The account of the infirm man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5) is one of my favorites in the Bible. We learn that this man “had an infirmity thirty and eight years.” The waters of the Bethesda pool were said to be attended by an angel, and when the angel “troubled the water,” whoever then first set foot in the water “was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”
Jesus asks this man a seemingly simple question: “Wilt thou be made whole?” Are you willing to acknowledge your incorruptible Wholeness?
The reply? “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.” I can’t, because even though I’ve been waiting here for quite some time, I don’t have the resources I need (I have no one to help me), and when I try to make my way to the water on my own, someone cuts in line in front of me. There are externals – in this case, other people who either won’t help me or are actively blocking me – who are keeping me from my realizing my wholeness.
Clearly, this man was invested in his story! I’d venture to say that he was so immersed in it that he didn’t even recognize that he had a story that he was stuck in.
The Spiritual Fact of Wholeness
Instead of acknowledging the man’s story, Jesus tells him to get up and walk! No acknowledgment that he’d been struggling with the apparent infirmity for quite some time. No recognition of the patent unfairness of the situation when others would jump into the pool ahead of this man, seeming to deny him the opportunity to be whole. No sympathizing with any of the apparent limitations this man was arguing for. Some might call that impolite, at best; others might call it appalling or offensive.
Wasn’t Jesus a nice guy? Aren’t you supposed to empathize when folks share their problems? Isn’t that how you let them know that you care, that you understand what they’re going through? Clearly that’s not the path Jesus was advocating.
With his command to “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk,” Jesus didn’t accept any of the limitations the man was arguing for, or anything that anyone near the pool would have seen – an apparently paralyzed man who wasn’t able to do things on his own.
The gift that Jesus gave to the seemingly infirm man at the pool of Bethesda was the conscious acknowledgment of the man’s incorruptible Wholeness. The man’s story was completely irrelevant to this spiritual Fact. His Wholeness was not dependent on any external conditions – the pool, someone to carry him to it, or the angel who stirred its waters.
Jesus was steadfast in his recognition that this man’s divine inheritance was one of Perfection, Completeness, with nothing missing. He didn’t even dip a toe into the man’s lie of limitation, because he knew that doing so would be to deny this man’s divine nature.
This is Love – divine Love – understanding the Wholeness and Perfection of All that is, without limitation. It is loving your neighbor as your Self. It’s recognizing the unbroken divinity of everyone in your world – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, people you see/read about in the news – without exception, regardless of how sad or terrible their story might seem to be. Neither pity nor “righteous anger” constitute Love because they fail to acknowledge the unchanging, indestructible Wholeness of Life.
These days, the world seems to want us to commiserate with all that seems to be wrong, to fight against apparent injustice, to empathize and sympathize with the perceived limitations being faced by individuals and groups.
And to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) requires you to be a “jerk” – to acknowledge the unbroken Wholeness of everyone and everything in your world, regardless of, and often in spite of, their stories about themselves – just like Jesus.