Sharp Elbows

John 5:7 “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.

Observation: The man had been sick for thirty-eight years. He had taken his daily trip to the Pool of Bethesda along with a multitude of others. They all waited for an angel of the Lord to come stir the waters, knowing that only the one who got into the water first would be healed of his affliction.

Application: Why would there be such a system? On the face of it, it seems grossly unfair, since only the most vigorous among the sick could leap first into the pool. But think for a moment about what isn’t obvious. The chaos around this pool must have been like a municipal pool on a hot summer day with overcrowding, screaming, eager busloads of children competing to enjoy the cooling waters.

But wouldn’t this particular pool have had a dark edge to it? Wouldn’t childlike eagerness to enjoy cool waters morph into a destructive competitiveness as people frantically pull and fight against one another so they alone might be first into the water to receive God’s blessing? I can imagine destructive, self-serving behavior being the rule of the day every day at the Pool of Bethesda. Cursing, tripping, clawing must have been overwhelming; it was a system where winning could happen only at the expense of another. Think of the deep disappointment of all those who lost the race and of the dark vows and strategies they surely nursed for “tomorrow”—strategies to create more losers and one winner: me.

But then the Savior appears and speaks a simple command: “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Oh, that I could hear His voice in the same way as this man. How much of life is spent trying to win at someone else’s expense? I remember years of extensive travel, leaving wife and children to face multiple days and nights without a husband and father at home. I think of the times I have been too occupied with my own activities to give generously to others who needed me, and I cringe in shame. Am I no different than all those sharp-elbowed pool watchers? Am I no less eager to receive at my friends’ expense? Must others lose so I might win? I see now why there is such a system: it is my system.

Prayer: Lord, Paul’s words in Romans 6:2, “May it never be!” come to mind, yet I know my own heart remains too selfish for You to yet find a comfortable home there. Forgive me, Lord. Continue Your work of refining and purifying in me. I do want to be like Jesus in all things.

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