After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight 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?’ The 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.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.”’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later 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.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ For 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.
Something bugs me in this passage. This pool was a place of healing – rather like the spring at Lourdes. It seems that the moment to find healing was when the waters were stirred (a later verse was added to say an angel stirred the water adding a more miraculous slant) yet this man was not able to get to the water as there was no one to assist him – though presumably he was helped to and from the building each day. For 38 years this man had been ill and nothing had been done until Jesus healed him. So we might ponder the miraculous power of God but the next bit still niggles – the man does as he’s told, picks up his mat and goes on his way and, in so doing, breaks the Law. It’s not his fault, Jesus told him to. The man who couldn’t find anyone to help him get well now passes the blame for breaking the Law. I can hear Jesus’ being a bit annoyed when he said “do you want to be made well?”
Maybe Jesus was puzzled at how this man arrived at the pool each day but got no further. Maybe Jesus realised that this man needed to take some responsibility for his own health and healing. Maybe Jesus recognised the all too human response to pass the blame.
The story bugs me. Do I pass the blame or accept responsibility? How do we do this now the Covid restrictions are gone we’re all being told to take responsibility for our own health? Do we go into work if we’ve got a cold? Do we keep away from others when we’re feeing unwell so as to protect them? Do we wear a mask on public transport to keep others safe? Taking responsibility has always been hard, in our post-Covid world it’s become more complex. Yet Jesus’ question still bugs me – do you want to be made well?
Loving Lord, I do want to be made well, healed from my ability to shift the blame, set free from my temptation to make others responsible, liberated from my excuses. Heal me Lord and make me well. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the URC’s Minister for Digital Worship and member of Barrhead URC.