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a multitude of invalids | John 5.1-5

Gospel of John headerMONDAY
Reflection 51 of 240

After this, there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed [waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had*.] One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. John 5.1-5 | ESV

Next scene. Shift to the temple courtyards in Jerusalem. Another Jewish festival. Which one? Doesn’t matter. Just imagine the temple grounds packed with pilgrims, hustle and bustle everywhere, the bleating of sheep, the moaning of doves, the blast of the shofar, wailing prayers, and loud religious debates. And into the midst of it all, stood Jesus.

And among the many faces of Jerusalem – upper city, lower city, second quarter – right by the Sheep Gate lay a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda (or, according to some, Bethzatha) “Bubbling Mercy”; a pool having, count them, five large waiting areas or porticoes (one on each of its four sides and a fifth going right through the middle of it). And here is heard not the sound of sheep or doves, of celebrating shofar or intense debate; here is heard only the wail of desperate humanity, for here lay day in and day out a seemingly endless sea of human need and weakness: blind people, deformed people, paralyzed people; each one an aching ball of pain gathering daily in these waiting areas for one reason: they waited for the bubbling mercies that would bring healing for the first to enter the pool when the water bubbled up – word was, it was unseen angels from heaven stirring up the waters.  MAV (Mike’s Authorized Version)

I’m struck by these two coexisting but quite contrasted realms of humanity: the center of piety, power and politics in the temple, and the nexus of gnawing human need to be found in these five porches of the pool at Bethesda (or Bethzatha or Bethsaida…“house of mercy” or “house of bubbling up” or all of the above).


reconstruction of the pool of Bethesda

I vividly hear the contrasting sounds emanating from each.

Perhaps most of us would be naturally drawn to the first and repulsed by the latter. I mean, who would want to go to the latter – to those five porches filled with crying, unmet, oozing need – rather than seeking out a Temple ego-rush? (But then, some of us would choose neither and would prefer the quiet habitat of Gethsemane overlooking, but distant, from both).

Jesus, this day, went to the porches.

In his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim asks,

“Why, indeed, did he go into those five porches since he had neither disease to cure, nor cry for help had come to him from those who looked for relief too far from other means? Not sure from curiosity. But as one longs to escape from the stifling atmosphere of a scene of worldly pomp, with its glitter and unreality, into the clearness of the evening air, so our Lord may have longed to pass from the glitter an unreality of those who held rule in the Temple, or who occupied the seat of Moses in their Academies, to what was the atmosphere of his life on earth, his real work, among that suffering, ignorant multitude, which in its sorrow, raised a piteous, longing cry for help where it had been misdirected to seek it.”

The Academians in the Temple were drawn to the heart of five books, the five inspired pages of Moses; those same pages compelled Jesus to seek out the five porches. And Jesus could have emptied all of them en masse with a simple word or wave of his hand.

But he didn’t.

Who knows how many encounters and conversations he had that day.

But we do know he took time to engage with one.

* John 5:4 is missing in the most reliable manuscripts; most scholars conclude it was originally an explanatory note based on the lame man’s response to Jesus later in this story; yep, people have been inserting their personal comments and explanations into the Text for a very long time… 

To what porch of human need are you feeling drawn right now? How are you being challenged to step into it?

Lord, lead me out of myself and give me the grace to follow you into whatever porch of human need you would lead me today. Prepare me to be your touch there. Through Jesus.

feet dipping


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