Overcoming Paralysis – March 8, 2020, the Second Sunday in Lent
March 8, 2020
As I said last week, we’re looking at several stories in the Gospel of John during Lent this year. And today we’re looking at this story from chapter 5, where Jesus heals this man who was paralyzed. And as I think about this story, I have to wonder what this scene looked like!
Can we imagine this? John tells us, “There is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Beth-za′tha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, and paralyzed.”
Can we picture what that was like? This story was not just about one man. There were all these people who were “invalids” surrounding this pool? That’s probably not a “politically correct” term. But that’s what it says. And John says there was a “multitude!”
Now, from what we’re told, they were there because something would “stir the water” from time to time. We’re not sure what that meant. Maybe it was a release of air bubbles, or an upwelling of the water in some way. We don’t know. But there was a belief that it was some kind of supernatural force at work. And it was also believed that, when it happened, the first person who went into the water would receive some kind of healing power. We don’t know how often this happened, but apparently it was often enough, that all these people gathered there, in hopes of being cured.
That’s the scene. I hope you can picture it. Then John then tells us of this one man, this one man who was there that day, who had been ill for 38 years. It doesn’t say he was there at this pool for 38 years, but he was there that day. And like all the others, he was hoping that he would be able to receive this healing power. So, Jesus sees him, and he asks him if he wants to be healed. And of course, the man says, “Yes!” “But! I have no way of being the first one in the water.” Apparently, he knows how this works, and he’s there for that reason. But he doesn’t have much hope because of his lack of mobility – because of his paralysis. Well, Jesus is about to change all that!
Now of course, we know this story. We know what Jesus is about to do. It’s hard for us to be surprised about it. He tells the man, “Rise! Take up your pallet and walk.” And the man does! Think about that! After 38 years, this man can now walk! Again, it’s hard for us to be surprised when we read this. But I hope we get an understanding of the power of what happened! I think Jesus has started to “up the ante” here! So far, we’ve seen him healing diseases, casting out demons, healing withered hands. Now, here’s a lame man, a paralyzed man, a man who has not been able to walk for 38 years! And he is healed! And as we go along in the Gospel story, it would get even more dramatic and powerful, until finally, in our last story, Jesus will raise a man from the dead!
As I said, it’s hard for us to be surprised by what Jesus did, because we know these stories. But hopefully we can know the power of this! Because we have what the people then did not have. We have the big picture! We see the healing power of Jesus, we know all these stories, and we are confirmed in our belief that he is who he said he is!
So, that’s the basic story here. And it’s a good one! But, as I thought about it this week, I found myself wondering if there was a metaphor here. I wondered, “Are we ever paralyzed?” Are we ever like the man in this story? Do we ever find ourselves unable to move in some way? Maybe we know we need to take some important step in our lives, to move in some new direction. But we’re paralyzed. Maybe it’s a move to a new home, maybe it’s taking a new job, or maybe it’s retiring from a job. It’s something we know we need to do, but we can’t seem to take that step.
What causes that paralysis in us? Sometimes it’s fear of the unknown that causes it. Sometimes it’s the fear of failure. Sometimes it’s the comfort of doing things “the way we’ve always done them.” That’s a big one for us Presbyterians, isn’t it? Change is hard for us! We’ve been referred to over the years as “God’s frozen people!”
What about moving forward in our faith? Here we are in Lent. And as you know, Lent is a time when we look at our life of faith, and we try to see where we may have fallen short, or where we need to grow. And I think we need to recognize that sometimes we are paralyzed in our faith. We are unable to move forward. It can be just like making major changes in other parts of our lives. Do you ever feel that way? You want to move forward in your faith, but you just can’t seem to move?
So, what do we do? Do we even try to end our paralysis? Do we try to step down in the healing water? Notice, this man in the story tried! He didn’t say he was just waiting, doing nothing. He said he tried to get into the water, but someone always beat him to it. He said what he needed was someone to help him. We need to try. We need to recognize our need to move forward, and resolve to do something about it!
But I think there’s more to it. Because I think we need to seek help from Jesus to heal our paralysis – like this man in the story! Maybe a good prayer for Lent is to say, “God I feel stuck in my faith. I need to have the strength to move forward. Please help me.” Then I think we need to listen. That’s very important. Sometimes we think prayer is us doing all the talking! But it isn’t. We need to take time to listen. We need to strain our ears to listen for that still, small voice. If we do, maybe we’ll hear the voice of God saying to us, “Rise and walk!”
Then of course, it almost goes without saying that we have to obey! And that can be hard, too! But we have to do it. We have to get up and walk. We can’t just say, “Thank you, Jesus! You’ve given me the strength!” …and then just lay there! Jesus bids us “walk!” And we need to walk!
That’s one of the important things we need to do during the Lenten season. We need to see where we might be stuck, where we might be unable to move in our faith, and we need to do something about it. We need to rise and walk!
As you think about that, let me suggest that there’s one other story of paralysis here. It’s a story about paralysis of thinking! You see, those who opposed Jesus couldn’t get past their fear, their jealousy, or whatever it was that kept them from accepting him for who he was. Because, once again in this story, Jesus got in trouble with the Pharisees for healing this man! Why? Because again, he did it on the Sabbath! And the more they fault him for greater and greater miracles, the more absurd it seems!
I think that’s another lesson there. Yes, this man was paralyzed physically, but these Pharisees were paralyzed in their thinking. And, does that ever happen to us? Do we resist things because they threaten our “usual way” of doing things? Do we avoid things just because they upset the “status quo?” That’s what the Pharisees were doing. And I know at times I’m guilty of that. And I’m betting, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see that you are, too!
Lent is a time to think about such things. Is God calling you to a deeper relationship with him? Is he wanting you to move forward in your faith, to draw closer to him? Are you stuck? Are you paralyzed? But, can you hear the voice of the Savior bidding you to “rise and walk?”
Eternal God, help us to hear your still, small voice speaking to us, bidding us to go further in our faith this Lenten season. Help us to have the strength we need to follow Jesus more closely day by day. For this we pray in his name, Amen.