There is always something intriguing for me about a crowd or a gathering of people. There, more perspectives and needs are found. There is a conglomerate of ideas and issues outside of the very core of the festivity. In these settings, are found some people wanting to take advantage of that opportunity that would present itself. Groups of people can be seen rushing by, rubbing shoulder to shoulder even, (the good and sometimes the bad). In the crowd we may find beggars and scammers – all kinds of people and intent. Shoppers are seen on sale days and they are prepared to spend hours in the traffic with only sitting space in the vehicles, after their shopping spree. Festivities draw a crowd.
Such was the scene of this festal occasion that John saw it necessary to write about. Amidst that crowd at this unnamed Jewish festival, obviously not the emphasis of this story, the Gospel writer singles out for us, an unthinkable action of Jesus for the Jews – that of healing an invalid man, on the Sabbath! Again, for John, the name of the man being healed is not important.
We are told that the location of the healing was in – Bethesda, meaning “house of mercy,” or could be even called “place of flowing water.” – an imagery in the Revelation reading. Today, Bethsaida is a popular name for places of Charity and one such is right here in Chilliwack. At that time, it was where the sick and infirmed waited under five porticos (a portico is a porch leading to the entrance of a building, or extended as a colonnade, with a roof structure over a walkway, supported by columns or enclosed by walls), for the angel of the Lord to “stir the waters” and give the pool its healing properties. There is a song that is used at Revival Services with these very words “The water is troubled my friend, step right in, God’s almighty power is moving this hour, no longer stand on dry land, the water is troubled my friend, step right in”. I won’t attempt to sing it.
Of importance in this story as well, is the naming of the gate where this man was located – at the sheep gate, which is no doubt the gate through which the sheep traveled on their way to be sacrificed in the temple. The Pool of Bethesda was nearby, just north of the temple precincts. Every movement of Jesus and ever location was important. That was his gate as it were, for soon as the Good Shepherd, himself, he would become the Lamb that would be slain for our salvation. It is here, that this man would meet his Jesus on the Sabbath.
There are some characteristics of this particular man that are worthy of note in this story. He is described as an invalid, with no further details of his illness or a given name and we are told that he is 38 years old – a middle-aged man. Jesus both saw him and was told about him as John informed us that Jesus learned that the man had been in this condition for a long time.
We here, have the ability to turn the spotlight on ourselves as we enter into the text which is speaking to us in this present moment. What is it that Jesus sees as he looks at us this morning? What do others know about us from our outward appearance? What is it that Jesus knows about us that we need to declare to him even now? For as the text comes alive in our hearts, Jesus is about to ask us, the very question that he asked this man at the pool of Bethsaida?
At our 2019 Synod held in the last two days, the house was reminded that the ‘Canon’ is a living thing. It has a life and it evolves. The Word of God above, all is living. The Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword, it pierces, it convicts, it allows us to feast, to rejoice, be glad and make merry, it brings healing, it is life! So the Word is speaking to us, all the time. Jesus being armed with external information, and internal (for he knows all things), began a conversation with the man. What an opportunity to be singled out in a crowd by Jesus? And just where you are right now? And to be asked the question ‘Do you want to get well?’ Let this question sit with us for a moment. “Do you want to get well?” Jesus is asking the question. It is the opportunity that you have been waiting for and for this man, after 38 years, what a question!
But here is the dilemma – the man’s response was an excuse, instead of quickly responding to Jesus in the affirmative. – the man used 104 letters, two sentences and punctuated with breaths, instead of using the expected three letter word “Yes”, or 6 letters for courtesy “Yes, Sir”. But an excuse and blaming: “Sir, 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.’ Daa!
Imagine, you are about the get the biggest gift of all times, and mess up so badly. It happens, doesn’t it? But the God of grace and mercy is always there for us. O how we love Jesus. He knows us all. He knows our frailties. And Jesus knew him because later in the gospel passage, which will make interesting bedside reading, Jesus confronted this man again. We can’t do without Jesus, not for a moment. We need Jesus all the time to help set us straight.
So here Jesus responded to him, I believe, somewhat annoyed, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ Notice that he was not ordered to go in the pool. ‘Get up from there. Stop being dependent on others now. Get on with your life. Let the past be the past. Healing is here for you now. Stop complaining. Emancipate your mind from mental slavery. Release your body. Let it go. Get up now!’ Jesus called Lazarus from the dead, but he also calls those who are alive, from thoughts that leave us in a dead place in our minds. Jesus comes to us in this crowded world my friends, and he singles us out, he comes to us in our crowded minds and he de-clutters our thoughts and sets us free and heals us – this is the message for us today. He knows us individually and he wants us to be alive in him. He wants us to have a new and transformed and resurrected body in him.
Whatever your situation this morning my friends, illness or otherwise, the slain Lamb of God, who came through the sheep gate, who was victorious over sin, death and the grave, comes us now and says to you this morning ‘Get up! Jesus comes to us and he only wants us to repent, to say we are sorry. We have been holding on to our mats for too long! We have been laying there for far too long! Shake off dull sloth and joyful rise! Pick up your mat and walk! for the healing Jesus is in this place today. He is the healing Jesus, he restores, he renews.
And Jesus commands us this day not to just take this message for ourselves, but, like Paul who answered the Macedonian call he received in a vision, and who journeyed with Silas to go to Macedonia; he commands us to go with the same Love of Jesus in our hearts, when we leave here today, to proclaim to that family member, to your friend, to that stranger – indeed to your neighbour, to ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ And take note that Jesus did not say to him go into the pool, for his situation did not warrant that kind of healing.
We are all called to get up and walk in God’s grace, because he is our God of promise and our God of miracles, knowing that he will do for us abundantly more than we can ask or imagine. Today my friends, we joyfully rise up and say thank you Lord for coming to me by this pool of Beth-zatha! Thank you Lord for seeing me! Know this, that as we get up, through the glory of God, others will receive permission to get up and walk also. They will see the outward blessing and God will be glorified. There is no need to complain or give excuses. It will only be a time or rejoicing and refreshing. And does it stop there? No. We now go on imitating Jesus and ask others “how can I be of help to you?” And in our prayers ask God to lay souls on our hearts to be prayed up and be won for the kingdom of God.
And as we reflect on healing on this the Sixth Sunday of Easter, we give thanks as we remember Christ victory in Easter hymn refrain –
Up from the grave he arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er his foe
He arose, a victor from the dark domain
And he lives for ever with his saints to reign
He arose, He arose, Halleluia! Christ arose!
And the whole people of God say, “Alleluia, Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!