Summary: Jesus can heal, and save, those who have suffered long, Those who are hopeless.
Title: Saved from Long Suffering
John 5: 1-9, 18
John’s gospel was written, the author states, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (20:31). By the time John penned this account of the life of Jesus, the other three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, had been written and were circulating. John’s goal was to show that Jesus was not just another good teacher but truly the “Son of God.” To do so, he arranged his descriptions of Jesus around seven “signs,” or miracles, and seven “I am…” sayings. To John, a sign had a message to declare and a direction to point. This miracle was the second of the seven and it has a message to declare.
While there are many interpretations of what these miracles, or “signs”, say or demonstrate, I am suggesting that a common denominator in all these “signs” is that Jesus stretches the boundaries of what people consider possible. This miracle centers on the impossibility of the man being healed and challenges the boundries of the Jewish laws about he Sabbath.
It also is cast as one of the steps to the cross, the beginning of discussion among the religious leaders that led to his crucifixion. Because Jesus regularly did what was counter to the ordinary way of the religious, the Pharisees and scribes found ample reasons and evidence to lead them to kill him. Let’s study this scripture by looking at the pool, the man and the Savior.
The pool, Bethesda, was a familiar site for the aged, ill or their families. It was located down by the sheep gate, near a corral of sheep to be sold to worshippers for worship. Can you imagine the noise and smell coming from the sheep pen? The pool had a unique reputation. The story was told that an angel would often come and trouble the water and when that happened, the first person to enter the pool water would be healed. It would be very natural for the sick people of Jerusalem to want to try it out. However, because only the first one in the pool would be healed, only those most able to get in would be healed. Those who were more handicapped would never be healed. There was no grace, only works, controlled the outcome.
There is no surprise in finding a large number of very ill people making their way to the pool each day. After all, that was the only hope they had. The thoughtful city leaders of Jerusalem erected porches for shade around the pool, five porches that possibly surrounded it. The city fathers did not go down to help them into the pool or manage the process so the neediest would have a chance to be healed. Very likely they did not believe it was so. They did build the five porches to relieve those who waited from the blistering heat of the sun. You might call this the country rest home for the area, the city’s dumping place for the ill and aged. They called this place “The House of Mercy.”
Jesus came to the pool. It was on a Sabbath, not just any Sabbath but a Sabbath connected with one of the annual religious celebrations. People came from everywhere to worship at the Temple during that time. Religious leaders were busy managing the crowd at the temple and being in charge. They had no thought for “the least of these.” Jesus could have been at the Temple, courting the crowd and demonstrating His miracles.
But Jesus came for a divine appointment with one of the neediest residents. The man had been there for thirty-eight years. Thirty-eight years of lying on the ground with only a pad to comfort him. Thirty-eight years to protect his little space, make a few equal suffering friends. Thirty-eight years to see some die, few if any to be healed. We don’t know what had caused his handicap. It could have been an accident, an illness, or a birth defect. When Jesus asked him about his illness, he gave his usual speech of pity. “There is no one to help me,” he said.
Jesus did not come to help him into the pool. Jesus asked the most meaningful question, “Do you want to be healed?” The answer to that may have helped his healing. He could have thought about the responsibilities of being well and feared them. He could have thought about the impossibility of being whole and retreated in despair. While we do not know his answer, we may assume that something about him answered that question for Jesus. We don’t know the process of the healing. Perhaps he began to feel life in his numb body or feel a jolt of energy throughout his body when he heard Jesus say, “Arise.”