And a certain man was there, which had and infirmity thirty and eight years. (John 5:5)
The unidentified invalid in this narrative is an enigma that makes one wonder how anyone would wait thirty-eight years by the side of a pool in hopes of a cure for his ailment. According to the text, “an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had” (v. 4). The text does not specify the nature of his infirmity, but the man was probably not lame. Jesus healed the lame on several other occasions, and in those instances the infirm were clearly identified as “lame.” Not so here. Whatever the nature of his disease, this fellow felt unable to make it into the pool at the stirring of the waters.
Questions of his character also arise. Did he not have family or friends willing to help him? When Jesus asked him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” (v. 6), he offered up excuses: “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” (v.7). Had he alienated all of his friends and family by his self-pity and lack of personal responsibility? Could the source of his disease be the reason he was abandoned? We know that his sickness was a result of sin because after he was healed, Jesus admonished him, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come to thee” (v. 14). Some sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis (which was not uncommon in Jesus’ day) can be very debilitating and even deadly. Perhaps this was the nature of his infirmity and consequently the reason he was ostracized and alone.
The man also had a self-centered and ungrateful nature. Note that “immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked” (v. 9) and never even bothered to thank the Man that had healed him nor thought to even get acquainted with Him. Could this be another reason why he was forsaken?
Sin brings all sorts of debilitating problems to a life that can rob a soul of all hope and demoralize one to the point that all effort seems futile. One may even come to the pool of Bethesda (meaning the house/place of grace/mercy) and lack the strength to plunge in when the water is stirred. Jesus is that pool of “living water” saying, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). No matter how horrific the sin that makes one sick and tired, Jesus can cure the disease.