“After these things was a festival day of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem a pond, called Probatica. In these lay a great multitude of sick, of blind, of lame, of withered; waiting for the moving of the water. And an angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond; and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water, was made whole, of whatsoever infirmity he lay under. And there was a certain man there, that had been eight and thirty years under his infirmity. When Jesus had seen him lying, and knew that he had been now a long time, he saith to him: Wilt thou be made whole? The infirm man answered him: Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pond. For whilst I am coming, another goeth down before me. Jesus saith to him: Arise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole: and he took up his bed, and walked. And it was the sabbath that day. The Jews therefore said to him that was healed: It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for thee to take up thy bed” (John 5: 1-10, Douay-Rheims).
This Bible passage has been on my heart after trying to deal with some feelings of loneliness in my life. I wanted to explore the message that Jesus was trying to articulate. Once I did I realized that I, too, am the man who cannot walk. I am crippled by my own human weakness, events in the past that continue to affect me, and most of all a seeming impossibility of solving the problem myself. Sometimes we go through things that we don’t know how to explain to another person and experience a type of loneliness in suffering. Thankfully, Jesus does not wait for us to become strong enough by ourselves, and wants us to turn to Him as the source our healing and strength.
Just like this man, sometimes we come to a place where we feel completely alone. It doesn’t even have to be something exterior like an illness. It can be an internal trial that we feel we can’t share with others, and wonder if anyone would really understand. Or it may be a mental illness, like depression, anorexia or bipolar disorder that can be misunderstood by others – this can bring much loneliness and feelings of being judged and uncared for.
One Sunday, as I thought about this Gospel passage at Mass, I realized some things about this man that I didn’t notice before. He was in a place with a lot of other sick people. Yet for such a long time (38 years!) he couldn’t receive the healing that he longed for. He was so close! He was right beside the pond, and all he had to do was go into it, but he couldn’t even do that. Was he tempted to believe that God had forgotten him? That He didn’t care? After all, it was God’s Angel who brought the healing – why to everyone else and not to him? Maybe if there was someone to help him get into the pond, he could be healed. But he didn’t even have that. No one would take pity on him and do the simple act of carrying him into a pond that was so near. Every time he tried, he didn’t have enough time and someone else always got there first. How frustrating and discouraging that must be!
I don’t know for sure what it was like for this man, but he must have felt forgotten, alone and like no one cared enough to help him. It was like he was the smallest, most forgotten person in society. Even in his need, no one took pity. There are many people like this and how does Jesus respond to them? How does He see the poor old woman wearing a curtain for a skirt, that I saw one day in the city? Or the man on the street who feels ignored by everyone as he begs for a few cents? Or people who try really hard but feel cast aside by society, and someone always gets ahead of them? Maybe we are not in such situations but there are times we can feel very helpless too – when we can’t help ourselves, and we wonder if others understand. As a young girl, I struggled with feelings of loneliness and didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t know how. I struggled with feeling loved and thought I couldn’t be loved because I was “ugly” and not successful at anything. Sometimes I feel like that little girl in middle school despite being in my late 20s. Little sufferings compared to these others, but even the littleness of them could be discouraging – “no one would understand why this is a big deal to me, but it is, so I’ll stay silent”. How much in us always stays in our heart, unknown to all others? Maybe you can relate.
What is Jesus’ response to all this? Is it the response we fear from the rest of the world? “It is not a big deal. Deal with it”. Or just blind indifference? Does He see the depth of the heart that we can’t communicate to others, – the part of the heart that no one will ever know? It’s so comforting to read this passage because we see that He does care. He understood everything about this man. He saw him as a priceless person whom He created and gave an immortal soul to. He saw the hope He has for this man – a life of eternal glory and the beatific vision of God in Heaven. He saw his childhood and his whole life, all his experience of life that remained unknown to others. He saw his sins. He saw his anguish at being near this pond for thirty eight years, not being able to enter there on time and having no one to help him.
And He came to the man Himself. He didn’t just ask another person to help him and carry him to the pond. He didn’t see all the other people first. He came to the MOST helpless man there, almost like He sought him out, and came to that place just for him! Though this man was forgotten by everyone else, He was the one Jesus chose. Our Lord healed him simply by willing it – “Arise, take up thy bed, and walk”. If you feel like you are alone, dealing with a situation that you can’t easily talk about or express and if you feel like you don’t have a friend to help you or if you feel overcome with unworthiness and too sinful to approach God, remember that there is never such fear with Jesus. He looks deep into our hearts and understands everything in an instant. He hears our prayers when we don’t have words to express what we need. And even for the most miserable person in the whole world – Jesus would seek them out.
If you know someone struggling with depression or a crippling illness, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and offer love and support. The gift of your presence is enough, you don’t need to go out of your way to do huge gestures of love, start with the small things (sending a care package, visiting them, taking them out for a coffee). These gestures widen our capacity to love others more deeply.