Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.
5After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When 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?” 7The 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.” 8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. 10So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” 12They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” 13Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. 14Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.
17But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” 18For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
The Word of the Lord…Thanks be to God.
I grew up in a time when tv evangelism was at its height. From the rise of the evangelical church in the late 1970’s, the 1980’s seemed like a time of vast expansion into tv. Maybe it’s a stereotype, but I would watch these evangelists occasionally and all I remember was people swarming a big stage, like they were at a rock concert, and inevitably someone in a wheelchair would receive the spirit, and they would walk.
Even to my young eyes, this looked like a stunt.
I had friends in school with disabilities, one of my good friends was born with Spinal Bifida and used a wheelchair to get around. She and her family also went to church. It never sat right with me, the idea that she would be cured of her ailment if she would just believe more or better.
I had no confidence that those people preaching on tv were actually healing that person in that wheelchair. What I did have confidence in is that they were using these “healings” as a way of getting people at home to send in a check.
As I reflect on my feelings about these evangelists I remember considering them “false prophets,” which was a term I had recently learned in my Sunday School class.
I honestly don’t think we talk enough about false prophets these days, but that’s another sermon for another time. What is pertinent to our scripture today is why we are so likely to succumb to the stunt, to buy whatever a false prophet is selling.
Because even though the healing wasn’t real, the hope was.
In our scripture lesson this morning we get two different stories about healing. One a father pleading with Jesus to visit his son. Jesus has no need to visit, as the miracle comes through the father’s belief, Jesus declares him healed and he is.
The second is a man who has lived with his disability for 38 years. This is practically a lifetime in first-century Palestine. At least that is how we are to read it, he has spent his life sitting by this pool that is supposed to heal those who enter it when the water bubbles.
The pool at Bethesda is a real place in Jerusalem, that has been excavated. If one were to visit Jerusalem today, one could visit the site this story took place. The pool had been used for centuries as a place of healing by the Jewish people. In fact, before the Jewish people used it, there were pagan rituals of healing there.
However, like all promises of healing, the pool didn’t work very often. Thus the man waiting for 38 years.
Jesus asks a peculiar question to this man as he passes him, “Do you want to be healed?”
Now you may think this quite a rude question, and honestly, at first glance I do. (Possible comparison to judging someone for parking in a handicap spot that has a sticker but I don’t “see” as handicap).
Reading this question from a twenty first century lens I find it presumptuous that Jesus would assume that this man is less than whole just because he has a disability. But when you look closely at the question, it seems a little more reasonable.
This man has lived on this mat for 38 years. Just a stone’s throw away from the pool. If he really wanted to be healed, wouldn’t he have found an opportune time to get in, sometimes in those 38 years?
The man never actually answers the question but Jesus cures him anyway. The man doesn’t come to believe or become a disciple. In fact, the man takes up his mat and walks but goes directly to the religious authorities and tells them that the man Jesus healed him on the sabbath. And the religious authorities use this information to start building a case against Jesus.
These 2 stories are peculiar and not what we think of when we think of healing stories, perhaps because our modern way of thinking about healing by God looks a little more like the tv evangelists than these stories.
I think of the story of the 10 lepers, where after being healed and returned to society from being outcast, only one turns and praises God. Jesus praises THIS man and says that only he has received true healing.
See curing a physical ailment or disability is one thing, but does it bring healing? Healing takes time, it takes faith, it takes a community, and often has very little to do with one’s affliction.
These stories are not in our scripture to show what great disciples or believers the men became. They are in scripture so we might believe. So we might help each other heal from what ails us.
So we might bring real hope to people’s lives. The hope of community. Not hope that comes with titles of officials or hope that comes from the mythical stories of a healing pool, but a hope of true healing through true community.
The belief in Christ is the belief of relationship in community, of belonging, even when it looks like we have nothing in common.
I want to close with a video of Journalist Johan Hari. He wrote one of my favorite books called Lost Connections, and in it is a story of healing, the healing of a woman who’s community rallied around her in her darkest hour.
I do need to give one word of warning, there is a curse word near the end, my apologies.
We are all in need of healing, not simply to be cured, and that comes through connection and community. And that is where our hope lies.
May it be so for you and for me. And all God’s people said… Amen.