- Religion and Philosophy
John 5: 1-15 Jesus' healing at the pool of Bethesda, an insiders view. Do you want to be healed?
In Hebrew Bethesda (beth Chesda) means house of Mercy, In Aramaic it is Beth hesda, meaning house of grace. Both the Hebrew and Aramaic words have the secondary meaning of shame and disgrace
John 5: 1 - 15 NASB
After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, he said to him, "Do you wish to get well?" The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me." Jesus said to him, "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day. So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet." But he answered them, "He who made me well was the one who said to me, 'Pick up your pallet and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Pick up your pallet and walk'?" But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you." The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
Bethesda. House of Mercy, House of Grace. Or house of shame and disgrace depending on your point of view. A fitting name for the pool we all came to every day. We were the sick, the blind, the lame, and the pitiful. We lived in a society that believed handicaps and sickness were a judgment from God, therefore we were shunned, avoided.
We came to this pool for healing. It was a mineral pool, full of medicinal properties. When the water began to bubble and brew, these elements grew stronger and the first person into the pool was cured of whatever ailed him. We believed an angel of the Lord came down and stirred these waters for us so we could be healed.
You should have seen the rush to get to the water when it began to froth! Some of us had loved ones to help us in our attempt to enter the pool first. Others hired strong young men to carry them when the time came. But most of us were on our own, with little hope of making it in time.
Not that I tried very hard. I didn’t really mind this life; in fact it wasn’t bad at all. Sure, it would have been nice to be rid of the pain and the social stigma. But I was used to it, and had accepted it as who I was. The five porticos around the pool provided ample shade from the sun and the company was good. I enjoyed sitting around swapping gossip and chatting with my friends. It was better than working all day.
I was there when Jesus came to our pool. We had heard rumors of the miracle worker, but most of us didn’t recognize him. It was unusual for someone of his status to be seen with the poor and decrepit of the world, so you can imagine the excitement his visit caused. Most religious leaders stayed as far from us as they could.
I got nervous as he approached me. He spoke, but with relief, I saw it wasn’t me he spoke too. There was an older man nearby. He wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on. I didn’t know him, but I had heard a lot about him. He had been coming here longer than most of us, thirty-eight years!
Rumor said that he had been a wild one in his youth. If there was anyone who deserved their punishment from God, it was this man. There was no pleasure he had denied himself and now he was paying the price for all that hard living. He kept to himself, usually ignoring the rest of us. He was probably wishing Jesus would go away.
He didn't raise his voice, but the stranger's words carried clearly across the courtyard. I felt like the words were directed right at me. We all did.
“Do you want to get well?”
I felt a stab of guilt. No, I really did not want to get well, but this went deeper than my physical ailments. Jesus was asking if I wanted to be well inside, to be cleansed of all that was bad in me. I wasn’t ready to admit I was sinful. I didn’t want to take responsibility for my actions and admit that the choices I had made deserved judgment. I was content with who I was.
I wondered why he asked such a question, and puzzled over my response to it. I began to suspect that this was the miracle man we had heard about. I was glad he came on the Sabbath, the one day the law forbade him to do any work. Surely healing was work. The old man admitted that he was unable to reach the pool on his own. There was no way he could attain his own healing, and no one could help him. I believe he really did want healed. I had seen him try every single time the water stirred, even though he knew it was hopeless.
What happened next was amazing. Even though it was the Sabbath, Jesus told the man to pick up his mat and walk. To our surprise, he did! Of course when the religious leaders saw him he got in trouble for carrying his mat, not that he cared. Doing any kind of work on the Sabbath was a big deal to them. They also wanted to know who healed him. The poor guy didn’t know for Jesus had slipped away. I heard that Jesus found him later at the temple and told him not to go back to his old lifestyle or he would be worse off than before. I never saw him again, so I guess he listened.
Grace - receiving what we do not deserve
Mercy - not receiving what we do deserve
After Jesus’ death on the cross, I realized the significance of what had happened. It was a picture of salvation. There is no way that any of us can obtain our own healing. We are all sinful by nature and only Jesus can take away those sins. There is nothing we can do except admit that and accept his sacrifice as the only way to be healed. It was a long time before I was ready to do that, but once I did, I was never the same again. The peace that filled me from within was better than any physical healing would have been. It was the best decision I ever made.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. In my next hub we will look at the controversy in John 5. Did Jesus claim to be God?