Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 26 May 2010
MAIN IDEA: Ever felt helpless? Encountered hopelessness? In this life, there will be challenges. Some happen once in a while. Some occur regularly in different degrees. While we cannot control the kinds of problems that come our way, we can choose how we are to respond to any of them.
One of the most fascinating stories in the gospels is the meeting of Jesus and the lame man by the pool of Bethesda. The gospel of John reads:
A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” (John 5:5-6, NAS)
What? Did Jesus ask the obvious? Of course, the blind would love to see. The dumb would love to talk. The deaf would want to hear. Surely, the lame would desire to walk. Why on earth would Jesus ask such an apparent question? The answer to this lies in Jesus’ profound observation skills.
A) With Eyes That See
Jesus sees not just a lame, handicapped man. The gospel writer says 38 years the man has lain in that condition. Think about that. What can 38 years do to a man? Probably, most of the productive and youthful years have been wasted. Jesus, who already knew about the history of this unnamed man, chooses not to take it for granted. He asks the question that tugs at the heart of the invalid man, “Do you wish to get well?”
From the Greek, Jesus’ question can be paraphrased as ‘Do you really desire to be made whole and healthy?” I like the NRSV rendition, which translates as “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus apparently knew that for the man ‘in that condition,’ the biggest problem is not the physical handicap. The bigger problem is a heart that is lethargic, languid, and lame. The lame man was given a choice. Look at the reply.
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.” (John 5:7)
This very answer from the lame man, tells us that he is no longer simply a lame man. He is filled with shame and prefers to play the blame game. Both are symptoms of helplessness and self-imposed hopelessness.
B) Helplessness: Lame, Shame & Blame
If the man is physically lame, his words reflect a lamer attitude. Why didn’t the man say a simple, ‘Yes?’ Why didn’t he put some positive attitude into his reply? Why did his answer reflect a state of helplessness rather than a heart of hopefulness? The man was given more than a question of fact. He was practically given a choice to choose healing. He fails to recognize that ‘not choosing’ is already a choice in itself.
I get a feeling that this man has a sense of hidden anger about his own physical handicap. He has unwittingly allowed his physical disability become like a virus that impairs his mental and emotional willingness to get well. In other words, escapism is his form of coping with his helplessness. He escapes into blaming others for entering the water before him. He escapes into his own shame of being handicapped. He escapes into his cocoon of self-pity. In other words, this man digs his own grave of helplessness, to bathe in his own pond of hopelessness. He displays this escapist pattern right before the Giver of Hope: Jesus.
C) Helplessness in Modern Society
I hear about helplessness from time to time. People often talk about the homeless situation in Vancouver, yet are lost as how to go about helping them. In political circles, the news continues to show failings in leadership, and it is common to hear statements from the man in the street that the government is corrupt in some way. Even in Church, there is a temptation to complain and be skeptical about new changes implemented. I hear of people saying, ‘Been There; Done That. What’s New?’ I notice cynics who are not only ‘bored’ by ideas, but are downright condescending on people who are energized and excited about change. Such things are symptoms of a mood of helplessness.
During my studies, I discovered the works of a Bangladeshi banker, called Muhammed Yunus. He is a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner, largely due to his Micro-Finance initiative to help the poor help themselves. In an interview, he shares about his early years of feeling helpless at seeing the poverty around him.
“I was teaching in one of the universities while the country was suffering from a severe famine. People were dying of hunger, and I felt very helpless. As an economist, I had no tool in my tool box to fix that kind of situation.” (Muhammed Yunus)
What did Yunus do? First he observes how the poor gets bullied by money-lenders. Second, he thinks of ways to help these people help themselves. Third, he develops a plan called ‘micro-financing.’ Essentially, micro-financing is a way to provide small loans to a group of people who are prepared to be guarantors of each other. Say there are 5 friends who borrowed $10 each from Yunus. If one friend defaults, the other 4 friends are responsible to pay the difference. Called the ‘banker to the poor,’ Yunus has become world famous for being able to help the poor help themselves. The Bangladeshi bank he founded is called Grameen Bank, which literally means ‘bank of the villagers’ is largely owned by the poor. It is a positive success story that has brought hope to many poor communities in Bangladesh.
D) Against Negativity: Sharing Hope
We live in an increasingly tough world. Sometimes, we are susceptible to bad news after bad, that affects our mood for hope. In times like these, let Jesus nip our negativity in the bud, just like how Jesus did to the lame man. Speaking with authority, Jesus called him to:
"Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." (John 5:8)
In three terse verbs, Jesus calls the man to ‘get up’ from his state of self-pity, ‘pick up’ whatever he has, and ‘walk.’ These three active verbs help snap the lame man into action. Thankfully, the man obeyed Jesus’ words.
Perhaps, for us as Christians, when we encounter challenges, let us not complain. Let us not blame others for our predicament. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and listen to Him whisper in our ears: “Get up! Pick up whatever pieces you have, and come follow Me.”
Surely we can obey?
When the challenges in life come upon us, it is very tempting to swim in self-pity, or to hide our heads in the sand of shame like an ostrich in danger. Break out of our cocoons. Tear down the walls of self-pity. Let our light shine before men, that they may see God’s glory, through the way we live in hope. When the going gets tough, let go of any helplessness. When the challenges seem insurmountable, do not lose hope. For there is nothing, no temptation that can test us beyond what we can handle (1 Cor 10:13). It is a promise.
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cor 10:13)
Albert Camus, another Nobel Prize winner, says that "Life is the sum of all our choices."
Do not be afraid to choose. Choose wisely. Choose well. Choose Christ. Choose to be a ‘pencil’ for God to use.
Thought: “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” (Mother Teresa)
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