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.
Did you know that for a long time, the Pool of Bethesda was believed to be just a myth? No one in the archeological circles thought it was real. In 1888, it was uncovered, just where John tells us it is located. The name Bethesda (or Bethsaida) means "House of Mercy."
Sometimes we take for granted that Jesus showed compassion and authority by healing. It no longer amazes us that withered limbs are muscular and rosy with sun, that blind eyes are blinking in the sunlight, taking in the face of Him who created our world. But this story should amaze us. It should pull us in and engage us, and teach us. Let's dig in!
Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem for a festival. The streets are crowded with revelers and worshipers, but no less crowded is the site known as Bethesda. Jesus makes his way there, and his focus is on one man -- a paralytic, who has been an invalid for thirty-eight years. We can guess that everyone knew him, for he'd been hoping to be the first into the water for quite some time. They probably knew his name, and perhaps whispered about the circumstances of his infirmity. Amidst the hundreds of sick and disabled people around that pool, Jesus zeroes in on just one.
Have you ever wondered about that? He could have spoken, and all of them would be healed. In the other gospels we read that many people were healed. Why just one? Some of the commentaries that I've read have suggested that Jesus was relatively unknown to the crowd here; it was still in the first year of His ministry. Others have mentioned that after this man was healed, many of these people who witnessed it, would leave the pool and follow the One who had healed someone they thought had no hope. Still others say that by choosing this particular man, He chose someone who everyone knew -- there would be no question of whether or not he was truly incapacitated, or whether or not Jesus truly healed him.
Have you ever attended or watched a broadcast of a show, and doubted it's authenticity? Have you watched someone who says they are healing people, and wondered if it is real? Do you view the wrestling on television with skepticism, thinking that it is faked, and even staged?
I believe that is why Jesus chose that man. Everyone would have known that there was no way the paralytic could have sat up, then stood up, then rolled up his mat, hoisted it onto his shoulder, and walked away from the pool of Bethesda. No way. No how. They had seen that he needed friends or others who had compassion on him, to be carried from place to place. Could he have pushed and shoved and jostled his way onto the prime real estate at the pool's edge? Was he a fake? Was this event choreographed?
Nope. This was totally, completely, an act of God; it was a miracle.
It's ironic that the name of the pool was the House of Mercy . . . for it was simply whoever could shove and push more strongly and be the first into the water, that meant that person would be healed. But Jesus made this place truly a house of mercy, by looking on this man with compassion, and healing him. We'll see that they meet once more after this, and Jesus alludes to the wrong choice, the sin that landed the paralytic in his hopeless situation many years before. But for now, let's focus on the mercy and the power of our Lord.
He speaks and we are healed. Our sins are forgiven, our wounds are gone. We are released from bondage into freedom and peace.
Many people in this world are waiting beside their own pool of Bethesda. It's their own situation, their own plan that they think will heal them of the heartaches of this life. They believe that if they can just be strong enough, smart enough, wealthy enough -- they'll be able to fix everything that is wrong in their lives. On their own. They don't, after all, need anyone else.
Just like the people who crowded around the pool of Bethesda, they vainly believe that their plan will bring the hope and change that they are longing for. After many years, they may realize that their plan isn't working, and they are left with pain, and hopelessness. The choices they have made and the sins they have committed have trapped them. All because they are looking at their own little pool, instead of looking at the fountain that flows from Christ: forgiveness of sin, healing of lives and peace for the future.
Praise the Lamb, who says to us, "Pick up your mat and walk!"