If I am home during daylight hours I can go to the kitchen window at almost any time and see a variety of birds in our pussy willow tree. Often they are waiting and watching another strange tree a few feet away with no leaves and only two branches. From time to time food appears in the hollow branches of this strange tree—our bird feeders—and the birds are able to pick it out. It reminds me of the crippled man who sat by the pool of Bethesda waiting for the water to be agitated. He didn’t understand how the water was being agitated, although there was a local myth about an angel, but he believed that if he could be the first person to get into the pool when the water moved, he would be healed.
Jesus came and asked him if he wanted to be healed. The man assumed Jesus was offering to wait with him and help him into the pool when the water moved. Instead, Jesus simply told him to pick up his mat and walk.
This story is not a parable or an allegory. It’s an account of a real healing miracle. Jesus healed because he felt compassion toward people with real needs, but also to demonstrate that he is Lord of Creation. Jesus also knew that this miracle, performed on the Sabbath, would bring him into conflict with the religious authorities.
Although this story is not a parable, there is some similarity between the crippled man’s behavior and the behavior of people in our time. Most Americans are too sophisticated and rational to believe in unseen spirits who interact with the world around us to cause harm or good, but many of us still demonstrate a belief in fairies and pixie dust. Lottery tickets sell like hotcakes, as do miracle weight-loss pills. Men and women look for magic in adulterous relationships. You might recall a moment in your own life where you found yourself waiting for a magical event to take place that would solve a problem, meet a need, or make you or someone else the person you or they should be. I recall many such moments of expectation.
The reality, though, is that such hopes and expectations always end up in disappointment. In the end, only Jesus, the Lord of Creation, is able to bring about change in our lives and the lives of those around us. Then, when he does, it’s not with great fanfare, but with the simple instruction to embrace the miracle that life represents every day, and to put one foot in front of the other in obedience to him.