At the pool of Bethesda, Gentiles and Jews alike gather together in desperate search of healing. Yes, a few get better on the surface. A few with skin deep problems get better. But most, with diseases that go far deeper than skin deep, never seem to get better. Isn’t this a picture of humanity? Into this picture, Jesus himself now appears.
He’s come to Jerusalem. Most of John’s gospel takes place in Jerusalem. Especially from this point on, most of John’s gospel takes place in Jerusalem, which is just the opposite of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It seems as though by the time John got around to writing his gospel, he had decided to do something different from those who wrote before. Matthew, Mark and Luke are almost all set in Galilee, with a few trips to Jerusalem. John flips this, and most of his gospel takes place in Jerusalem.
Jesus has come to Jerusalem for one of the festivals, we are not told which one. As he is coming into the northern side of the city, by the sheep gate, he is passing by the pool of Bethesda, with a multitude (what’s a multitude? Hundreds maybe?) of people that are sick. They are blind, lame, paralyzed, we are told. Jesus sees one who has been paralyzed for thirty eight years. We don’t know how long he has been at the pool of Bethesda, but he’s been there a long time. He’s basically been living there, as a beggar no doubt. He’s had his hope that maybe some day maybe he can get into the water and find a miraculous cure, but it has not happened. Jesus sees this man, knows that he’s been here a long time, and asks him Do you want to be healed?
Of course, the man wants to get well, but he begins to explain his plight. He begins to explain to Jesus why it that he can’t find healing for what ails him. Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me. Maybe this man thinks this kind stranger might be the one to help him into the pool. Maybe he thinks Jesus is actually offering to assist him. But of course, Jesus is not here to help him into the pool, Jesus is there to heal him.
So Jesus simply says to him Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. In the moment Jesus tells him Get up, take up your bed, and walk, the man is healed, because Jesus is the word of God! He is the word of healing which God has sent. Psalm 107 verse 20 tells us “He sent out his word and healed them….”. Here is the word made flesh saying Get up, take up your bed, and walk, and the man is healed.
Jesus says Get up! Maybe this this an anticipation of the day Jesus will say Get up to the whole human race, on the great getting up morning, and we come out of the grave!! Jesus begins to talk about this later in this chapter as he is debating with these Judeans who are disputing his claims. “”Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombswill hear his voice [Get up!] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” John 5:25-29 ESV. So Jesus says to this man Get up!, like an anticipation of the great resurrection. But he doesn’t just say Get up! He says take up your bed, and walk. This man has been living there by the pool, he has his mat, and Jesus tells this man to roll it up, take it up, and you can just go ahead and leave and because you’re never coming back here! This is a place for invalids. It’s a place for the sick. But for you it’s moving day, because you are now neither. You have been healed, and you are going to have to relocate somewhere else because this is not the place for you because you have been made well…
But remember, Jesus only heals one. We are told there are many here, a multitude in fact, that are sick, but Jesus only heals one. Why? Because it’s a sign. Jesus isn’t solving all the worlds problems by his direct miracle activity, but he’s giving a sign that healing is the kind of work we should be engaged in. So he chooses one, and gives us a sign that healing is the kind of work that we who are the body of Christ are to do. So we should be engaged in the work of healing the sick. And yes, this includes praying for the sick, laying hands on them, anointing them with oil, praying for miraculous healing, all of that, amen and amen.
But it also means becoming doctors and nurses, and building hospitals. It means taking all forms of human knowledge and learning, and capacity for care and compassion, and directing it against sickness and disease and working together with every resource we have available to bring about healing.
This is why hospitals are a distinctly Christian innovation. Hospitals have not always existed. It used to be that if you were sick it was entirely the responsibility of your family to take care of you. If you didn’t have a family, well then, it sucks to be you. The gods have frowned upon you and smitten you, there’s nothing we can (or will) do for you. But the Christian said no, our Lord, who is the word of God, who reveals to us what God is like, he healed the sick, so we have to be engaged in the work of healing the sick. So it was Christians in the second, third, fourth, fifth centuries, that began to establish hospitals. The idea being that you bring the sick here, and we will have those that are most gifted and skilled at caring for the sick there to treat and help them possibly to recover. It’s a Christian innovation drawn directly from what we see in the life of Christ. So the next time we think Christ is not working in the world, we just look at the work of every hospital on the planet and see that refuted right before our eyes. Because regardless of our race, color, religion, or beliefs, regardless of the beliefs, race, status, religion, or lack thereof of those providing the care, every time we receive life saving or life sustaining, or just comforting care in a hospital, we are receiving the light of Jesus Christ into our lives.
One of our basic tenets of the faith is that God, Jesus, never changes. So he was, is, and always will be the Great Physician. Whether we believe it or not. Amen
“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.
One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 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 going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.”
John 5:1-3, 5-9 ESV