Questions with Strange Answers #13
John 5:2-7 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
This story is a heart-breaker. On the surface, of course it’s the wrong answer to a simple yes-or-no question. But the man, instead of answering Jesus directly, instead reacts and responds. He was apparently so deep into despair that instead of an obvious “Yes,” his feelings of disappointment led to a description of what hadn’t happened and his understanding of why it hadn’t. He experienced the question rather than hearing it.
This is a great lesson to us about the power of our speech to draw forth unexpected responses. We often have no idea how our speech, even speech filled with love and good intentions, can prick a heart or stir up a painful memory. Sometimes we’re just looking for an answer to a question, but the person we’re asking is experiencing something different—and it’s often so sensitive or so personal that both the speaker and hearer are taken aback by the response.
Jesus didn’t rebuke him for the “wrong” answer, and neither did He engage the man in a dialogue about any complex feelings about being made well. “Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.” (vv. 8 and 9)
Jesus’ goal was healing him, and perhaps it was simply to begin to stir up faith in the man, or express His love, that Jesus asked him the question. (Wondering what Jesus was going after here is one of those questions on the author’s list to ask Him when he sees Him.) But what we can learn at first glance is the power of words to effect a deep response in others.
Jesus responded to this man’s answer with healing—love in action. What do we do when someone responds (or reacts) passionately, or painfully, or even inappropriately? Can we proceed in love without being derailed by the surprise of the response? It takes wisdom to know how best to reply when we encounter an unintended response like this. Happily, God has promised to provide that wisdom when we ask (James 1:5).
Prayer: Father, help me to understand that my words or intentions may occasionally stir up surprising, unexpected feelings or responses in others. Help me to do Your will in my response. Help me to hear your voice and sense Your Spirit guiding me in those moments.