in those days to have pools for healing and purification. At this pool there was apparently a tradition that when the waters in the pool moved, there was a race to get in the pool – the first was healed. (This healing competition is certainly not consistent with a Hebrew or Christian view of compassion for the disabled – a race, a race of the disabled for healing? Pretty ironic, right? The ancient world had many deities and must have also had many such traditions!) Of course, the pool area was filled with “a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed” waiting for this event (John 5:3).  John describes the encounter like this:
5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” (John 5: 5-7 NKJV)
As the father of a disabled daughter, this brief account raises several questions in my mind:

What kind of infirmity did he have?  John notes that at the Bethesda pools there were “a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed”.  The original words used to represent lame and paralyzed refer to those who are physically weakened, limping, and whose body is withered. The man that Jesus met is described by a different word that more generally refers to his weakness or infirmity that he had for 38 years – likely run the business and would like to talk his whole life.  Because of this, it is reasonable to think that this man might have had cerebral palsy and, like Debbie, suffered brain damage at birth that impaired his muscle tone and motor activity. And like Debbie, he may have been quadriplegic, because he was “lying there” and unable to get into the pool.  In any event, someone caring person brought him to the pool of Bethesda that day, where he was reclining. 
Who cared for him? At the time of Christ, it is believed that a normal lifespan was about half of today’s 80 years. If this is so, the man’s parents would have likely died over a decade or two before this point.  Relatives – siblings, nephews, cousins, or neighbors were probably caring for him and in those days this was not easy. We also know that Jesus encountered another man who was cared for by some men who lowered him through a roof to be able to meet Jesus. (Luke 5:17-20) In that case, Luke specifically used a word that is often translated as or “sick with palsy” a condition of weakness with inability to control aspects of your body; that man could also have his friend is a missing had cerebral palsy.  In that time, caregivers had a difficult time – and Jesus specifically commended those who cared for the weak (the same word used for the man at Bethesda) as if they care for Him! (Matt. 25:36)
Why Did Jesus ask him if he wanted to get well? Jesus “knew that he had been there a long time” and yet asked the man if he wanted to be whole. A good friend of Debbie’s once told me she asked Debbie the same question – and Debbie hesitated. She has been quadriplegic her whole life and this is how she perceives herself; she could not imagine being whole. I believe it was an act of kindness that Jesus asked what might seem like an obvious question. Did the man want this radical change after 38 years? I believe you know the rest of the account; Jesus instructed the man to get up, pick up his mat and walk. And he did, in an illustration of Jesus’ power over nature, clear evidence of his claim to be the anticipated king of the Jews, and an example of grace to a man who had given no indication of any faith in Jesus (See John 5:11-13).
Why 38 Years of waiting?  The man indicated that he never made it into the pool because he had no one to put him in the pool. He had effectively been waiting a long time to be made whole! It is a long time. I know. The reason this passage has particular meaning to me because this year is because Debbie has now been a quadriplegic for 38 years, too. And she is trusting in the very same Lord Jesus that met the man at Bethesda. Near the end of His ministry and prior to his crucifixion, Jesus simply said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me …”(John 14:1)  I am proud of my daughter who heart is not troubled – because she believes in Him.
Debbie’s Take: First off, let me say I never really realized this miracle happened to someone my age or disability. In reading my dad’s description, I have gotten a new understanding of the miracle of the 38-year-old man. To be honest, I don’t remember when my good friend asked me if I ever wanted healing or what my first reaction was. I can only surmise that I was taking a back because I’ve never really thought of it. That isn’t to say that I don’t believe God can do it these days. I KNOW HE CAN. Miracles happen every day. We just need to be open enough to see them.

Growing up, strangers have tried their best to “heal” me of my CP. I don’t doubt their sincerity in trying to pray for me and help me. However, coming away from those experiences I couldn’t but be disappointed and upset. After all, some people tend to equate faith with one’s ability to be healed. Did I not measure up?? Was there something wrong with me??  Coming away from those experiences, I was often disappointed or upset. After 38 years, I have come to a different conclusion- that I’m disabled like this for a reason. I would like to believe dad’s reason for Jesus asking the man with the disability whether he’d like to be healed is correct. Jesus not only wants to make sure the man believes, but Jesus realizes he’s spent 38 years and has become comfortable with his situation.

As dad mentioned earlier, a friend told him I once hesitated on the topic of being healed. As I have explained above, this question has often brought feelings of doubt and not measuring up to the surface. But even more than that, I don’t know who I’d be if I weren’t in this wheelchair. One characteristic can change your whole perspective or outlook on life and I don’t really know myself any other way.

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