When I was growing up, I, like many children, was scared of thunder storms and lightning. My mom told me that thunder was just the angels bowling and lightning meant one of the angels got a strike. At some point in my life, thunder storms became less bothersome. I even like the sound of thunder now, except when it is so loud it shakes the house and rattles the walls. The angels have been bowling a lot this Spring.
At the pool of Bethsaida, tradition has it that the angels stirred the water in the pool. Let’s open our Bibles to the Scripture. John 5: 1 – 9 is on page 1653 in your pew Bible. I want to look at verses 3 – 5. Verse 3 says, “Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.” There’s no verse 4. But if you follow the b to the footnote you’ll find an ending to verse 3 and verse 4. Our Scriptures put a period after paralyzed ending the sentence where some manuscripts continued verse 3.
Let’s take a minute to talk about the manuscripts. When compiling the New Testament, several copies of the same book would be compared to decide on the final version to be included. Some of the copies included an alternate ending to verse 3 and a verse 4; some did not. When compiling the Gospel of John, the council decided not to include the end of verse 3 and verse 4. Though, they thought it had enough merit to leave out verse 4 rather than numbering verse 5 verse 4.
Verse 3 can read “Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed and they waited for the moving of the waters.” Verse 4 reads “From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.” So, when the angels weren’t bowling, they were stirring up the waters in the pool of Bethsaida.
I found another legend about the pools. One story is that the pool was used as an Asclepieion which is a place where healing was supposed to take place by the power of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. If this is the case, it was the power of Asclepius, not the Lord, that healed people by the waters.
Regardless of the source of the healing, there must have been some proof of the healing powers of the waters of the pool of Bethsaida. The legend of the waters made the pool a gathering spot for those who were blind, lame, and paralyzed. Everyone gathered would be waiting for the sign that the waters were being stirred up. At the first sign, there would have been a stampede of the sick stumbling over each other, pushing, trampling, trying to hold another back to get in the water first.
The man in our text had had an infirmity for 38 years. The text is not specific about what kind of illness he had. He had probably been partially paralyzed or had an injury to his leg or foot. This made it difficult for him to get down to the pool, let alone get in first. It tells us that he had this condition for 38 years. It isn’t clear if he had been born with the disability so was 38 years old or if he had an injury 38 years ago. It also doesn’t tell us how long he has been coming to the pool hoping to get in.
We could conclude that he had no friends or family. He had no one to help him get into the pool. It is likely that he was there not only to get into the pool, but also to beg. Though, I have to wonder how someone with no friends and no family, relying on begging alone, could survive long. There are a lot of details that are left out about this man and his condition.
Jesus comes along. Jesus was going to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the Jewish festivals. He must have entered the city by the Sheep Gate. The pool was near the gate. Jesus must have seen all the people there in need of healing. Though, it was the Sabbath, He went to the pool where the sick were gathered.
Jesus came upon the man in our Scripture. Jesus learned of his condition. He asked him, “Do you want to get well?” It seems an odd question. Of course, he wants to get well, right? He’s at the pool for healing after all.
But, it’s a valid question. Being made well will require an entirely new way of life for this man. He will have to do something with his day other than beg and hope for healing. He will have to find another way to provide for himself. His hope will have been fulfilled. He will have to praise God for his healing. He will have to find something else to hope for. He may have made some acquaintances among the people at the pool. He will have to make new friends. Or, he may feel obligated to go down to the pool to help his friends get in to be made well also. There is a lot at stake for him if he is made well.
I have met people who have said they want to get well or want their life to change but stand in their own way. I have had a few friends over the years that live on drama. They claim to be frustrated by all the things in their lives that are going wrong. They say they want things to start going right. They say that one thing after another after another keeps happening. They say they are at wit’s end.
I’m not talking every person with a problem. I’m talking about drama queens. They don’t know how to live without the drama. If there isn’t drama, they create drama. If you try to help, they get into the “yes, buts.” “Yes, that could work, but here’s why it won’t work.” They will shoot down any suggestion you have for simplifying life. Nothing will work to help them, because they don’t want anything to work. If Jesus asked them, “do you want to get well?” They would say, “yes, but you can’t fix it.”
The man in our text is faced with a serious question with serious implications for his life. Jesus asks him, “do you want to get well?” This man has been waiting, sitting and waiting for a miracle for who knows how long. He’s never been able to get to the waters when the angels or the gods or whoever stirs them. He is just as broken and just as powerless this day as he was when he first came. Jesus asks him, “do you want to get well?”
The man says, “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.” I can’t tell from the text if the man is merely stating a fact or if this is a “yes, but” with a side of woe is me. It is likely he is both frustrated and depressed, has no one to share his burden, and has a little pity party.
Bill Coffin says “it’s certainly scar[y] to be responsible – response-able – able to respond to God’s call, able to respond to the word and love of Jesus. When we cease being a victim – “I can’t get to the water Jesus; there’s always someone else who gets there first” – and start being responsible then our legs are strong enough for us to walk… We no longer make excuses; instead we walk forward to new life in Jesus Christ and go to work serving, healing, hoping, and living a life of joy and fullness.”
Something in the man’s response tells Jesus that he does want to get well. Jesus tells him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” The man had a choice to make. It’s not a question, but he needs to respond. Will he get up or won’t he? He can continue to lie there begging or he can get up and walk into a new life. He got up and he walked. He did get well. He chose a new life. He had the courage to live a life of well-being.
The story doesn’t tell us that Jesus healed the others at the pool. Often the Scriptures will tell us that he healed many in a particular place. This Scripture focuses on one person. Perhaps the others were given the same choice but they didn’t have the courage to get well and live a new life.
Aside from the drama queens with perpetual problems, there are many of us who have real problems. We are waiting for a miracle. We are waiting for something to change. We hope that healing will bring wholeness and power to us soon. When asked how we envision a life made well, we can picture a new life. Whatever we’ve been trying or false god we’ve been turning to has not yielded blessing. Just like Jesus came to the man, Jesus comes to us and asks, “do you want to get well?”
It is Jesus who brings us new life while everything else keeps us waiting. Jesus offers a new life, a new way of living with new possibilities. We no longer need to sit by the pool waiting for a miracle. We can accept that Christ has made it well. Whatever it is that needs healing in your life, Jesus has made it well.
You need only respond with the courage to forge a new path. What response do you need to make to His healing? Maybe you don’t have a mat to carry but you have some sign to show that you have responded to His healing and have the courage to live the new life He has given you.
Get up! Take your mat and go. Your hope has been fulfilled. By the power that raised Christ from the dead, God restores you for His glory. In our Resurrection faith, we believe that all things are possible with God. Get up and go! You have been made well.