Sign up below to receive free worship resources in your inbox (1-2 per month):
Focus Text: John 5:1-9
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 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?” 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.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
In John 5:1-9 there is a scene of disability and the hope of healing. There was a belief associated with the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem that said that occasionally an angel would come down from heaven and stir up the pool. When the angel stirred up the pool, it was believed that the first person to enter the water would be cured. The blind, the lame, the paralyzed would lie by the pool and wait for movement on the water. When that movement came they would race each other to the water in the hope of being cured.
The scene is chaotic. The people gathered by the pool have largely been excluded from their society due to their illnesses or disabilities. It is a scene of pain and hopelessness.
In this story, Jesus visits this pool where he notices a man who has suffered from an unspecified illness for thirty-eight years. His illness prevents him from moving quickly enough to be the first person into the pool when the water is stirred up. Due to the long time that the man has suffered from his illness, he despairs of ever being cured.
Jesus asks the man if he wanted to be cured. The man does not answer yes or no directly but instead tells Jesus that when the pool is stirred up he is never fast enough. The man’s lack of an answer to Jesus could suggest that he does not even see the possibility of healing anymore.
In response, Jesus tells the man. “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” After thirty-eight years the man is made well. Jesus does not just heal the man’s body. In addition to suffering from bodily pain and immobility, the man also suffered from the loss of hope. He walks away from his meeting with Jesus healed and renewed. Another important element is that the man did not need the cure he thought he needed. The pool was never going to heal the man, but still he was there a long time.
The day’s passage ends with an important piece of information. The man was made well by Jesus on the Sabbath. Such legalistic wrangling portents the events that will culminate in Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.
Pastoral Reflection on John 5:1-9
1) Preachers could talk about the way people with disabilities are dehumanized in culture. They could think about the word “invalids” that is used in some English translations. They could talk about how terms like “invalids” reduce people with disabilities to a single characteristic and in doing so diminish their agency, wisdom, and personhood. This passage could be a good opportunity to preach about the importance of recognizing people’s full humanity and multi-dimensionality.
2) Preachers could also talk about their congregation’s responsibility to act like Christ does in this narrative towards people with disabilities. One level of this story is about the accessibility to healing. The man is this story is unable to be healed in the pool water because of accessibility issues. You could ask your congregation to think about how your community could act in a Christ-like way to improve accessibility to what your congregation has to offer.
3) The ending of the reading mentions that Jesus performed this healing on the Sabbath. Later in the scripture, religious leaders will ask whether or not Jesus sinned against God’s Law by healing on the Sabbath. This scripture could be an opportunity for a community to talk about not allowing norms and rules to prevent them from doing the good works that they are called to do. Perhaps a preacher could ask their congregation who they would help if they could truly open their imaginations to helping all people regardless of faith or tradition.
4) Monday, May 27 2019 is Memorial Day. Remember that many veterans return from war with both visible and invisible disabilities. In many cases, veterans will suffer from those disabilities for decades or for the rest of their lives. A preacher could consider connecting the situation of veterans with disabilities to the suffering of the man sick for thirty-eight years. They could talk about the realities of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and the many physical effects of being blown up by IEDs. They could ask their congregation how they could act like Christ in the story and how through their actions they could help bring healing to veterans.
5) A preacher could also use this Sunday’s proximity to Memorial Day to talk about how war is disabling and sickening to the entirety of humanity and the planet that we all share. The United States of America has been engaged in war continuously since 2001 and we are currently in the midst of the longest war in our nation’s history. Much like the man healed in this story, our world has been suffering from the sickness of our wars for a long time. A preacher could ask their congregation how they could be like Christ in their story and work to heal the world’s disability that is war.