John 5:1-15 – Bad Judge of Character

In the Jim Carrey version of “The Grinch,” he has a throwaway line that sticks with me. Cindy Lou Who has just said something sweet about the Grinch, and as he pats her off the screen he says, “Cute kid. BAD judge of character,” before indulging in some shenanigans.

Was Jesus a bad judge of character?

I ask because in John 5:1-15, Jesus heals a guy, and you kind of wonder why. I mean, why THAT guy? 

Jesus is in Jerusalem and goes to this place where, apparently, there’s a pool that occasionally gets stirred up, and it’s said that when it starts bubbling, whoever jumps in first is healed. So there is a big crowd there, just hanging out, waiting for the bubbles to come, and Jesus walks up to a guy who has been sick – basically paralyzed – for 38 years. And Jesus heals him, which is as sweet as Cindy Lou Who.


There are a couple of times in the gospels when Jesus asks someone what they want, and usually the answer is pretty obvious, and the person gets it right. Like, he asks a blind guy, “What do you want?” And the guy says “I want to see.” Tough stuff.

Jesus takes it a step farther with this guy and asks him, “Do you want to be healed?” Which makes asking a blind beggar what he wants seem tricky by comparison.  And the guy shanks the answer; he doesn’t say “Uh, yeah.” He says “Well, you see, I don’t have any friends to help me, and I’m not quick enough to get into the pool in time to beat all these other guys…” He completely loses the forest for the trees. It would be as if someone dressed like the monopoly guy came up to me with a bulging wad of cash and said “Do you want a million dollars?” And I answered “You know I keep trying out for the Rays, but they say I don’t throw hard enough, or have a secondary pitch, and I’m 53.” It’s an answer, but not really what he was asking, and closing off some significantly better options.

Jesus heals the guy anyway, telling him to pick up his mat and skedaddle. It’s interesting, because a lot of Scripture scholars compare this guy to another paralytic with a mat in the synoptic gospels. THAT guy gets healed because his friends cut through the roof of the place where Jesus was to get the guy in front of him. THIS guy, he doesn’t have any friends, as he tells Jesus. Which Jesus might should have noticed.

Since this happens on the Sabbath, and observant Jews were not to work on the Sabbath, this newly healed guy gets in trouble immediately for walking around, carrying his mat, just like Jesus told him to. When he gets stopped by the religious cops for working on the Sabbath, he blames the guy who healed him. And at that point it is revealed that he doesn’t really know who healed him. He didn’t bother to catch Jesus’ name.


If you’re sick for 38 years and some dude comes by and heals you, don’t you at least get his name? This is not the Lone Ranger here. He was not some Masked Man.

Then, somewhat surprisingly, the dude meets Jesus again, in the Temple, and Jesus tells him to shape up and quit sinning so nothing worse happens to him. And the guy responds by turning Jesus in – going back to the authorities and saying “Hey, you know how you busted me for working on the Sabbath and I told you it was the guy who healed me’s fault? That guy’s name was Jesus.” And in John, this is what sparks the movement to have Jesus killed. Maybe the idea of not sinning was an affront to him.

So…this guy is not bright, has no friends, isn’t grateful, and isn’t loyal. 

The story (which, as an aside, shows just how well the author knew the neighborhood around the Temple, which had been destroyed by the time this was written) is clear that there were a BUNCH of people at this pool waiting to get healed. And Jesus chose this guy.

So was Jesus a bad judge of character?

Maybe everyone else there was worse. It’s certainly possible. This guy was no gem, but he wasn’t actively conniving to kneecap the people in his way.

Or maybe this is EXACTLY the sort of person Jesus comes for. As uncomfortable as I am with the notion that God miraculously heals some people in the clear face of the evidence that a lot of people don’t get that healing, here’s what I can take from this guy:

He isn’t able to rely on his own wits. (I mean, he bought into a strategy that he could clearly explain would not work (“I’m not fast enough.”) FOR 38 YEARS.)

He doesn’t have connections. Or even a “a friend will help you move, and a real friend will help you move a body” real friend.

He isn’t grateful for what he has or what he gets. (He’s also bad with names.)

He isn’t particularly loyal or faithful.

If that’s the sort of person Jesus comes for, I guess maybe I’m OK with that. Because, for one thing, that’s the sort of person nobody else is going to line up to help. 

And for another thing, I can point to my own dim-wittedness, impotence, ingratitude and lack of faith.

Is Jesus a bad judge of character?

I sure hope so.

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