Choosing wholeness by the pool at Bethesda

Pool of Bethesda and St. Anne's church
View of St. Anne's Church with the Pool of Bethesda in the foreground.

pool of bethesdaWhen I was in Israel in 2008, we went to the pool mentioned in this text. We stopped there for a bit while Dr. Robert Canoy, Dean of Gardner-Webb Divinity school and leader of our trip, led us in a devotion. Interestingly, a few months later, my pastor at the time, Dr. Guy Sayles, preached on this text. I’m indebted to these two theologians for much of my understanding of this passage.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for 38 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?” John 5:2-6

The Pool of Bethesda is huge. And since the water is all drained out now tourists can walk around in it, amongst the porticoes and down the stairs. You can see the Sheep Gate from there—the gate that the faithful would enter when bringing their sacrifices to the temple. And just a few steps away is the door to St. Anne’s church.

Do you know who St. Anne is? I didn’t, but I’ve learned that she was Mary’s mother. If tradition is correct, the church stands just over (at least approximately so) the spot where her home had been. How about that? The pool of Bethesda was located in the neighborhood of Jesus’ grandmama’s house. Follow me now. For as long as Jesus could remember, this man had been lying there by the pool. When Jesus was a toddler, the man was there; when Jesus was playing stick ball with cousin John, the man was there; and when Jesus began his ministry, the man still lay there.

So what does Jesus say to him? He says, “Do you want to be made well?” That’s all. He’s not sassy or flippant or sarcastic or anything. For example, Jesus did not say, “Hey Mister, I’ve been watching you soaking up the sun there for a quarter of a century; I’m starting to think you like your problems, bucko.” He did not say, “Man would you dadgum swim or get off the deck? You are flat wearing me out here.” He did not say, “What is your problem dude? You are seriously wallowing in your woes.”

“Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asks.

And me? I’m not sure I do. Sometimes, often, I prefer lying by the pool watching others dive into the pool of wholeness.  I prefer inaction. I prefer woe.

But Jesus says, “I’m not forcing myself on you. It’s your call. Do you want to be made well?”

Too many times I don’t have the strength to accept wholeness. But Jesus, amazing sweet Jesus, keeps asking me, every time I’m sprawled out, paralyzed by self-pity, “Aileen? Do you want to be made well?”

I say, “Jesus look at me! I’ve been soaking up the sun here by this pool full of the same old problems for a quarter of a century. What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I just swim and get off the deck? What is my problem? I am just a wallowing, woe-loving mess.”

Jesus looks at me with Love’s eyes and extends Love’s arms.  “I know exactly who you are. I’ve been right here your whole life. So,” Jesus says to me, to you, “Do you want to be made well?”

Just for today, I’m going to try not to point out all the reasons why that’s hard and just say, “Yes.”

How about you?

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.