Jesus said, “Arise, pick up your mat and walk!” - John 5:8
The scripture above is from the passage that tells the story of Jesus healing the lame man. This man had been lying crippled for 38 years near the healing pool called, “Bethesda” which means “house of mercy.” Once a year the pools waters would stir up and the people believed that the first person to enter the pool would be healed. There were many lame and disabled who gathered around the pool hoping to be the first one in. This one crippled man was not able to move and no one in the crowd helped him.
I believe there are two messages to be learned from this passage. The most common lesson and one that probably most of us hear, is that the crippled man was having a pity party, feeling sorry for himself and making up excuses that no one will help him and he is too weak to crawl over on his own. But, when Jesus arrived on the scene he told the man to get up. Then he told him to pick up his mat, and lastly to walk. Jesus instructed him to take action. The crippled man first had to get up, take his first step of faith then pick up his mat and carry his own load in life. Basically, be responsible for yourself and stop blaming the world. I do think this message can apply to those who think of themselves as a victim and don’t really want to do what they can do to help themselves, always making excuses. But, I believe there is a far greater message in this story, one that my mother shared with me, a message of compassion.
But first, let me share a story. A few months ago I experience being paralyzed. It was a Saturday afternoon, I went out to the beauty supply store, and as I walked back to my car, I felt a slight twinge in my back. I knew something was wrong. I was able to get home safely. I called my mother and told her I wouldn’t be driving down to Orange County. Shortly after, I made some lunch for myself and while carrying the plate in my hand, the next thing I knew, the plate tossed in the air onto my couch and I fell to the floor between my couch and coffee table. I had never felt such excruciating pain in my life. My mobile phone was on the coffee table, but I was facing the opposite direction. I tried to roll over onto my back, but the slightest movement caused the pain to increase. I was so terrified. All I could do was cry out to Jesus for help. Somehow, I had the courage to roll over and reach for my phone. (“It hurts just thinking about it”.) I called my mother, in tears. I can only image how worried and scared she was when she heard my voice in such fear and pain. She called my father and brother and they called me right away. I could barely speak between my crying and the pain I was feeling. I know they all felt so helpless because they live about an hour away from me. I tried to call 911 but I wasn’t getting a signal. My mother called me back and she had to call 911 for me. I felt so alone and scared. My mother stayed on the line with me, praying and comforting me until the firemen and paramedics arrived. One of them broke through a window, without breaking the glass and another jimmied my back door to get in. I had six brave men in my house attending to me. Did I mention handsome, too? This was my first experience being in an ambulance and high on morphine! My parents met me at the Emergency room as soon as possible. The cause of my pain was due to severe muscle spasm in my lower back that was putting pressure on the nerve. I share this incident of mine because I don’t know if anyone has ever felt such pain to the point of being physically paralyzed, but I experienced it for a few hours that day, and it took a few months of physical therapy for me to be back on my feet walking normally.
I believe the greater message of this story of the crippled man is about the compassion of Jesus. For 38 years this poor man couldn’t move. I’m sure he too was in severe pain. But, Jesus, the great physician, had compassion on this man and healed him. The message here is that Jesus is the healer, not some pool of magical healing waters. Also, I believe, a message of shame to all the spectators who didn’t try to help this man. Where was their compassion? I wonder how many of us walk past a crippled man because we don’t have the time and can’t be bothered. It could be a homeless person, a friend, co-worker or family member in need, and how many of us just turn away and don’t want to get involved. Or, we might just say, “I’ll be praying for you.” and just walk away, instead of meeting the need. Yes, prayer is powerful, but does it ever occur to us that maybe God wants us to do more.
Romans 15: 1&2 we who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us ought to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
1John 3:17 if anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in them?
I think we have to think twice about judging or criticizing a person who is hurting, broken or who just can’t get up. Unless we have actually suffered in their pain, who are we to not understand and not show a little compassion. Crippled, could be someone not only with a physical disability, but maybe it’s someone you know who is bound by drugs, alcohol, depression, abuse, fear, poverty, or any stronghold that is keeping them paralyzed and they just don’t have the power within them to get up. They need someone's help.
My recent personal experience of pain has given me a greater compassion for people who suffer constant pain, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, it shouldn’t matter what is paralyzing them, we simply need to be more like Jesus and show a little compassion.
Isaiah 58:6&7 Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to see the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and provide the poor wanderer with shelter, when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?