Deion "Prime Time" Sanders, outfielder for the Atlanta Braves and cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons, is the only athlete to have hit a Major League home run and scored an NFL touchdown in the same week. Sanders grew up on the mean streets of Fort Myers, Fla., where exposure to some would-be athletes spurred him to make a success of himself. He explains: "I call them Idas. 'If I'da done this, I'd be making three million today...If I'da practiced a little harder, I'd be a superstar.' They were as fast as me when they were kids, but instead of working for their dreams they chose drugs and a life of street corners. When I was young, I had practice; my friends who didn't went straight to the streets and never left. That moment after school is the moment we need to grab. We don't need any more Idas.[i]
People are just as full of Idas today as they were two thousand years ago. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still like to make excuses for why we can’t accomplish what we’d like to. You may have already made and broken New Year’s resolutions, and you say to yourself, “If Ida just stuck to my diet, Ida lost the weight.” Or, “If my drinking buddies had quit coming around, Ida been able to quit drinking.” Or, “If my husband or wife hadn’t held me back, Ida had a better job by now.” The truth is that often it isn’t other people, but our lame excuses that hold us back.
In John 5:1-7 (NLT), Jesus encounters a lame man who is full of excuses, sitting by a pool in the Holy City. The Bible doesn’t give him a name, but let’s call him Yitzhak. Bear in mind that Jesus’ reputation has preceded him to Jerusalem. When the disabled beggar sees the Master, he knows that this prophet from Galilee is more than a Teacher. Jesus is a Healer. If there had been any doubt as to the newcomer’s identity, the crowd now affirms who Jesus is by crying out to him as they always have before. Everywhere that Jesus goes, people call out things like, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!” They reach out to Him, grasping just to touch the hem of His garment. Can you hear the clamor of crowd, jostling for position so they can see, hear, and touch the Master? Maybe the gate he’s coming through will create a bottleneck where they can get closer to him. Everybody wants a piece of Jesus—all except Yitzhak by the pool.
Like Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus steps through the crowd. The beggar’s head is downcast, trying to avoid the Master’s gaze, but now he sees the Carpenter’s sandaled feet stop right in front of him. Jesus knows this man will never cry out to him, so Jesus kneels and whispers, “Would you like to get well?”
Now, this would be an obvious, “Duh—yes!” kind of question for almost anybody. But not for Yitzhak, who has been disabled for thirty-eight years. He knows nothing about making a living as a tradesman. All he knows is begging. Yes, he is located near a pool known for its magical healing properties. Legend says that occasionally, an angel comes to stir the waters—then the first one into the pool is healed. Who knows what really happens. Perhaps a hot spring or some other phenomenon. All we know is that the people believe it. But while Yitzhak is seated by the pool (perhaps because thirty-eight years ago his dear departed mother placed him there and told him to wait), it is clear that he doesn’t want healing. Not once does the beggar cry out to Jesus. Instead, the Master has to come to him and ask a seemingly ridiculous question.
But it’s not ridiculous, really. Some people enjoy the drama of their difficulties. Whether financial, emotional, spiritual, social, or physical, some people would actually rather remain in their dramatic agony than be healed. But Jesus takes a risk and asks the question with the not-so-obvious answer.
“I can’t, sir,” Yitzhak replies. “Because I don’t have anybody to help me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Somebody else always beats me to it.”
This is the man’s excuse. For thirty-eight years, somebody has always edged him out. The truth is that he probably doesn’t believe the myth anyway. But that’s Yitzhak’s excuse. I wonder—what excuses do you have for not achieving or becoming what God wants you to be? Jesus came to the beggar in essence to tell him, “You were made for something better.” But instead Jesus gets an excuse.
How does Jesus respond to the beggar’s excuse? Jesus tells him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Now, I know that this is recorded as a healing, and I’m not going to dispute that. But I’m not certain this is a physical healing. It seems that Yitzhak is healed mentally and emotionally rather than in his body. All he needs is for Jesus to speak into his life with spiritual authority, dispelling all his fears and setting aside all his lame excuses. All he needs is the Master to tell him that he can do it—and the man overcomes his objections, rises, and is never the same again.
You may throw up your hands and say, “Now what? There’s nothing this man can do for a living!” Of course there were jobs that required unskilled labor. Certainly the omnipotent God would not call this man to a whole life if there were no opportunities outside of his brokenness. So too Jesus calls you to give up your excuses, take up your mat, and walk.
I am just as guilty as everybody else, when it comes to excuses. I have started writing more books than I can count, gotten two hundred pages into the text, and quit writing with the excuse that church, family, and friends demand too much of my attention. I’ve finished writing a couple of books, and failed to get them published with the excuse that I couldn’t find the right publisher. The truth was, I just didn’t search diligently enough for a publisher. I can blame other people for why I don’t accomplish what I want, or I can get honest and admit that these are just lame excuses. You can get honest with yourself as well. Hear again the words of Jesus in John 5:8—but hear them not spoken to Yitzhak but directed to your ears and heart. “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” I wonder, will you have the courage to rise?