The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Scripture Reading: John 5:1-18
Jesus Heals on the Sabbath
5 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew[a] Beth-zatha,[b] which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.[c] 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in[d] the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” 18 For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
- John 5:2 That is, Aramaic
- John 5:2 Other ancient authorities read Bethesda, others Bethsaida
- John 5:3 Other ancient authorities add, wholly or in part, waiting for the stirring of the water; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.
- John 5:13 Or had left because of
Sermon: “The Courage to Be Whole”
Today’s reading from John starts with Jesus going where most refused to go. So…we’re going to start with a list of things dirtier than the average toilet seat that we’d avoid if we could. Trouble is, for the most part at least, we can’t.
- A load of underwear transfers at least 100 million E. coli bacteria to your washing machine, which then becomes a breeding ground passing them along to other clothes.
- Cell phones are six times dirtier than toilet seats.
- Seven hundred times more bacteria live in a square inch of carpeting than on your toilet seat.
- Your bathroom faucet handle can have 21 times the bacteria of your toilet seat. Your kitchen faucets are worse.
- Computer keyboards are noisy little homes where to up to five times the germs on a toilet seat live.
- The average handbag is three times dirtier than a toilet seat. Handbags used regularly can be as much as ten times dirtier, with handles hosting the most bacteria.
Here’s one more place folks want to avoid. From 1929, behold Disney Hell!
Our Scripture lesson today opens at a Jewish religious festival in Jerusalem. Even though we don’t know what festival it was, we can imagine what the city was like—crowded, excited, and brimming with life. Pilgrims, locals, merchants, and religious leaders all mingled, celebrating who they were as God’s people.
John steers us away from partying to porticos.
In Jerusalem [Jesus and his disciples] came upon a pool by the sheep gate surrounded by five porticos. In Hebrew this place is called Bethesda. Crowds of people lined the area, lying around the porches. All these people were disabled in some way; some were blind, lame, paralyzed, or plagued by diseases; and they were waiting for the waters to move.
It was a slice of hell, the result of a Law that viewed those under the porticoes as unclean and untouchable.
Such niceties were lost on Jesus. Walking among the ill and infirm in the shade of Bethesda’s porticoes, Jesus asked one of them, an invalid of thirty-eight years, “Do you want to be made well?”
Forty years ago, he’d have had a ready answer, “Yes, of course!” Left there by a long-vanished relative or friend, he’d at least had hope.
They said an angel stirred the water. When it did, so the legend went on, the first one in the pool was healed.
Did he believe it? Maybe at first. That oh-so-much-younger version of himself struggled to reach the pool at the slightest ripple in its water. Always, always, someone else got there first.
Bethesda was a cruel place, promising healing to the weak but granting it only to the strong. Who knows how long he kept trying? When a couple from Nazareth brought their infant son to the temple for dedication, was he trying then? Perhaps. By the time they rushed past him some twelve years later, looking for their lost son, was he trying then? We can’t be sure.
And now, with the one who had passed by twice before, first as a baby and later as a child, standing before him, offering him what he’d longed for for almost 40 years, what did the man at Bethesda say?
“Sir, like all these people I wait for the waters to stir; but I can’t walk. If I’m to be healed, someone must carry me into the pool. Without a helping hand, someone else beats me to the water’s edge each time it’s stirred.”
That’s an excuse, not an answer. Weary and worn down, people who feel they have no control over what happens eventually just give up. They even stop seeing chances they have for relief, change, or, in this case, healing. Psychologists call it “learned helplessness.”
We sometimes sit right beside that disabled, discouraged sufferer at Bethesda. We come home after work, maybe run with our kids, and then, finally, collapse in front of the TV until it’s time to go to bed. We then get up and repeat the process all over again—day after day after weary day.
We say we want to change, but all we really want is to stay just the way we are, but feel better about it.
Do you want to be made well?
“Not now, Jesus. It might be hell, but it’s my hell, and I’m pretty comfortable here.”
Do you want to be made well?
Somewhere, deep down, that man at Bethesda still held onto a spark of hope. Jesus fanned it into flame with three imperative verbs, three orders—rise, take up, and walk.
“At once the man was made well,” John tells us, “and he took up his mat and walked.”
I’d imagine he didn’t just walk. I’ll bet he ran. He celebrated. Most rejoiced with him, but not all. Some of the Jewish leaders saw, not a miracle, but a violation of the Law.
Reading here from The Voice translation, let’s hear what happened next.
“Must you be reminded that it’s the Sabbath? You aren’t allowed to carry your mat today!”
“The man who healed me gave me specific instructions to carry my mat and go.”
“Who is the man who gave you these instructions?
The man genuinely didn’t know who it was that healed him. Amid the crowd and the excitement of his renewed health, Jesus had slipped away.
It turns out that the religious authorities, no less than the man at the pool, needed healing. They, too, were unable to move, victims of metathesiophobia, the fear of change. People with metathesiophobia will do anything they can to keep the status quo going, even if the change is a good or needed one.
That usually means believing that they’re right and everyone else is wrong. It’s a spiritual as well as a psychological ailment, one that makes things worse, not better.
The bottom line of a healthy relationship as well as of a deep faith is the compassion and kindness that nurtures it. When those fail, it doesn’t matter who’s right, because the relationship is doomed and our faith hollow.
The religious leaders were unable to see a miracle, focusing instead on one whom they viewed as both lawbreaker and threat.
Ask yourself, friends, how often we stand with them. We come down hard on those who dare disturb our comfy couch of the status quo―things as they’ve always been, done in the way that we’ve always done them.
Reading again from The Voice, let’s move on. “Some time later, Jesus found [the man from Bethesda] in the temple and spoke to him again. ‘Look at your body; it’s been made whole and strong. Avoid a life of sin, or else a calamity greater than any disability may befall you.’”
Jesus wasn’t talking about who the man was, but about who he’d be. He needed to be spiritually, as well as physically, healthy. He needed to be made whole, made well.
When we follow Jesus, we give up our ego-driven need to always be right. We also give up what comes with it, our dividing people into the so-called “deserving” and “undeserving.”
As he did beside the pool at Bethesda, Jesus invites us to step away from the hell of our self-serving judgment and walk in places and among people others avoid, offering them the same kind of grace that Jesus once showed a man whose hope was almost gone, a grace that Christ still offers us today.
Do we want to be made well?