Lessons from Bethesda

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep [Gate] a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be well?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me." Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." (John 5:2-8)

This story from the Gospel of St. John is important for a number of reasons. First there is the context of the reading. The Gospel tells us that Jesus had come to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the Jewish feasts. Though the evangelist does not specify which feast, Scripture scholars offer the opinion that it was either the Feast of Pentecost, commemorating the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, or Passover, celebrating the memory of God's saving actions for Israel. In either case, the story illustrates the "replacement" theme that is so prevalent in the Fourth Gospel. The rituals of Israel have been replaced by the rituals of the covenant we have in Jesus. Through baptism, we are cleansed of our sins and healed of the effects of sin in our lives.

Secondly, the story illustrates the necessity of communal action in caring for the sick and the infirm. This man has been forced to live with his disability for thirty-eight years simply because he lacks the assistance necessary to approach the healing waters of the pool.

Finally, the story also illustrates that in this Gospel, unlike the three synoptic Gospels, the action is initiated by Jesus himself. He doesn't wait to be asked. He acts spontaneously when he sees this man in need. The lesson for us is the importance of initiating acts of kindness, random or otherwise, in continuing the healing work of Jesus in our world today.

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