- Denise Kohlmeyer
WHOLLY HEALED (John 5:1-17)
All around the five colonnades lay a multitude of invalids. Men and women and even little children. They are lame and blind and paralyzed. They are sick, disabled.
He is just one of them. Nameless. Lying prone. Sheltered from the searing sun. The stone wall behind him cuts into his thin back. He shifts to a different position, never taking his eyes off of the water. Ever watching. For a sign. The first stirring.
It is the Sabbath. A day he should have been at home. Replenishing his spirit. Worshipping Yahweh. But, instead, he is here at this pool. A place he’s been coming to frequently. For years, in fact.
This pool is his last resort. He’s tried every known medicine and technique of the ancient world, trying to get well. But nothing has helped. Nothing has cured him. He remains in this debilitated, paralytic state. An invalid. Both physically and emotionally. For 38 years!
Then he’d heard about these mysterious “stirrings” at the Pool of Bethesda, this mikveh, near the Sheep Gate, just outside Jerusalem’s high stone walls. These “stirrings” are said to be caused by an angelic being, a messenger of mercy from Yahweh. It makes sense, after all, since the pool’s Aramaic name means “House of Mercy.”
Many, the man knew, claimed it was superstition. But hadn’t people of old been healed by stranger things? A pot of purified stew, touching Elisha’s bones, washing themselves in the River Jordan? Why wouldn’t this be true, too?
After all his failed attempts to find a cure, mercy is exactly what he wants. What he needs! A mercy healing. Even if these “stirrings” are superstition, it’s still worth trying. He’s willing to try anything at this point.
So, here he sits, breaking the Sabbath, risking ostracism, surrounded by all the others—some worse off than himself. All waiting. All eyes on the water. All with the same hope: of being healed.
But there is one caveat: it is only the first one into the water who is healed. A one-and-done type of healing. So, he needs to be the first one to get down the smooth stone steps to the pool. If he can only touch the water, which is 40 feet deep in some places. Even if it is just a hand. Or a foot. He will be healed. He knows it.
But each time, he’s been too slow. His broken body just won’t—can’t—move fast enough. The healing he so desperately wants keeps eluding him. Someone else always gets there before him. Gets the healing.
But he isn’t going to give up. This is his last hope. It’s what keeps him coming back. It’s what makes him keep breaking the Sabbath. It keeps him alive, really, this hope of a healing.
He watches this one man from behind a pillar. This man, who, like all the others, is waiting for the proverbial “stirring.”
You wait in vain, He wishes he could tell them all. Healing doesn’t come from conventional means, but from the Holy One alone.
But they won’t listen. He knows this. They are a stubborn lot.
They have put their faith in everything but Yahweh. His Father.
How hopeless. How foolish.
But yet they wait. Believing. Hoping. On superstitions.
And then they despair when the healing doesn’t happen. When they aren’t the first into the water.
Will they never learn? His heart cries within Himself.
But this one man will learn. He will soon learn about the Living Water.
A shadow moves over him. The man looks up, shielding his eyes against the glaring sun. A stranger stands there. A Jew, the man discerns. This does not surprise him, given the city is filled to bursting with them, for they’ve all come to town for the Feast. The inns are all full. Tents dot the slopes surrounding Jerusalem. They are everywhere.
There is nothing particularly remarkable about this Jew’s appearance, the man notes. He looks like all the others: olive-skinned, thick-browed, dark eyes, smelling of spices, sweat, and sun.
But there is something about His presence that captures the invalid’s attention. This stranger stands tall, confident, commanding. The man cannot take his eyes off of Him.
And the stranger’s eyes. There isn’t hint of disgust in them as they gaze down upon his fragile frame. Not like the others who look on him with either pity or repugnance. Most actually go out of their way to avoid him, for, in his infirmity, he is considered unclean. Religiously and socially “dirty.” If anyone so much as brushes up against him, they too will become contaminated, too.
What sin did I commit to incur this infirmity? he’s often wondered.
But this stranger who’s standing over me. His eyes hold only…what? Concern? Compassion?
Yes, he sees it now. The soft, warm look, the gentle upturn of his lips.
It’s been a long, long time since he’s seen that look directed his way.
Then the stranger speaks. Directly to him. “Do you want to be healed?”
The place suddenly goes silent. Everyone leans toward the man and this stranger. Listening.
What a strange question, the paralytic thinks. Of course, I want to be healed. Why else would I be here? Does this man not know about the healing powers of this pool? Instead of voicing this, though, the man says, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.” His voice chokes with despair, and perhaps a touch of self-pity. “While I am going, another steps down before me.”
The stranger heard the despondency in the invalid’s voice, and His heart hurt.
Ah, this man’s heart is as withered as his legs. But, watch, for I will soon strengthen both his legs and his faith.
An encouraging thought occurs to the invalid just then: Maybe this stranger will help me! Maybe he’d be willing to carry me down the steps into the pool! He looks strong enough.
But before he can make his request, the stranger instructs him to “Stand up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
The invalid is so taken aback by the authority (and audacity) of this stranger’s tone—Is he a military commander? the invalid wonders. But he does as the stranger bids. He stands up, pronto, mat in hand.
Everyone gasps, points, whispers.
The man blinks in surprise. Can this be happening? To see if it’s true, he looks down into the mirror-like stillness of the Pool. He inhales sharply as he stares at his upright figure in the water’s reflection. Indeed, he is standing. His once-emaciated legs look sturdy, strong. Healthy. Able to hold his weight without buckling.
His eyes fill with tears. He smiles broadly. He hasn’t been able to stand on his own two feet in 38 years.
His mercy healing just happened. And he hadn’t even had to touch the water! This is too much to comprehend. To believe.
When he finally looks up, the stranger is gone. Vanished into the crowd.
Where did he go? Why did he leave so suddenly? The man is disappointed, but it quickly disappears. I’m healed! My infirmity is gone. That’s all that really matters.
With his weaved mat in hand, he leaves the colonnade, walking past all those still waiting for the “stirring,” now forgotten. Their mouths are agape, their eyes wide as they watch him walk away, jealously noting the spring in his step.
On his way home, the healed man passes a group of devout Jews, talking in a tight knot. Their robes are clean, bright white. Their tefillins wound tightly on their arms; their payots perfectly curled.
The man skirts around the group.
But they notice him.
“It is the Sabbath,” one of them shouts at him, nodding to his mat. “It is not lawful for you to take up your bed.”
Really? I just got healed and you’re going to make an issue of me carrying my mat? But the man does not say this. Instead, he tells the curious judgemental Jews that “the man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk’.” So, I did!
The Jews exchange glances.
“Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” the same Jew asked, his eyes narrowing.
But the man shrugs. He doesn’t know. He goes on his way then, leaving the Jews speechless. And suspicious.
Later that day, the healed man goes to the Temple. The glorious Temple of Jerusalem. God’s House. For 38 years, he has not been able to cross its beautiful threshold because of his uncleanness. For 38 years, he has not been able to offer sacrifices to Yahweh or to pray and sing praises in the courtyard with all of his fellow Jews. For 38 years, he has been forbidden to worship. Something he has sorely missed.
But now, healed and whole, he springs up the steps into the inner courtyard, his money pouch jingling with denarii. He can’t wait to worship, to pay his alms out of gratitude, and to make purification for himself. Finally! After all these years. What a merciful blessing.
Ah, there he is. He knew the man would come. Knew he would come to give thanks for the miracle he experienced. Just as he should.
He could not be more pleased or proud. This man knows to Whom he owes his healing and has come to pay tribute and honor.
He calls to the man from across the courtyard. “See, you are well!”
The man turns abruptly. A radiant smile lights up his lips as he comes face to face with the stranger from the Pool.
That smile, it is answer enough for Him.
Without preamble, He says to the man, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
Immediately, the man knows to Whom he is speaking. And Who healed him. Jesus of Nazareth. The Man everyone is curious about, talking about, speculating about. This Miracle Maker. This One who claims to be God’s own Son.
Many call it blasphemy. But the man calls it a blessed fact. Because now he knows for certain.
After leaving the Temple, the man makes his way back to his abode, pondering all that has happened to him this day.
Oh, the blessed irony. While I hadn’t been able to get myself down to the “healing” waters on my own, the healing Water came to me. Me! Out of all those there today, He chose me. I’ll never know why, but I am profoundly grateful.
He not only liberated me from my physical ailment, but now my spiritual ailment: sin. ‘Sin no more, that nothing worse,’ He told me. By ‘worse,’ He meant eternal damnation. If I were to keep on sinning, I would end up in Sheol. May it never be! For, I am, indeed, a healed man this day. Wholly healed!
Upon further reflection, the man made an abrupt change in direction and went in search of those devout Jews he had encountered earlier. They had demanded an answer to their question about who told him he could carry his mat on the Sabbath.
Well, by golly, he now had an answer for them.
THE answer: Jesus, the Son of God.