Saved from Uselessness John 5:1-9

by Robert Brow    (

Today our Gospel is about a man who had felt useless for 38 years. If any of us feel we are not much use in our family, or the church, or in society this is good news for us.

Read John 5:1-9

John’s Gospel is built around a series of seven signs. And John commented that "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). In each case the sign points to a situation of terrible need, and how Jesus the Messiah stepped in to do what was usually impossible.

The first of the signs was when Mary, the mother of Jesus was in charge of the catering at a big wedding, and she was facing a humiliating disaster. The wine was running out. From the point of view of Middle Eastern hospitality that was a terrible situation. Happily she was able to say to Jesus, "They have no wine," and he intervened by making sure there the very best wine available for the guests.

The second sign (John 4:54) was a royal official who was desperate because his son was dying . He had the faith to go to Jesus "and begged him to come down and heal his son."

The last of the seven signs was when the two sisters Martha and Mary sent an urgent message to Jesus to come and heal their brother. But he had no come, and Lazarus was now dead three days The astonishing resurrection of their brother was a sign that death is under Jesus’s control, and even when we die he can raise us to life with him on the other side.



Today we are focusing on the third of the seven signs. Here we have a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years (John 5:5). You can imagine how useless he felt after 38 years of being unable to work or do anything useful.

When Jesus found him he was lying by a pool in what people called "The house of mercy" (Hebrew Beth Hasda). This was probably what is now known at the Pool of St. Anne in the north part of the old city of Jerusalem. You can visit it just by the Via Dolorosa if you go to Jerusalem. The five porticoes were built around two pools that formed a rectangle divided by a colonnade in the middle and colonnades round the four sides.

This was a place where blind, lame, and paralyzed people were left for the day by their families. They could keep each other company, and rich people would come and give them a coin to buy food from the vendors who came around. There was a tradition that, when the water was stirred by an underground spring, the first person who could get into the pool was healed.

Jesus focused on one particular man who complained that it took him so long to crawl into the water that others got in before him.

I wonder if any of you are humiliated by a sense that you have no function to perform. Perhaps you you are totally dependent on your family and others to meet your simplest needs. You feel you have nothing to offer. People despise you for being a parasite in society. If you feel inadequate, and not much good to anyone, take heart Jesus has something in mind for you, something totally wonderful and unexpected.


In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard the owner came at the eleventh hour and found some who had spent all day without work. He asked them "Why are you standing here idle?" They said "no one has hired us." So he sent them to work for that last hour in the vineyard and paid them the same as those who had worked all day. Obviously Jesus is concerned when people feel that there is nothing useful for them to do.

In this man’s case Jesus told him to get up, pick up the mat he had lain on, and walk out to a new life of work and usefulness. "At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk" (John 5:9). We wonder what he was able to begin doing with his new life?

In the church, which is the Kingdom of Heaven here in Kingston, there is work and usefulness for everyone. We can’t say that every Christian is healed from paralysis. And not every one of us gets a job. But the Apostle John has picked out this particular miracle of healing, and used it to point to the fact that when people come to faith in Jesus, the Messiah gives them a function. At least they can smile, be friendly, listen, say positive things, give words of encouragement, and Jesus values their prayers for others.

When Paul listed the various functions in the church as a body he wrote : "The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect" (1 Corinthians 12:22-23). That means that in the Kingdom of Heaven many of the most important functions are never seen. And there is unseen, important work for each of us to do.



Being made useful is a simple as standing up, picking up the mat we have been lying on, and beginning to walk. But there is an interesting sequel to the story of the paralyzed man. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you." It seems as if something went wrong in this man’s life that triggered the sickness and paralysis that he had suffered for 38 years.

Here again we must never say that every sickness is the result of human sin. But in some cases there is a connection. In one parish where I served there was a man who offered to do a carpentry job in the church building. He was hurried and careless, and somebody said "That was a crummy job you did for us." He never came back to church, and the remainder of his life he was a grouchy, miserable person. In another situation in the Parish of Cavan two pews were taken out to make an access down into the Sunday School, and a woman was angry that she had lost her pew. She never came back. Who was she hurting? Was it God, or the Rector of the parish, or the other members of the congregation? The point is some things need to be confessed and if possible put right if we want our heart to be healed.

So if we feel that we have been useless and miserable for a long time, it is good to make sure we have confessed any sin that might have been a contributing cause.

Then we must avoid blaming others for what has gone wrong in our life. "Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up and someone else steps down ahead of me" (John 5:7). People keep complaining "The government won’t do this or that," which may be true. Or "my family don’t care about me," which may also be true. Or "the church does not help me," which is very often the case.

But Jesus’ one question is "Do you want to be made well?" Do we really long to be useful in Jesus’s service. And when that is settled, he can ask us to take the first step in a new life of creative service in his Kingdom..

Prayer : "Lord, I wonder if I am any use to anyone in this world. Based on this story of the man who had been useless for 38 years, I can thank you that you care about me having a useful fruitful life. Help me to take that first step of faith. I want to step out into usefulness in your Kingdom."


Bob and Mollie Brow
613 542 9838

model theology home | essays and articles | books | sermons | letters to surfers | comments