Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 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. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 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.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” – John 5:1-3, 5-10
Today’s passage is about a pool, not just any pool but a healing pool where Jesus performed a miracle for all to see and some so scorn. This pool refereed to as Bethseda was apparently near the sheep gate on the east side of old Jerusalem. There is some scholarly debate about the meaning of the word Bethseda and even if it is the correct name for this feature in Jerusalem. The tow meanings that seem most widely accepted are “house of mercy” or “house of grace”. Both of these have interesting implications given what this story recounts.
Jesus is apparently in Jerusalem for “one of the Jewish festivals”. The passage does not say which one. Apparently they entered or were near the Sheep Gate. This gate was also apparently called the lions gate by some which is an interesting juxtaposition given the dual roles of God and Jesus as both lion and lamb.
This pool sounds very large if it is surrounded by five colonnades or porches. There is quite a bit of uncertainty and debate about the nature of this pool. Was it fed from a spring? Was it a reservoir created by a dam? Was it rainwater or groundwater fed? Was the water special in some way, for example naturally carbonated like many mineral springs? Was the water warm or cold? I am not sure the answer to any of these questions impact the fundamental story here.
Jesus shows up at this pool which is apparently a place where the sick and crippled gather to be healed by bathing in the pool, “Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed”. This association between healing and natural springs is common throughout the world, probably before biblical times. The fact that people gather here for healing makes me lean towards this being a natural spring, perhaps with water that was mineralized or unique in some way.
The main subject of this story is “One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” Now I cannot imagine what it would be like to be paralyzed, let along endure this for thirty eight years. The closest I can come is when my lower back decides to act up which pretty much immobilizes me until it calms down. I think years of gymnastics and jumping off roofs is the reason for my malady. I am not sure why this man was paralyzed.
Jesus see this man and asks him what would seem to be an obvious question “Do you want to get well?” My first reaction to this is of course he wants to get well, but clearly Jesus is asking about more than his limbs and lack of mobility. Jesus is asking whether this man wants to be well in a holistic sense, mind, body, and spirit. The man clearly does not grasp this at first. He is still focused on the pool and its power to heal, “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.” The man was looking for a magical elixir, what he found was the master of this pool and all others.
Jesus ignores the pool and says ““Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” This healing at the pool had nothing to do with the water in the pool. It had everything to do with the Spring of Living Water that walked in and asked whether this man wanted to be well. I think Jesus still does this in people lives every day. He approaches all of us flawed followers and asks us “do you want to be well?” Our answer determines whether we will pick up our “mats” and faithfully follow Jesus.
Our “maladies” and cures come in many shapes and sizes, both secular and spiritual, but Jesus has the cure for them all. It involves walking toward Jesus on the road He is building for us. Accepting His hand when it comes time to cross the river than no one can cross on their own.
Prayer: God You are the great healer of body, mind, and spirit. Help us to accept the healing You offer with humility and grace.