The average American has some understanding of the Bible. For instance, almost all of us know that “God helps those who help themselves” is a direct quote from the Bible. It’s there in, uhm, hold on a second…I used to know where it is. Oh, gotta be Proverbs. Hmmm…not there. Maybe Deuteronomy? No. Wait a bit, I’ll find it. It’s gotta be in the Sermon on the Mount. The truth is, that’s not a Biblical statement, as much as we want it to be. The idea first showed up in Greek Literature and Drama. The English version first showed up in the mid-1600’s and we know and use it because Benjamin Franklin quoted that aphorism in “Poor Richard’s Almanack.”
Poor Richard’s Almanack had a lot of good advice, but people often confuse what Benjamin Franklin said there with Biblical truth. America doesn’t have an “American Bible” that sets the tone for our country, (not to be confused with the Bible that’s God’s word) but if anything came close, it would have been Poor Richard who offered wisdom that was designed to help the colonists in America in the mid 1700’s. All that wisdom, though, doesn’t match what God has said and done through the ages. Today’s story of Jesus shows that He didn’t subscribe to that “Almanack.” “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ ‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’” (John 5:6-8)
As you read the story it’s an amazing testimony of faith. According to legend, when an angel stirred the waters of the pool known as Bethesda, the first person in the water would be healed. Jesus came across a guy who had been set out at the pool for 38 years. He’d never been able to make it to the water, but he came every day. Jesus asked him a simple question: “What do you want?” There was a lot of money to be made in begging. Did the guy want money or did he want to be healed? Once Jesus learned that he wanted to be healed, He healed him. The man couldn’t help himself, so Jesus helped him. Without denying the importance of individual effort in life, the truth is that God helps those who can’t help themselves. How often do we see Jesus helping those who are helpless or giving hope to the hopeless? How often do we see Jesus doing that when it drives the Pharisees out of their minds, as happened in this case because the healing was on the Sabbath?
There’s a lesson for those of us who claim to follow Jesus. We are called to search out people who need help. We are called to talk with them. It’s not always easy. Some just want your money and it’s always embarrassing when people ask for money. Will they use it correctly or will they buy alcohol or recreational drugs with it? Some will tell you that they don’t need help because of their pride and because they know that “God helps those who help themselves.” Sometimes, we have to get deeper in our conversations with people knowing that helping others will require personal sacrifice. And yet, that’s the most important way that Jesus helped us when we couldn’t help ourselves. He came down from heaven so that He could sacrifice Himself by dying on a cross to pay the penalty for sin so that we could have a relationship with God. Helping others should be in our spiritual DNA. The more sensitive we are to God’s leadership, the more likely we’ll be able to find people who need help and help them.
Lord, there are so many hurting people out there that need Your help. As Your follower, You have sent me to care for others. Let me be obedient to You as I help those who can’t help themselves.