What a surreal sight it must have been. The lame, the blind, the paralyzed, and people suffering from all sorts of diseases. A sad assemblage of hurting humanity, lying, sprawling, crawling, languishing around Jerusalem’s Pool of Bethesda. In the fifth chapter of his Gospel, the Apostle John describes the sad scene.
As is so often the case surrounding the most poignant examples of human suffering, humans trying to survive the situation and ravaged by an incredible range of emotions, are torn between varying mixtures of faith and “magic,” genuine trust and irrational superstition.
Verse 4 here brings up an interesting (and astonishingly rare) textual question we’ll not tackle, but verse 7 tells us what at least one man lying by that pool believed strongly enough that he somehow managed to get to the pool and spend days, weeks, months, years there.
I’m pretty sure we can assume that the rest of that sad crowd shared the same belief. They believed that when the water of the pool was “troubled,” the first person who got into the water following the “troubling” would be healed. Word was that the intermittently stirred up waters were stirred up by an angel, and, somehow, power was left in the water. Get there first and get healed.
I find myself with some questions here. I wonder, for example, about the focus of this sort of “faith.” Was it faith in water, faith in an angel, faith in a procedure?
We still hear about that last sort of “faith.” “Faith” that God will have to give me the “right” answer (that means the one I want), if I do enough mental gymnastics to convince myself that no other answer is possible. It seems to me that the focus of such “faith” is more on me and my effort than it is on God.
I don’t know what most of the suffering folks beside the Pool of Siloam were thinking on the day Jesus was there. But John tells us a little about what one man, a man suffering terribly for 38 years, was thinking as Jesus asks him a great question, “Do you want to be healed?”
It’s a serious question. Many people meet hardship with courage, but the sad truth is that others choose to make “victim” their identity. Healing is the very last thing they want. Such sickness is far deeper than physical and harder to heal.
Perhaps the sad man nodded his head, but his roundabout answer refers to a procedural problem: “I have no one to get me into the pool, so whenever the water is troubled, somebody else always gets in first.” So he’s saying, I’m messed up! Because of my bad situation, I need to get into the pool, but because of my bad situation, I can’t. I’m a victim of my circumstances.
How much faith does this man have and where is it focused? That is debatable. But the Lord who is stronger than any circumstance, our God who is not impressed with our recipes for magic—however “religious” they may sound—and who is stronger than our weak faith, says simply, “Rise up! Take up your bed and walk.”
Real healing has come to Bethesda. No trip to the pool required.
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Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.