Hanging Out at the Pool

Rev. Andrew Lovins
United Church of Christ

Rev. Andrew Lovins United Church of Christ

Pastor Lovins

When interpreting Scripture, as a rule of thumb, we first look at the text through first century eyes; then we can make twenty-first century application. Lately, I have been putting that piece of wisdom into practice and it has revolutionized the way I see Scripture. Take, for example, water. In the past, when I read that Jesus walked on the water or that Jesus was asleep in the boat at sea, I glossed over it. Now, I know that water symbolized mystery in the Ancient World. A Greek poet, Hesiod, said that when a man is about to ford a river, he should pray and wash his hands, for he who wades through a stream with unwashed hands incurs the wrath of the gods.

John 5:1-9 indicates that some people thought the water of a certain pool at Bethesda contained healing powers. Consequently, droves of sick people would lounge around the pool; legend had it that an angel would come and trouble the waters. The first person to get into the water as it was bubbling up would be healed. Excavations of this very site reveal such a pool with five porches. A church is built over the site now and

has a mural on the wall of an angel rising from the pool. So, there was a pool and people believed unusual powers were at work.

It is to this pool that Jesus comes, and why not? Is not this the kind of place where Jesus would hangout? The church was right across the street, but Jesus is not at church; He is among the sick, the suffering, and the shunned.

Jesus was not put off by their superstition. At one time, this pool was dedicated to the healing god, Asclepius, and it may be that when a "good Jew" could not obtain healing from the church, he or she would go down to the pool and wait for the angel to trouble the waters.

Jesus was not put off by this or by the miserable condition of a certain lame man who had been debilitated for 38 years. This story is filled with symbolism from the Old Testament. For instance, the Jews wandered in the wilderness for 38 years before entering the Promised Land. The Pool of Bethesda has five porches, which represent the five books of the Law.

There's water representing the Red Sea or water that stood between Israel and her freedom. This story paints a picture of despair. Here is a man who has been sick for 38 years. Quite possibly he has become jaded by religion and could be seeking healing from a pagan god. Nevertheless, Jesus walks right up to this man and asks, "Do you want to get well?"

What a question. Of course he wants to get well! Or, does he? After a while being sick could grow on you. You can sleep in late. Other people provide for you. Worse yet, after a while, being sick could become your identity. Notice how the text does not identify this man by name, but rather by the generic term, the "lame man." He is lumped in with everybody else. Nobody really knows his actual name; he is just "that guy."

When I worked in the correctional system, I often heard stories of men who had been incarcerated for 30 years. As soon as they were released, they would commit another crime so they could go back to prison.

Unbelievable! After living with addiction for so long, being sober is scary business. It might seem easier to stay sick. Maybe that is the lame man's perspective; the years have eroded his resolve and all he can do is give excuses: "But Lord, I'm not fast enough. I'm not well connected socially. When the waters are stirred, I have nobody to help me get into the water." Consequently, the first thing Jesus must do is stir the lame man's will by asking, "Do you want to get well?" Keep in mind: there are some things God cannot do. He cannot lie and he cannot save you without your consent. So, God stirs the man's will. Let me hasten to add that it takes more than our will to be saved from sin or sickness; it takes faith. As a result, Jesus calls upon the man's faith by saying, "Rise, take up your bed, and walk." Notice that Jesus did not give the man outward assistance. He told the man, "Get up." He commanded the man, "Walk." He received healing as he acted in faith, not before; only as he obeyed did he find a new strength.

This is a wonderfully inspirational story that declares, "Jesus cares, Jesus loves, and Jesus heals." However, the problem with many of us is that we sit around waiting for an angel to do something miraculous. In other words, we are waiting on God to do something for us. Does that describe you? It certainly described the lame man who hung around the pool hoping for a healing. He did not need that pool, did he? What he really needed was another pool. Scripture says that when we believe, out of our innermost being shall flow "rivers of living water" (John 7:38).

John taught that there is a well that "never runs dry." From the moment of your birth, you had something inside of you-a will. From the day of your spiritual conception, you have had a relationship with the Spirit. Perhaps you have been numb to it, but He is there. He is in you. You are "the Temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19).

However, you must activate your faith; you must stir your will and the Spirit of God. Unfortunately, we usually want God to do something for us, but God wants to do something in us.

You could compare it to a glass of milk with Hershey's chocolate syrup at the bottom. The milk does not taste like chocolate milk until you stir it; the chocolate is lying at the bottom of the glass. You are like that as well. The Spirit is in you, hidden inside of you from the day of your spiritual rebirth, but to fully access the richness of the Spirit, you must stir what is inside of you through faith. The Apostle Paul said it well, "Stir up the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of hands" (2 Timothy 1:6).

Will you? Will you let God stir your heart? Will you stir up the gift that is in you? St. Augustine put it more directly: Go ahead-blame circumstances, blame angels, blame the other sick people around you for not letting you in first ... but do you not realize the waters that need to be stirred are inside of you. Just once why do not you get up and get there first? If you listen carefully at this moment, you may just hear Jesus saying to you in the portico of your heart, "Get up! ... Pick up your mat and walk!"

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