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 Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 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 going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. – John 5:1-9
Three people have left the most significant impression on me of simple, child-like faith. One was a man whose name I do not recall, another to whom I made a promise, and another who taught me a lesson. One thing each of these people have in common is that they would be called invalids.
The man whose name I cannot recall lived in a nursing home in Springfield, Illinois. He had a severe case of cerebral palsy, was drawn up in his hands, arms and legs, unable to get out of bed, and unable to speak clearly. I visited him regularly as a part of my seminary field education. I recall him saying, everytime I visited, “There ain’t nothin’ God can’t do.” Poor grammar, but great theology. A faith that looked beyond his bed and bent legs, arms, hands, and fingers to the promises of God and the hope of the resurrection. I don’t recall his name, but God knows him by name, and he is with Jesus now. On the Great Last Day, I hope to see him whole strong and glorified – invalid no more.
The second man is also now with Jesus, and in the New Heavens and New Earth I promised him that we would have a foot race. He was wheel-chair bound, with a condition much like my friend in Springfield, nearly impossible to understand, but faith-filled, and smart beyond anyone’s expectation. He is his wheel chair and me, at the time suffering greatly with an arthritic hip which has since been replaced.
The Texas Medical Center is the world’s largest medical center, with more than 50 million developed square feet. The day I encountered the third person of remarkable faith, she was a patient in one of the 21 hospitals there. I had a terrible attitude that day – made worse by my own arrogance, bad choice of parking spaces and wrong choice of hospitals. There is a difference between Jones Tower and Jones Pavilion, and I tried to find her in the wrong one. I called a colleague who was very familiar with the area, and he told me, “Get in your car, drive around to entrance 3, go to the third level of the parking garage…” The trip was a 10 minute drive. The instructions were perfect. And my arrival in her room was in the atmosphere of a very frustrated pastor. Her attitude, however, was a brush of grace that I didn’t deserve: “Oh Pastor Bahn! It’s so nice of you to come see me. I was hoping and praying that you would come…” I began a silent prayer of earnest repentance.
This woman would qualify for the term invalid, but she was anything but invalid in my heart that day. So, too, the others whose faith pointed me toward a greater hope than a life of comfort and ease. So when I read this passage, I always think of the term invalid. I don’t like it, for it makes me think of people who are thought to be less than valid by too many others. But not Jesus! He healed the man at the pool of Bethesda. He asked him if he wanted to get well, then told him to take up his bed and walk.
We may be weak now, struggle with getting out of bed on some days, or overcome with a poor attitude, and beset with illness and disease. But in God’s eyes we all are valid people, graced by his love, and redeemed by his blood. In Jesus none are invalid, one day we will dance and celebrate for joy in God’s grace, salvation, and perfect healing!