May 22, 2022
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
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. Now that day was a sabbath.
| Centering Prayer |
Is healing a matter of having enough faith?
That is, if I don’t have enough faith, I won’t be healed.
But, if I have enough faith;
If I develop such deep conviction and belief,
If I surpass some divinely created threshold of faith,
Will I be healed and made well?
Jesus had just traveled from Cana, of Galilee in the north
90 miles south,
To attend an unidentified festival of the Jews.
The Gospel of John reports to us
Jesus enters the city by means of the Sheep Gate,
The location where Stephen would soon be stoned.
Today, it is called the “Lion’s Gate”
Due to the 13th century animal carvings in the walls that flank it.
Because of his entry through the Sheep Gate
Jesus probably had traveled the valley route;
That is, south, down the Jordan River valley,
Then up the mountain from Jericho to Jerusalem.
In the time of Jesus
It was called the Sheep Gate
Because the Temple
bread and raised
In the southern, Judean hills
Worthy of sacrifice.
Would be herded through the gate,
Past the pools of Bethesda,
To the shops near the Temple entrance.
Unblemished sheep were made available
For purchase by visiting pilgrims.
It was only a short walk from the Sheep Gate to the Temple.
The pools of Bethesda are quite interesting.
Think of a spring fed creek running down a mountain side gully.
Build a dam, such that the reservoir was 40 feet deep.
Give the dam a spillway to maintain a steady water level.
Square off the reservoir and call it an “upper pool.”
Build a second dam downstream,
Such that the second reservoir backs up to the first dam.
Square off the reservoir and call it the “lower pool.”
Lay pavers around the two pools and across the upper dam.
Erect a roof overhead the deck for shade and call each a portico.
Walla, you have the pools of Bethesda.
The name Bethesda comes from the Hebrew beth hesda,
Meaning “house of mercy,” or “house of grace.”
The same word could be flipped and used to mean
“house of shame,” or “house of disgrace.”
This dual meaning may have sounded appropriate
Since this location was both
A place of disgrace due to the presence of invalids
And a place of grace, due to the granting of healing.
Remember, in the ancient world,
Being blind, lame, paralyzed, or disabled in any way
Relegated an individual as unclean
And permanently segregated them away from family, friends, and loved one.
The pools of Bethesda
Were given their healing attributes
From legend, and the Greek god Asclepius,
The god of medicine.
A pulse of flowing water through the pools
Were earlier attributed to the Asclepius and were thought to bring healing.
By the time of Jesus,
It was believed that an angel stirred the water,
Bringing God’s favor to the one who first entered the pool.
Is healing a matter of having a sufficient quantity of faith?
In the time of Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda,
Healing came to the one who was attentive and quick!
Of all the people in John’s Gospel,
The man in today’s lesson is the least willing and the least grateful.
Allow me to explain.
Jesus enters, conducts a quick assessment of the blind, lame, and paralyzed.
For some unknowable reason,
He picks out this one man.
I don’t know why he chose this man.
Let’s call it “the luck of the draw.”
Jesus knew he’d been there a long time,
(thirty-eight years, John reports),
And he must have looked like a wreck.
See his bed sores.
Smell his body stench.
See the resignation in his eyes.
Jesus asks the most obvious question,
“Do you want to be made well?”
You and I would jump and flail!
“Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!”
Some might respond with jubilee or with sarcasm:
“Look at me. What do you think?”
The obvious answer was, “Yes, sir. I want to be made well.”
But this was not the unnamed man’s response.
He responds with a complaint!
“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.”
– John 5:7
In other words,
He didn’t have faith in the help of a stranger.
He didn’t have faith in the kindness of others.
He only had faith in the stirring of water.
It is obvious,
The man didn’t know Jesus
And had not heard of his reputation.
They were strangers to one another.
Jesus told him to stand and to take his mat with him;
A blatant violation of the Sabbath.
The man stands and is healed.
On the spot.
Is healing a matter of having enough faith?
It certainly doesn’t appear to be in this case.
This man’s faith was in the stirring water,
Not in an unknown stranger who tells him to stand and to take his mat with him.
Jesus is silent.
There is no response from Jesus,
Unlike in other healing narratives:
“Go. Your faith has made you well.”
Today, Jesus remains silent.
Our Gospel reading is about the least willing part of this healed man.
Yet, if we continue to read on,
We learn the healed man was also the least grateful.
He was challenged by Jews
Who called him out for carrying a mat on the Sabbath.
He tells them
‘The stranger who made me well,
Told me to go and take my mat with me.’
You heard it.
The healed man throws Jesus under the bus.
Later in the day,
The man runs into Jesus in the Temple plaza.
He learns his name,
And promptly runs to the Jews and tattles on him.
Talk about ungrateful!
“Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus,
Because he was doing such things on the Sabbath.”
– John 5:16
And thus began the slow burn
Of our Lord’s Passion.
Unwilling and ungrateful.
There you have it.
Is healing a matter of having enough faith?
Our Gospel from John makes it abundantly clear that
Healing is not a matter of having enough faith
(as if faith could be measured).
That isn’t how Jesus operates in this circumstance.
Jesus doesn’t heal for the benefit of himself,
Jesus heals people simply because this is the work of his Father.
– John 5:17
“Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,
So also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes.”
– John 5:21
(Thanks to Elisabeth Johnson, Professor, Lutheran Institute of Theology, Meiganga, Cameroon. As found at: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2839)
We don’t know why certain people are healed and others are not.
Recently I heard the testimony from a father
Of his child who could not hear in one ear.
She returned for her annual checkup
And the doctor proclaimed her hearing was equal and perfect in both ears.
Just like that.
At the same time,
In the same room,
Listening to the same witness,
Was a young woman with two cochlear implants.
She was probably wondering to herself
When it was her turn for a miracle.
With one voice I said, “Praise God!”
Yet, with another voice I asked, “God, when is it her turn?”
There is an unsettling sense of arbitrariness to this world.
Some suffer and die.
Others suffer and live to suffer another day.
Still others are healed and miraculously recover.
Just as it mystifies you, so it remains a mystery to me, too.
First, we are reminded by Jesus
In his dialogue with Nicodemus in the third chapter of John, that
“The wind blows where it chooses,
and you hear the sound of it,
but you do not know where it comes from
or where it goes.
So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
– John 3:8
In other words
This is God’s kingdom, not ours.
God is in control.
God has a greater plan.
We can only see or know a fraction of what God is doing.
But know this,
God always loves us.
And God always works for our best interest.
If we knew all there was to know about God,
We’d become god-like ourselves.
That wouldn’t be a good thing
On so many different levels.
Therefore, one could say,
It is a part of our necessary human nature
To always know and respect the mysterious nature of God.
Secondly, we are reminded in our own United Methodist Book of Worship that
“The root of the word healing in New Testament Greek, sozo,
is the same as that of salvation and wholeness.
Spiritual healing is God’s work
of offering people balance,
and wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships
through confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.”
All healing is of God.
Healing does not spare one from suffering.
Healing does not promise cure.
“The greatest healing of all
Is the reunion or reconciliation of a human being with God.”
– The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 613
From the point of view of this man
Who languished for thirty-eight years besides the pools of Bethesda,
He was healed
And Jesus was responsible.
He was reunited with his family, friends, and the crowds in the Temple.
He was reconciled with God.
He was healed in spite of himself.
Do you want to be healed? Jesus asks.
I see three different specialists.
My arthritis is bad
And shots of steroids in my knees are becoming less effective.
My aches, pains, and complaints are getting worse the older I get.
Yes, I want to be healed.
What I want, however, more than a cure,
(For I know I will live to only die another day)
I want to be reconciled with my neighbor and with my God.
This is my desire.
This is how I answer our Lord’s question.
What do you want?
Jesus is asking you,
“Do you want to be healed?”
What is your answer?
What is your prayer?