Jesus stirred more than the Waters

Scripture John 5:1-18 (attached at end of story)
(c) Copyright 2001 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Careful watching.
Every day!
Eyes peeled, watching for bubbles near the center of the pool of Bethesda.

This was an attentive crowd. Few got distracted talking to one another.  The pool might be stirred while their attention was lost on conversation. Dozens of eyes were fixed on the surface of the water hoping this murky still pool would show some bubbles. Every once in a while, someone would dive in, many would follow only to discover that the hours of concentration had made their eyes play tricks on them. Everyone would struggle their way out of the pool frustrated, not healed.

That was the pool at Bethesda. Thirty, fifty, sometimes more, handicapped people with disfigured bodies, groaning pain, and miserable mindsets would lay on their straw or cloth mats in the shade provided by the Colonnade roofs day after day, hoping that the water would be stirred, hoping the water would bubble and froth from forces they could not understand. Sometimes hurting people would break into fighting just to get the closest shade spot to the pool.  After all, this was a daily competition to see who would be first to get in the water, if it stirred.

You see, there was a superstition, a rumour in Jerusalem that once in a while an angel of the Lord would come and dip its invisible wings in the dirty waters of Bethesda. And they believed that the first one to get his body in the water when it stirred would be touched by the angel and healed. People believed that, desperate people believed that, the most desperate believed it too.  But very seldom did the most desperate make it to the water first. It seemed that just the healthiest ones made it to the water first, the ones who were nearest healing, and by the time they came out, they really did feel better.

Ghalov (Rusty) was one of the people laying beside that pool. For 38 years his legs had not worked. Once he was trying to steal something from a house but people noticed him, and as he was running down some stairs, he tripped, fell down the stairs. After that, his legs would no longer work. That’s the day he lost his career as a thief, 38 years ago. At first he tried praying, begging God to heal his body, but it did no good. It was not long before he gave up religion and turned to superstition like so many others. For most of those 38 years, he had spent his time beside the pool at Bethesda, hoping to see the stirring of the water, hoping to be the first one to get in. But years of waiting, and discovering that those who were healthier than he was always got there first, had turned his heart to bitterness and his life to begging. He once looked like a handicapped young man, now he was old, his skin was leathery, his hair grey, long and tangled. No one cared for him. And in this group of sick people, certainly no one cared for him. He was just another body who didn’t have a chance taking up room near the edge of the pool and begging on top of that. His calls for alms and his smell were repulsive to most people who walked by the pool.

A few weeks earlier, he was sure that he had seen the water stir, while others had not noticed. He started dragging his body toward the pool but when he got close to its edge, someone else seeing him move jumped in immediately. But that person didn’t get better. Obviously, Ghalov, (Rusty) was seeing things again.

The days were long and boring. Rusty kept his eyes on the pool, hoping that one day he would be in it first. This day was no different. His aching legs gave him pain no matter what position they were in. He would tell them to move, but they would do nothing. But they hurt all the time.

It was a Sabbath Feast day in Jerusalem, a religious feast day, a particularly good day for alms, a great day for begging. Ghalov (Rusty) had his legs flopped out in front of him for all to see how skinny and useless they had become. As he cried out "Alms" to the slowly passing crowds, he kept his eyes on the pool, hoping he would be the first to notice and the first to climb in. But on that Feast day the water was not stirred.

In the early afternoon however, a Man came by, and looking at all the broken people who were waiting to jump into the pool, his eyes stopped as they looked at Rusty. Maybe it was Rusty’s wrinkled skin, his pitiful look, his floppy legs.  Rusty did not know what drew his attention. The Man came over. At first Rusty thought he might finally get some alms from somebody who dared come close enough to him to actually give him something.

Rusty’s hand was out, ready to receive a few copper coins, hoping for more. But the Man did not reach into his purse to get money, rather he asked Rusty a question.

“How long have you been this way?”

“Longer than you’ve been living!” was Rusty's grumbling reply. “Another person wanting to interview his misery before they gave away their dime!” Rusty thought to himself.

"Do you want to get well?"

Speaking about a stupid question! Ghalov could not believe his ears. Did he want healing?  Of course he did! Would a thirsty man want water? Of course he would!  There was no question he wanted to be better. He had prayed for years to get better! God didn’t do anything. Now it was everybody else who was keeping him from getting better - all the healthier ones who could get to the water quicker than he could.

"Sir," Ghalov 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."

The Man looked deep into Ghalov’s eyes. Ghalov had to look away. Ghalov was accustomed to using his pleading eyes to get just that little extra from those who cared to give him something. But this Man looked right into his soul. This Man looked further than Ghalov wanted him to see.

"Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!" the Man commanded.

Had anyone else insulted his handicap in that way, Ghalov would have sent them running away in fear with the string of vulgarities and curses that could have been heard well outside of Bethesda’s Colonnades. But as the Man spoke these powerful words to him something happened. His legs first tingled, and then they twitched, his toes moved, his knees bent, his calves and his thighs jumped to life. After years of sitting, he now had the power to stand, and not only stand, but walk, and not only walk, he jumped up and down. He even had the strength to carry his mattress on his back.

The commotion at the pool was incredible. People demanded to know when the pool was stirred. Others seeing that Ghalov had never gone in wanted to know what happened to this man who had healed him. The commotion reached outside to the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were quick to note that this was the Sabbath and seeing Ghalov carrying his mattress they quickly told him that carrying mattresses was not permitted on the Sabbath.

"The Man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.'"

"Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?" they asked Ghalov. Who would give that kind of instruction on a Sabbath to clearly disobey the law and the traditions of the fathers?

But the Man had disappeared among the crowds. No one knew who he was. Ghalov, though he saw his face had not recognized him. But Ghalov new a miracle when he saw one and one of the requirements he understood all too well was that if you were healed, you had to go to the temple, show your healing to a priest and give an offering of thanks. And that is what Ghalov did. He took what he had saved up from his begging, bought an offering and headed for the temple to thank God for what God had done for him. Now he could go back to his old life and truly make a living again.

He was at the temple, an especially busy place. Animals were everywhere. Priests were collecting money. This time was a big deal for the temple in Jerusalem. Ghalov, having given his thank offering, was standing in the milling crowd, when suddenly there was the Man again, standing right beside him. And again this Man was looking deep into Ghalov’s eyes, looking way further than Ghalov wanted anybody to, looking it seemed right into his heart, understanding his mind, knowing everything he had ever done including his dreams and scheming on how to restart his career...

"See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you" the Man said.

Those were words that Ghalov did not like hearing. They confronted him about his true sickness. His true sickness was not his legs, it was his heart, his sin, his breaking the commandments of God. And to be healed of that sickness would mean his future career would have to be abandoned. In an instant, he made his decision.

“See everybody!  This is the man that healed me and told me to carry my mattress on the Sabbath!” Pointing at Jesus, for all to see, he yelled it even louder: “See everybody!  This is the man that healed me and told me to carry my mattress on the Sabbath!”
Jesus, looking at the crowds who had started to call him a blasphemer, a Sabbath breaker, replied: "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working."

“God works on the Sabbath!” The crowd was stunned. “God is your Father? Ha, tell us another one!”

Jesus the Man promptly walked away, into the crowd, but the stir had started. The crowd was buzzing with conversation and gossip, and chatter. Jesus had healed on a Sabbath. Jesus had told a man to carry his mattress on a Sabbath. The Pharisees called an emergency meeting. Their decisions were quick and clear. Get rid of Jesus, harass him, persecute him. Cause him every problem they could. Kill Jesus. From that time on, the Jews tried very hard to kill Jesus, not only because he had healed Ghalov on a Sabbath day, not only because he made Ghalov carry his mattress, but even more, because he had called God his father, making himself equal with God.

John 5:1-18 (NIV)
5:1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.
2 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.  3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie--the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. And they waited for the moving of the waters.  4 From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.
5 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?"
7 "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."
8 Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk."
9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat."
11 But he replied, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.'"
12 So they asked him, "Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?"
13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you."
15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.
17 Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working."
18 For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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