What a joy to turn to the Gospel reading and have it be one of the places I have actually been while in Israel! It comes to life when you have stood there. If you have never been to Israel, you really should go with me sometime. I lead trips there all the time. Next up is the Mediterranean Cruise to Italy, Greece, and Turkey following Paul’s journeys, but Israel will come up soon. www.mattmeinke.com/trips
Today is the healing of the blind man by the pool of Bethsaida. When our group was there, we actually stood at the edge of the archaeological excavations of the pool of Bethsaida, so this story comes to life in a special way for me.
Part of the story is that Jesus heals on the Sabbath. And it is a somewhat unfamiliar text to many, as it only appears in the Gospel of John and doesn’t get much attention from the yearly lectionary cycle.
Jesus went up to Jerusalem, by the Sheep Gate, to the pool named Beth-zatha. The blind, the lame, and the paralyzed lie there, hoping to be made well. Although the pool is mainly drinking water for flocks of sheep who come in the Sheep Gate, there is evidently some mystery surrounding the healing properties of the water, especially when the waters are stirred up.
Jesus, who would have had to pick him up and put him in the water, a clear violation of Sabbath rules, chooses to simply say, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” Even before the water is stirred up, the man is healed. He takes his mat and began to walk.
Carrying his mat is a violation of the Sabbath, and the Jewish authorities point this out. He responds, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They want to know the identity of the man who healed, but Jesus had disappeared in the crowd. But they find out who he is.
This convoluted story about Sabbath breaking is challenging. Of course one of the first things to point out is that all this laboring, including the performing of a miracle, is breaking the Sabbath. And I don’t know about you, but I thought Jesus was going to weasel out of it by saying, “My Father is still working….and he can do whatever he wants!” Instead, he fed the fire of their persecution, pleading guilty to it, saying, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”
Jesus is not concerned about breaking the Sabbath, but revealing who he is, and who God is.
He is also interested in changing lives.
It is easy to understand why all this authority gets him in trouble. But the story reveals even more. Why was Jesus hanging out at the dirty, smelly Pool of Beth-zatha? What do the disciples have to do with herding sheep? Did they come for the medicinal properties of the water? Perhaps he came especially to see the people there.
Jesus seems to be playing with fire when it comes to the Jewish authorities. He is taking the role of Judge and Advocate. By performing these miracles, especially in the most unlikely of places, he is sending a clear message to the Jewish authorities: “God is not playing by the rules of the temple here. And there is no stopping it.” He is changing lives by defaulting to grace and healing and welcome and restoration.
This bold, abrasive message gets him killed. And yet, all the while, revealing the Word made Flesh. The Gospel of John is a unique picture of Jesus, but one that I see as essential.
He portrays a somewhat bumpy ride to the cross – actually more of a roller coaster ride – but as Lent approaches and the difficulty of life comes more into focus, I cherish the stories of John which call for an extra dose of faith in a God who has the power to heal and change lives.