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John 5:1-9, NIV
1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie--the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.
5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 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?"
7 "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." 8 Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
February 16, 2011It was something like a lottery. Lots of people waited for the chance to be relieved of their infirmity, but only one was healed. When the water stirred, only one could be first to enter the pool. The Gospel writer does not comment on the fairness or authenticity of this practice. To me, it hardly seems possible that God's angels would participate in this kind of arbitrary event. The weakest among them, or the sufferer with no one to aid them, would never have a chance. It sounds cruel to set people up to the possibility of healing when they have zero chance of receiving it.
Am I off on a tangent and missing the real point of the story? Am I distracted by a sideshow and missing the main event?
The point is that Jesus came to this pool. It is likely he had been to this very spot several times during his young life. This may have been part of his routine when visiting Jerusalem. And now on this occasion, since Jesus had begun his ministry of doing the works of God, he came by looking for one man in particular.
How long have you been coming to this pool? 38 years! Look at me; listen carefully to what I say--Do you want to get well? The victim of this long term condition did not verbally answer that question, he simply explained why he was never able to be the first one to enter the water.
Jesus accepted his response and told him to get up, take his mat and begin walking. The man obeyed and walked away a free man.
More journal entries
February 17, 2011
Since this is John's Gospel we might ask whether we are to take this episode and apply it to our lives literally or figuratively? Literally it shows the compassion of Jesus directed to one particular individual who received the wonderful and long sought gift of physical healing.
Figuratively, we could interpret this event much more broadly. We could see ourselves crippled by life and unable by ourselves to get free from our present condition. In walks Jesus. Again. Right now, today, he looks us in the eye and asks a very pointed question--Do you want to be well?
That can be a difficult question to answer honestly in the presence of Jesusso we make excuses for why we remain bound up in our pain. Undeterred, Jesus looks deeply into our being and tells us to get up, pick up the comfort mat which we no longer need, and walk free.
Now it is our turn to decide how we are going to respond to the words and invitation of Jesus. Will we believe him? Will we stand up? Leave the comforting mat we used for so long? Tuck it under our arm as a signal that we control it; it doesn't control us? And walk into life a free person?
February 14, 2011
You might notice that verse 4 is missing. The footnote in my study Bible explains that the 4th verse is not part of the oldest manuscripts and that it was added later by a copyist to explain why people waited by the pool in large numbers. Some other versions include it parenthetically: (From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.)
December 17, 1982The events of chapter 5 occur some time later. That's a very indefinite designation, there is no mention of any events between chapters 4 and 5. We can suppose Jesus was in Galilee, and then for the unspecified Feast day traveled back to Jerusalem, where he had created quite a stir at the previous feast by throwing the hucksters out of the temple. Would he do it again?!
December 18, 1982The scene Jesus encountered inside Jerusalem sounds like the poor house, the old county home, even a bit like Conestoga View. The blind, lame, withered--these are not the usual diseases but all create some degree of helplessness and dependence. For most of us, it would have been a place to avoid or detour around so we would not have to look at the sufferers.The only people under the arches were sick people and their faithful friends.
The colonnades were covered which provided shade; with what--vegetation, stone, brick? Was it a beautiful place except for the sounds of suffering and the smells of death? Did any of the sick even notice its beauty?
This would have been an excellent opportunity to do deeds of charity and give a cup of cold water to a stranger. The Florence Nightingales and Mother Teresas would certainly have been drawn to this place. What Bethesda needed was some Red Cross volunteers! I remember reading that in Jesus' day the only way prisoners got fed was if family or friends brought them something to eat; hence the importance of visiting prisoners. Was the same thing true for these sick?
The Jesus in the Ben Hur movie gave a cup of water, and I like to think of Jesus like that, but it's not substantiated by Scripture. He showed compassion through divine acts of healing; did he also show compassion through human acts which we can emulate? I don't remember reading that Jesus ever visited a prison with food.
We might wonder why Jesus didn't heal everyone at the pool that day. One mass healing. Fair and equal. But no, that would be heaven; and this is earth. Jesus couldn't heal them all because caring for the suffering of the world is our job.
December 22, 1982One particular man had been waiting for 38 years. This sounds like an Advent story. Think of the persistence to stay at that pool for all those years, hoping that someday you will be healed! How could anyone wait that long without losing hope!
In Luke 2:25, how many years had Simeon waited? Advent is waiting in hope. Then, after all that waiting, what you get is not what you expected. But there's no disappointment, only celebration and joy.
December 23, 1982
Do you want to be well? Being sick is difficult, but so is being well, and a lot more is expected of those who are well. Our society is full of people who escape into illness, temporarily or permanently. Jesus says, "Do you want to change?" How can a person know beforehand!
December 31, 1982
Why didn't this man have any friends--because he was sick so long? How interdependent we are--without friends we're out of luck. Excuses--blame it on other people. How can you take responsibility for your own life when life isn't fair in the first place? After all, he didn't request this illness.
December 8, 2001John's story moves quickly. Another year; another feast in Jerusalem. The scene revolves around a very depressing place. The pool of Bethesda where those in need of healing were brought as a last ditch effort to help them. When the angel stirred the water, the first one in was healed.
The place had 5 covered colonnades. Bethesda must have been like some of the beautiful buildings in our cities. Outside on the spacious grounds and park benches the homeless and others who are distressed stake out a space for themselves. Not the kind of scene you would want to walk past. To look at these people is painful.
Jesus came by this place and stopped to look. He saw a man there who had been disabled for 38 years. He was alone with no one to help him into the water. The basic family unit had broken down for him as it has for the homeless on our streets. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned (presumably by talking to the man) that he had been in that condition for that long a time, Jesus asked the man a very basic question. Do you want to get well?
December 9, 2001The automatic response to Jesus' question is, "Sure, I want to be well. Doesn't everybody!" But Jesus' question is basic and deserves thoughtful consideration. This man explains to Jesus how he has been trying to get well by lying on the edge of the healing pool. But, he explained, he has no one to help him into the pool and others are quicker than he is.
Jesus had signaled this man out. The man did not ask to be healed. He had no idea who Jesus was or that Jesus could heal him. Out of the blue like a stroke of lightening, Jesus commanded the man to get up, pick up his mat and walk! There must have been much authority in Jesus' voice because the man did get up.
Healing surged into his body. He could feel it, see it. At once, he picked up his mat and walked. Presumably Jesus disappeared into the crowd before others could beg him for healing and the man was left alone yet again, this time walking and with a mat under his arm.