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John 5.1-9 (NRSV)
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. (NRSV, quoted from Oremus Bible browser)
Now that day was a sabbath.
Again, we see the transition – “After this” and “Jesus went up to Jerusalem”. The setting of the story changes. In Jerusalem there was a pool called BethZatha, or Bethsaida, and the ruins of the pools and their colonnade, and a church that was built over it at a later time, can still be seen there. This pool was said to have healing properties, but only when the water stirred, and only for the first one into the pool at that time. The people who had come for healing lay around the pool waiting for that miraculous time, and then raced to be first. There were many of them, blind, lame, and paralyzed, waiting there. Jesus spoke to one of them, one who had been ill for a long time – 38 years. And Jesus asks him an astonishing question, “Do you want to be made well?”
“Do you want to be made well?” It is not an absurd question; we might think, well, of course the man wants to be well. But he had been there for 38 years; his identity had become, “the man who lies by the pool”. Who would he be if he were healed? What would he do with himself? Was that really what he wanted? Sometimes, when we are at our lowest, and Christ is waiting to bring us hope and healing, we back away because we don’t really, in our hearts, want it. Sometimes, we become addicted to misery, to being the victim, to being the invalid or the hopeless sinner. Jesus waits to heal us until we really do want to be healed.
Of course, the man had his excuses – there was no one to help him, others always got there first. For all those years, he watched as one after another got to the water before him, and was healed and went back home. Perhaps he really had lost hope and simply remained out of habit. But Jesus brings hope. He tells the man to get up, to take up his mat and walk. And after 38 years of waiting, the man stood up, took up his mat, and walked. Jesus brought hope and healing. But it was the Sabbath and the story continues —-