Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 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. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 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?”
“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.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
This story, from John 5:1-9, took place just outside what was once the Sheep Gate at a place called Bethesda. Today, this is an archeological site in the Muslim quarter of the old city. Once there, we saw that (like many archeological sites), this one consisted of many layers built up over the centuries. The ruins of the original pool and colonnades were a good 30 feet down in a pit that had been dug by archeologists to reveal the past. At one end, we could see the stairs that the paralyzed man in Jesus story could have been sitting on.
In the time of Constantine, a church was built on this site. Then, later, the Muslims built a masque there. Both have distinct architectural styles that our guide pointed out, but I can’t remember the details of either by looking at my pictures. It’s enough to say that these places are hard to envision when we see them buried under layers of other things that other people built there.
This pool is also referred to as the Pool of Bethsaida. One thought I found interesting is that it is believed this might have been a translation error, and that translators of Ancient Greek Biblical manuscripts mistook the name “Bethesda” for name of the town of Bethsaida, where Jesus fed the 5,000 in Matthew 6 – a place to the NE, now in modern-day Jordan.
But the most interesting thing to me about this place is the Biblical story…
A man is laying there on a mat paralyzed for 38 years. Evidently, when the waters of this little pool “were stirred”, the first person who got in the pool was healed of whatever ailed him. What’s up with that!? Did that really happen? Seems a little mystical and bizarre, doesn’t it? Was this perhaps an ancient day version of the same shenanigans people like Benny Hinn have perpetrated in our time? Who knows!
But when Jesus arrived on the seen, He had compassion on this man. Who knows who else was there or what their problems were, but God “will have mercy on whom [He] will have mercy, and [He] will have compassion on whom [He] will have compassion.” (Exodus 30:19 NIV) So, God chose this man, ostensibly not choosing others. And who knows why? All I know is that it’s amazingly wonderful to be chosen by God, as it was for the paralytic at Bethesda.
So, Jesus asks him if he wants to be well. Amazing question. Most people – myself included at times – complain a lot, whine about their circumstances, blame all kinds of people for all kinds of things, but very few do the hard work of changing. I think we like being victims. I think we’d rather wallow in our circumstances and be pitied and get free lunches because we’re downtrodden than to do the hard work of actual change. And I think this has implications in my personal life, in the corporate life of the church, in our country’s pursuit of “social justice”, and all kinds of other areas.
But here, Jesus wants to know (I assume) if the man is sincere. “Are you sure you want to no longer be able to lay here and play the victim? It might seem like your life now is hard, and surely it is, but the new life I have the power to give you is also hard. It’s different-hard. Better, but not free of pain or challenge or obstacles. Even once you can walk, there will still be places you want to go that others will beat you to, etc. Now, do you want to get well?” Obviously, I’m putting words in Jesus mouth here, but they seem like reasonable words, don’t they? … knowing our Father.
The man says “yes”, and Jesus says, “well then get up and walk, and take your mat with you”. This was the Sabbath. Jesus knew that. It was unlawful (in the eyes of men) for the paralytic man to carry his mat on the Sabbath. Jesus knew that too. I love Jesus’ style! He was never all that intimidated by the laws of men. Nor is God intimidated by your laws or the rules of your church/denomination that don’t come from the Bible. God’s actually pretty secure. And He routinely and overtly tramples underfoot man’s attempts to “ascend above the tops of the clouds, and make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). And here He does it again.
The Pharisees wigged out. They couldn’t care less that the man could walk. No compassion. No mercy. No rejoicing in his new found life. Imagine the man’s shock when all they cared about was that he was carrying his mat. Talk about raining on his parade. Can you imagine how he must have thought, “Are you kidding? I can *WALK*! Screw the mat!” What else could possibly have mattered to him?
So, for me, the Pool of Bethesda is a reminder of many things…
- God has a new, better life to offer us.
- God desires this for everyone, but not everyone will be chosen to receive it. Harsh but true.
- We have to want it, and be willing to reach out for it. This will always mean leaving something behind in which we are tempted to place false value
- The world around us is always focused on the wrong things. They will always think they know better for us than God. Forget the mat! Focus on Jesus.
- The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)
- When Jesus gives you a new life, make sure you remember that it was God’s doing and that others around you need to hear what God has done for you.
Hopefully I will take these things away from this place, not just pictures of a few layers of history.