To be honest I wasn’t very familiar with the Bethesda story. It wasn’t one that particularly stood out. There were way too many accounts of Jesus healing the sick and way to many instances of him doing it on the Sabbath that this specific event was lost on me when we got to the actual site of the pool. What remains of it now is a mere skeleton of what it had once been – and without the water. Let those pillars and crevices feed your imagination.
I remember it like it was yesterday. After a little sight-seeing, our pastor gathered us in a virtually isolated spot where we all sat in a circle in silence, the warm midday sun right above us and the cool, crisp breeze coming in soft gusts to keep the sting of heat away.
We prayed in silence and, as instructed, reflected on the things we needed healing for or that the people we loved needed liberation from. I can’t remember now what I thought about then (and I’m quite sure that whatever it was may have been too private to share in a blog post). Afterwards, our pastor anointed us with oil he had bought the day before. That was, I recall, the very first time I had ever been anointed with oil. It was an interesting feeling.
If we kept the Sabbath like the Jewish leaders kept the Sabbath…
We’d be stuck in bed all day.
“It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
And we’d have to make sure to set our mat in just the right spot the day before so we don’t risk moving it around on the Sabbath and be condemned for “working.”
This was how they kept the Law back then – wringing the very meaning of “work” until there was none of it left – and in doing so, they lost the true essence of what it meant to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
“One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years…”
In one way or another, we are all invalids. We carry around physical, emotional and spiritual wounds that we are either too proud to own to or too ashamed to admit. I celebrated my 27th birthday last month and am now therefore on the 27th year of my invalid state. Years have come and gone and some disabilities have come and gone as well, but affliction itself is never fully eliminated – not until I leave this earthly life. And that is the case for all of us.
But what is important is that no matter how many people there are gathered around our Bethesda, we still make an effort to drag our limping legs and make it there because out of the billions of people in the world, our individual pain, however insignificant it may seem in the grander scheme of things, is not lost on Jesus.
The Healing at the Pool
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 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. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 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?”
7 “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.”
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.