I love Carl Bloch's famous painting of Christ healing a man by the pool of Bethesda.
I got to see the painting when it was on display at the MOA, and it's even more striking and beautiful in person. The story behind the painting is short, but incredibly powerful, and it has become one of my favorite miracles.
John records some background:
"There was a feast [that is, the feast of Passover] of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For 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. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years" (John 5:1-5).
The rest of the miracle is recorded in only four simple verses:
“When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, 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. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath” (John5:6-9).
It seems there was a superstition at the time that this pool possessed healing power, and many of the desperate cases of the day--those with illnesses or conditions incurable by ordinary medicine--congregated around the pool, hoping that the disturbance (caused, they believed, by some angel) would cure them. One of the men there had long been ill. We aren't told of his condition, only that it was too debilitating for him to walk or even to rise from his bed.
Then John records that "Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case.” (John 5:6). First, Christ was mindful of the man. There was “a great multitude” of the infirm there beside the pool, but Christ saw this man and had compassion on him individually. Christ saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time.
The Lord is the same with us. He sees us as individuals, as His precious children. He knows how long we’ve struggled with whatever pains us, whatever stops us from being whole. And He has compassion on us.
Christ then asked the man, “Wilt thou be made whole?" (John 5:6). What a fascinating question! Will we be made whole?
What does it mean to be made whole? There’s the obvious physical healing, but beyond that, each of us needs to be completed, made healthy, healed of heartache, addiction, sin, or pain. But the verb tense makes it clear that wholeness isn’t a gift we can give ourselves. Obviously, the lame man wasn't going to heal himself. If he was healed, it would be because Christ healed him. He would still need the desire and the faith to be healed, but he had to know that the power of healing was not within himself, but came from a power greater than his own.
The same is true with us. We cannot heal ourselves, but the Lord can—and will—heal us.
The man, undoubtedly frustrated at his situation, responded, “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” (John 5:7).
The man gave a reason why he was still ill, even though he was lying beside a pool that purportedly had healing powers. The reason he gave is fascinating and ironic—he couldn’t hobble down to the pool, and he didn’t have anyone to help him. In other words, the reason he couldn’t get better is that he was sick!! If he had been well, he could have made it down to the pool, but then he wouldn’t have needed to get there. As it was, he couldn’t get better because his sickness prevented him from taking the steps necessary to be healed. He needed someone to intervene, to perform an action on his behalf which he could not accomplish on his own.
It is the same with us. We can’t heal ourselves, because our fallen natures put us in a position from which we cannot rise without being aided by someone more able than we. We, like this lame man, are helpless to rise on our own power. We need the power of a God. Catherine Thomas, instructor of Ancient Scripture, said, “Men were designed to be essentially powerless in this life except for their agency either to draw on God’s power and become God, or to refuse His power and become something less.” Christ testified that “I am the vine, ye are the branches...without me ye can do nothing” (John15:5). Moses, after seeing a vision of God’s creations, proclaimed, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:10).
If we can’t save ourselves, then, where do we turn? Though you already know the answer, Elder Richard G. Scott put it beautifully. “No matter what the source of difficulty and no matter how you begin to obtain relief—through a qualified professional therapist, a doctor, priesthood leader, friend, concerned parent, or loved one—no matter how you begin, those solutions will never provide a complete answer. The final healing comes through faith in Jesus Christ and His teachings, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and obedience to His commandments.” (Ensign, May 1994, 9)
“Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John 5:8).
What a funny commandment! Christ knew perfectly well that the man couldn’t get up and walk! That’s why he was lying there! Why would He command him to do the impossible? Nephi answered this in his oft-quoted maxim, “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7). Nothing that the Lord commands is impossible—in fact, whenever the Lord gives a commandment, He prepares a way and provides the power needed to keep that commandment. Obedience to any commandment brings blessings, but even before the obedience, a commandment given is always accompanied by the gift of the power to obey that commandment. When the Lord commands us to be stripped of pride, to refrain from lust, to forgive, to love our enemies, or even to “be ye therefore perfect,” He also gives the power to keep the commandment.
What about the difficult commandments? For example, the Lord commands us, “let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (Doc. & Cov. 121:45). How do we keep our thoughts virtuous? Isaiah, quoting the Lord, writes: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). If we think the Lord’s thoughts, they will automatically be virtuous—the Lord will give us the power to think well of others, as He does.
How about avoiding evil-speaking? James, in a beautiful sermon on the subject, wrote, “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:8-10). So how do we speak with an un-poisoned tongue? Jacob told us that the power to do so had been given when we recieved the gift of the Holy Ghost:
“Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:2-3).
How about becoming perfect? Christ commands very clearly, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt, 5:48). Be perfect?!?! How do we manage that? It turns out that a way has been prepared even for this, the most difficult of all the commandments:
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God” (Moroni 10:32).
The lame man could not deny the power of God that day. For, though he knew he could not stand, when Christ commanded him to rise, “immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked” (John5:9).
And then, almost as a parenthetical note, John mentions, “and on the same day was the sabbath” (John 5:9). How very appropriate! Just as this man was healed on the Sabbath day, so we can partake of the same wholeness, the same atoning power, of the very same God, on the Sabbath day. As we worthily partake of the sacrament, we are relieved of our heavy burdens. We are made whole if we exercise faith in Christ. Through His matchless power and love, we are given the power to rise, take up our beds, and walk.
I know that the Savior’s Atonement has this great power—the power to make us whole, to heal us through our faith in Him. I have felt the great peace that can only come from heaven. I know that the Lord is mindful of us, and that, no matter our heartache or sin, He has the power to heal us, that He calls to us, as He did to the Nephites of old,
“O all ye that are spared...will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?” (3 Nephi 9:13)