John 5:1-13 – Healing by the Pool of Bethesda
An Unasked for Miracle.
Lazar lay in the thin shade of one of the columns supporting the porch roof of the upper pool of Bethesda. He sighed. He’d been laying here for six days already. How much longer would it be before the waters were stirred?
Using every ounce of his strength, he raised up on his elbow and gazed at the pool. Nothing. Not even a ripple from a breeze.
At regular intervals during the year, the normally calm waters would froth and bubble, supposedly at the touch of an angel, and the first person into the pool afterward would be healed.
Which was why he was here. The time had come for the waters to be stirred again. He knew if he didn’t make it first to the water this time, he wouldn’t be alive the next time. He doubted the angel would come today anyway; it was Sabbath.
Disgusted, he surveyed his shriveled, useless body. His skin was leathery and dry, his leg muscles atrophied. His feet were starting to turn in from lack of use, much as his hands were doing, the fingers slowly curling uselessly against his palms. It was a visible reminder of the way his life was slowly being sucked away.
Exhausted from resting on his elbow for so long, he collapsed back onto his mat panting for air.
He should never have allowed them to bring him here. What good would it do anyway? He was barely strong enough to raise up and look at the water. There was no way he would make it to the pool before anyone else. It was impossible.
The hopelessness of it all settled on him, making it hard to breathe.
The priests were right, it was a punishment from God for his sins. In the beginning, he had offered sacrifices repeatedly, confessing every sin he could think of and begging God to forgive him for those he didn’t remember or recognize. But it hadn’t done any good. He steadily got worse. Now he couldn’t do anything for himself anymore.
He was a burden, he knew.
He snorted in disgust remembering his brother’s parting words that morning. “Keep the faith, Lazar, God will help you, just as your name predicts.”
His brother said that every single time he and his family brought him to the pool of Bethesda. God had never helped him in nearly four decades. This year would be no different.
At least by coming to the pool of Bethesda, his brother’s family had a little relief from his constant care. They still came twice a day, he and his oldest son, bringing food, helping him with his necessities, even bathing him and changing his clothes when necessary. But they were free of him for most of the day and night. At least I can give them that.
A shadow covered his face. Lazar squinted up. A stranger stood looking down at him.
Lazar frowned and turned his eyes away. Probably just some do-gooder who thought by bringing water he was earning his way to heaven. Well, he didn’t want any water! He waited for the man to leave, but he didn’t move.
Reluctantly, Lazar met the man’s eyes again and was caught completely off guard. It was like looking into the eyes of a dear friend. As if this man knew him intimately … and accepted him fully. There was not a hint of condemnation. And the empathy he saw there was profoundly unique. He couldn’t look away.
The man smiled slightly and squatted next to him. “Do you really want to be healed?”
An irrational hope sprang up in Lazar’s chest. He shoved it down and broke eye contact. “It’s useless, sir. I am not strong enough to make it to the pool before the others when the water is stirred.” Then, with a twist of irony, he swung his gaze on the newcomer, “Unless, of course, someone would be willing to carry me there in order to make it ahead of the others.” He waited to see the look of controlled panic enter the man’s face at the idea. No one was going to hang around day and night in order to carry him to the water when it bubbled up, no matter how compassionate and loving they may feel at the moment.
The man’s expression didn’t change. He looked steadily at Lazar for a moment longer, then with quiet authority, he commanded, “Stand up, take your bed and blanket, and walk home.”
Lazar rolled over and pushed himself up on his knees and then stood up before his brain had time to register what he was doing. He looked down in shock at his mat and blanket. Goose bumps raced up down his back. His mind froze.
He was standing erect!
Carefully he looked down at his feet firmly planted on the ground, the toes straight. He studied his legs. His skin was healthy and supple, his legs muscular. As if in a dream he held his hands out in front of him and laughed in surprise. They looked perfectly normal. He turned them over and looked at his palms. He made a fist and watched in wonder as he stretched his fingers back out to their full length. Half laughing half sobbing, he leaned over and grabbed his thighs, thick again with muscle. He ran his hands down his legs, feeling the muscles move beneath his hands. His skin felt soft and alive.
He could hardly believe this was real.
Then he remembered the rest of the command, “take your bed and blanket.” Joyfully, he reached out, grabbed the blanket, and stood back up. Quickly folding it in half, he flicked it out and let if fall so it lay evenly over the mat. Squatting, he began rolling them up together. He laughed joyfully, tears coursing down his cheeks as he reveled in how effortlessly his body responded to his thoughts.
When he finished, he jumped to his feet, placed the bedroll under his arm, and turned to thank the man.
There was no one there. Shocked, he looked to the left and right, then he spun around scanning the entire area. The man was gone. His laugh faded and a shaft of disappointment shot through him.
“Lazar?” the man who had been lying next to him questioned skeptically. “Lazar. Is that you?”
Lazar eyed Paltiel, the gaunt, cripple that had lain next to him every season for more than a decade. Then, gazed again at his own healthy body. There was no trace of the disease. None.
The joy returned and he laughed. “Yes, it’s me, Lazar. Can you believe it? Look at this.” And Lazar strode back and forth where his mat had been.
Paltiel glanced at the pool, then at the other people laying around them. “Did the waters move?”
Lazar shook his head, “No. It was the man who was here. Didn’t you see him? He told me to get up, take my bed and blanket and go home. And just like that,” he snapped his fingers, “I was healed.”
Paltiel peered around, “Is he still here? Maybe he can heal me too.”
Lazar inspected all the porches around the pool. He didn’t see the man anywhere. He felt a little guilty as he glanced at his friend. “If I see him, I will send him to you.” Then he turned and walked away, carrying his bed roll.
Once away from the pool and out of sight of those who still needed healing, Lazar let out a whoop and began to jump up and down and dance around. He was well. Truly and completely healed.
Stopping in the middle of the road, he looked up and closed his eyes, relishing the feel of the sun on his face, his arms, and his feet. He held his hands out, palms up. Thank you, God. I don’t know who that man was, but thank you for giving me back my health.
“Hey, you!” an angry voice interrupted his thanksgiving.
Opening his eyes, he saw a man of obvious rank and wealth, probably a member of the Sanhedrin judging by the prayer shawl and the expensive phylacteries on his head and hand, standing several yards away glowering at him. The man was flanked by several other men of wealth and rank.
“Yes?” Lazar asked.
“What do you think you are doing carrying your bed on the Sabbath day? Don’t you know it’s against the law? How dare you desecrate the Sabbath!”
Lazar sobered and looked at the bedroll under his arm. “The man who healed me told me to take it home with me.”
“And who was that? Who would dare to tell you to break the Sabbath like that?” the man demanded, the color rising on his face.
Lazar shook his head and shrugged, “I have no idea. He disappeared before I could thank him. But look, he healed me.” Lifting the bedroll over his head and pumping it up and down, he spun around and even jumped up and down a few times. Stopping, he smiled broadly at the men as he tucked the bedroll under his arm again.
They stared at him, deep frowns on their faces. “And you have no idea who this man was?” insisted the leader of the group.
Lazar’s smile faltered. “No, I don’t. I’ve never seen him before.”
The men conferred together for a moment, then the first man walked toward him, eyeing him up and down. Then in a tone that almost sounded genuinely interested, he asked. “Aren’t you Lazar, the man who has been sick for thirty-eight years? How is that you are walking?”
Suddenly, Lazar recognized him. He was Eliasheb, the priest who had so vehemently declared that Lazar was suffering the consequences of his sins and there was no hope for him—either in this life or the next.
Warily, Lazar looked from him to the other men clustered behind him. “I told you. The man told me to stand up, roll up my bed, and walk home. When I did as he said, I was cured. Instantly.”
“That’s all he said?” Eliasheb pressed.
“Yes,” Lazar replied hesitantly. But as he studied Eliasheb, his courage began to return. After all, Eliasheb had been wrong about God. There had been hope for him.
Straightening his shoulders, and standing tall, Lazar declared. “Other than asking me if I wanted to be well, the only thing he said to me was, ‘Stand up, take up your bed, and walk.’ I did as he commanded and I am completely healed, Eliasheb. Completely!”
The man slowly stretched his lips in an ingratiating smile, “That … is … truly remarkable.” He was silent for a time, emotions warring on his face before he continued diplomatically. “When you find out who did this, let us know so we can introduce ourselves.”
Lazar squinted at Eliasheb. “I’d be happy to introduce you to him, Eliasheb, because only someone from God could heal me so completely after thirty-eight long years. As a leader in Israel and God’s ambassador, I think you two would have a lot to discuss since apparently there is hope for me, both in this life and the one to come. If there wasn’t, surely I would still be lying by the pool of Bethesda, don’t you think?”
The color had drained from Eliasheb’s face as Lazar spoke. He cleared his throat, his expression blank, “Yes … well. You’d best take that bedroll home and leave it there.” Turning on his heel, he headed toward the temple, the other men following in his wake.
Lazar watched them for a moment, then raised his eyes to the temple where they were headed. His spirits rose. He would go offer a thank offering to the Lord as soon as possible. It would take a day or two to gather everything he needed and to invite everyone to the feast. Oh, what a feast that would be!
Turning toward home, a smile spread across his face and he chuckled. He couldn’t wait to see the look on his brother’s face when he walked through the door.
Lazar couldn’t keep the bounce out of his step, though he tried to walk at a measured Sabbath pace.
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