The Scripture passage that Gerry read for us this morning, was written a generation after the events to which it witnesses, occurred. Much time had passed between the time of which John writes and the time in which he wrote it. And in that ensuing time much had happened including of course not only the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also the Roman genocide (as James Carroll) terms it of the Jewish community in Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.
Much time had passed and much had happened in the community of those who were trying to follow in the way of Jesus, and yet despite the passage of time, the Scripture passage this morning is filled with exquisite detail. The passage this morning is remembered and recounted with razor sharp detail.
Step into the remembering with me, will you? We enter Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate, one of the grand entrances through the massage stone wall that surrounded the old city of Jerusalem. And we make our way to the pool called in Hebrew Beth-zatha. Surrounding this pool we see five porticos or covered colonnades. In these covered porches lay many invalids, John tells us, many that are blind, lame and paralyzed.
There is archeological evidence that this pool truly existed and scholarship tells us that at the time of Jesus it was believed that this pool held healing powers. The understanding was that those who gathered had to wait and watch until they caught a glimpse of stirring in the waters. It very well could have been that this pool was fed by an underground spring, but it was believed that when one saw movement in the pool it was because an angel had descended and was stirring the waters. When this happened the first person who entered the waters would be the one to receive its healing power.
And so the broken gathered at its edges waiting and watching and among them is one who Scripture tells us today had been doing so for thirty eight years. For thirty eight years he had been watching and waiting and trying so hard to make his way into those healing waters.
Then, one day, Jesus is there. He sees this man “Do you want to be made well?”
The man answers “Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; and when I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
Now when I first entered the scene earlier this week in preparation for today, I looked at that man talking with Jesus with a fair amount of judgment and impatience and heard myself saying to him — “Look, if trying to get into that pool has not worked for you for the last thirty eight years, which in your time means “a life time,” don’t you think you better well try something else?”
But as the week went on and as one you commented at our Waban Health worship this past week where we reflected with the residents on this scripture, I began to see this man in a new light. I began to see how incredibly persistent this man actually is. I began to see how amazingly determined this man is and how steadfast his resolve to get to where he needs to be. He is seriously hard core to keep at it after 38 years. That kind of determination is hard to imagine.
But if we think about it, can we see how in many ways we are doing the same? How long have I been telling myself that next time I am going to get it right? Next week I am going to track those calories log at least an hour of rigorous exercise ever day! Next week I am going to have a draft of my sermon finished by Thursday at five and absolutely ready to go by close of the day on Friday. No really! This time it is going to happen.
How many of us like this man have something we really want to heal in our lives or about ourselves, but find ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. We don’t want to stay in the place we are but cannot seem to get to the place where we want to be. And like the man in the Scripture today, not knowing what else to do, we valiant keep at it – trying the same things, perhaps with greater intensity (or desperation?) over and over again.
I had said that this story is amazing because despite the fact that it was written a generation after the events of which it describes, it tells the story of this encounter with Jesus and the man with such terrific detail. But there is one key detail in the story that is missing? Having this one detail absent in the story really stands out. It is striking. Did you notice what is missing?
Despite all the detail the writer packs into the account, down to the detail of how many porches surrounded the pool and how many years the man had been there, he never tells us what is the mans’ illness. The author tells us that there are blind and lame and paralyzed people lying about but does not tell us what is this mans’ problem. Is he blind, or lame or paralyzed? We don’t know.
And this is striking because if this is a healing story, and surely it must be for we are told that the man was “made well,” then why is it missing a key element that as far as I can determine is a detail that is part of every other healing account in the Gospels. Every other healing story in the Gospels start out, straight way, by telling us what is the ailment that the person who encounters Jesus suffers. In fact it is the ailment that usually defines the person – think blind Bartimaeus, the woman who hemorrhaged for 12 years, the man possessed by demons, man with a withered hand, the crippled woman.
So why tell us so much about the setting and so little about the suffering of the man?
I think the writer details the setting of the story with such detail because it is actually the setting that is whole point of the story. This is a story first and foremost about redirection and discovery and then about what healing that redirection and discovery can bring. It is a story about one who found healing only after he first discovered that the source of his healing was not where he was so convinced it would be.
This man in the passage today was so convinced that all he needed was to get into those waters. He was so convinced of it, that when Jesus asked him if he wanted to be made well (and it is worthy to note that the Greek verb that is translated as “to be made well” means “to come into being, to happen or to become”) he does not answer Jesus’ question but instead tells of how his aim to get into those waters has been frustrated time and time again.
Did you know that in this country we spend approximately $20 billion dollars a year trying to lose weight in this country?
Did you know that when I googled “How many time management applications are there?” it returned 46,400,000! And not believing that could possibly be true I began scrolling through the first several hundred returns and sure enough time management titles turned up over and over again. I read “11 useful Android apps for time management and productivity.” “10 free management apps to free up your time.” It went on and on.
So finding a way into wholeness and well-being is not just the challenge of that man by the pool, it is not just the challenge of the community to which the gospel writer first spoke but it is the challenge that speaks to us also this day, in this time. There are so many Beth-zatha pools out there so to speak. 46 million in fact if you are looking for some time management healing! And perhaps some of them really do deliver the help they promise. But for that man, that pool was only the source of his frustration not his freedom. Healing came in encountering one who would ask him to try something new. Who would ask him to arise (which is another way “stand up” is translated form the Greek), to take up his mat and to walk.
John wrote his gospel after many years had passed between the time of Jesus and the time in which his readers who were trying to live in the way of Jesus now found themselves in. They were very challenging times. People were afraid, uncertain, hurting and deeply desiring healing but not sure from which where it would come. Who were they? Where did they belong? Who could they turn to in the suffering of their age?
We too live in trying times and the distance between our location and that of Jesus can see very vast indeed. We too live in a time when fear and uncertainty seem to be the currency of the day and were so may in our world like broken and in need of healing.
I have been thinking a lot about the celebration we had on Friday night of this church and all we are and all we are becoming. I have been thinking about how this church is and can be a source of inspiration and support as we in this time and place — Arise, Stand up, take up that which has been confining us and walk into something new. Can we too be a place where we discover that the healing we seek lies not in the next quick fix but in encountering ourselves in a new way?
So let our living be a place of encounter with the Love of God and a source of healing and hope for the broken and despairing in our time. Let our living be that touch of an outstretched hand helping another. Let us together leave behind what is keeping us back, courageously pick up what we can carry and move forward into the wellness, wholeness and becoming that Jesus beckons us toward.
Thanks be to God the source of healing and giver of our courage to be of help. Thanks be to God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer. Now and forever, Amen.