John 5:1-7 (NIV): Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Many people in Jesus’ day, just like many today, seek God “indirectly.” That is, instead of merely coming to God in faith for healing (or whatever else they might need), they go to a shrine, or to some “high place,” or even to a person reputed to be a healer or miracle worker.
Sometimes the person receives the miracle that they need. But often they don’t. Then, instead of seeking God more directly, they spend time and energy trying to puzzle out the right “formula” that will facilitate the miracle – the correct combination of place, and posture, and phrase that will perform the magic. Yes, magic, because that is what this degrades to: man’s efforts to influence natural forces through their own actions or words.
That was where this man was. He had been an invalid for 38 long years, and had been brought to the Pool of Bethesda day in and day out for a long time. But he had never gotten the “magic” to work for him. He had lacked a person who was willing to carry him into the pool when the waters were disturbed. The “magic formula” only allowed healing to the first person in, and the man couldn’t drag himself into the water before someone else got in and “stole” his miracle.
But now here was Jesus, God in the flesh, visiting this man at the place where he was seeking a miracle. And Jesus asked what sometimes seems like a ridiculous question. “Do you want to get well?” “Of course he does,” we say! “He has been laying at this poolside for ages!”
But the question is legitimate. The man had stopped seeking God for his healing long years before, and was now pursuing superstition and magic instead. He had turned away from the One who could actually provide what he claimed to desire so strongly. Now, in order to receive his healing, he would have to turn back to God, to Jesus; trust in Him, and do what He would tell him to do, no matter how improbably that might seem.
Father, it is shameful how many of Your people have actually turned away from You in their search for the miracles that they need. Instead of asking, seeking, and knocking, and continuing to do so until we receive from You, we read books on how to make our prayers more effective by being in the right place at the right time, or by using the right words. It is understandable that some might grow discouraged when You don’t answer immediately, (this man had been waiting 38 years for the answer!), or in the way we think You should. But the correct response is not to focus on technique, but on You. Not to try to find the words that will move You, but to stay so close to You during the waiting times that we begin to hear Your heart beat, begin to be transformed by Your presence as we wait for Your appearing. Amen.