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Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God’s a-gonna trouble the water

     The pool of Bethesda was a desperate place. It was located on the northeast corner of Jerusalem near the Temple. Legend has it that a mineral spring existed on this site and fed the waters of the pool. Both Jews, Romans and Greeks came to this place, believing its waters had restorative powers. In it’s first incarnation as a holy site, it was most likely a healing temple sacred to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine whose insignia still represents physicians to this very day.
When the water in this sacred pool as “troubled,” when it bubbled and swirled, the hopeful believed an angel or some aspect of the Divine, was stirring it up. It was thought that the first one in the pool after the water stirred would receive a cure for their illness.
And so, day after day after day, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed, the desperate and the diseased, would wait in the shady and smelly porticoes of the pool. They would keep their eyes fixed on the water and when it stirred, a mass of humanity would lunge, hobble and drag themselves into its healing waters. They tried to be the first one in so the holy magic was the strongest. However, most often, nobody received a cure and so they waited and hoped, waited and hoped, that today  would be their lucky day.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God’s a-gonna trouble the water

     As we hear this ancient story, we’re probably thinking to ourselves, what a gullible, superstitious bunch of people. They were being sold ancient snake oil medicine and we are OH SO much smarter than they are. We would NEVER wait around for the water to swirl. We would NEVER keep coming back day after day, hoping for a miracle cure.
Well, before we got too puffed up, we need to be reminded that we are not that far removed from our brothers and sisters who were gathered at the Pool of Bethesda. We, too, have our magic places where we hope the angels will intervene and make our lives better. In fact, I can hear the voices of the desperate and diseased all around us.
They are saying, “IF ONLY…I could find the perfect church, my spirit would be at peace and I would grow in my relationship with God. IF ONLY I could find the right doctor or the right hospital they would be able to heal me. IF ONLY I could find the perfect spouse, my life would not be such a mess and I wouldn’t be so lonely. IF ONLY I could find the right job, I would feel more fulfilled and content with my life.
IF ONLY…IF ONLY…IF ONLY. We are not that far removed for those gathered at the Pool of Bethesda. We, too, have our magic places, our hopeful places, where we wait for the water to be stirred. We keep searching and searching for these places, determined that this one will be the right one. This one will be the place where angels gather and will give us the healing we seek for our weary bodies, minds and spirits.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God’s a-gonna trouble the water

     Thirty-eight years. Thirty-eight years is a LONG time to be sick, to be in pain, to feel like your body has betrayed you. Thirty-eight years is a long time to search for a cure, to keep coming back to the water again and again and again; hoping the angels will intervene, hoping that God will provide the healing we so desperately desire.
This is the situation of the person in our gospel lesson. John tells us that Jesus “knew this person had been sick for a long time” Now that’s an understatement, if there ever was one! Then Jesus asks this poor soul what seems like a really stupid question: “Do you want to be healed?”
“No, Jesus,” we imagine this person responding, “I don’t want to be healed. I’ve only been coming to this pool for thirty-eight years day after day. I’m just doing it for fun. I love sitting around with all these sick, smelly people moaning and groaning all day long. It’s my thing.  It’s what I do. Do I want to be healed? What do YOU think? Do you really have to ask that question?”
John tells us that the sick one answered Jesus’ question in a way that is sad and a little pathetic: “Rabbi, I don’t have anyone to put me into the pool once the water has been stirred up. By the time I get there, someone else has gone in ahead of me.”
After thirty-eight years you would think that this person would be a little more resourceful. You would think this person would at least sit on the edge of the pool so they could roll themselves into it once the water had been stirred up. Or, perhaps, they would have found a friend, or paid a slave to assist them so they could be first in line to bathe in the healing waters.
It’s easy to judge. But I suspect we sometimes find ourselves doing the same thing when we are sick and in need of healing. We sometimes become helpless. We throw ourselves a pity party. We lay there day after day, waiting for the water to stir, but not much happens. I call this being “stuck” in life. It’s an awful place to be. It’s a place of depression and hopelessness. It’s a place where we feel isolated and alone.
So, let’s be a little sympathetic toward this poor soul. Because if we really think about it, we’ve probably been in their shoes. We’ve been in this same place of despair. We’ve been paralyzed by our fear, our anger, or our fatigue from fighting whatever ails us.

Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water. God’s a-gonna trouble the water

     The most interesting thing in our gospel lesson is what Jesus does next. He doesn’t offer pious platitudes or words of comfort. He doesn’t offer to wait by the pool and carry this sick one into the water when it stirs. He simply says, “Pick up your mat and walk.” The person who had been suffering for thirty-eight years did just that! They picked up their mat and walked away!
It was a miracle!  And even us skeptical modern believers witness miracles every once in a while! We know a terminally ill person who was cured of their disease. We know someone who was involved in a horrific car crash that walked away from the scene with barely a scratch. We’ve read stories of people who were financially destitute and became wealthy. Miracles do happen in our world. And they happen to both good and bad people. There seems to be no “scale of worthiness” on miracles. They just happen every once in a while.
Look at the sick person in the story. They have no idea who Jesus is. In fact, when the Temple authorities question them about what happened, John tells us “the healed person had no idea who it was since Jesus had disappeared into the crowd that filled that place.” This story is not about someone who had great faith. It’s a story about someone who heard Jesus invite them to “pick up your mat and walk” and they did. It’s a random miracle. A moment of grace, given to someone whom we would argue was a worthy recipient. But I am certain there were many worthy recipients who gathered at the Pool of Bethesda that day. Yet only one was healed.
So, what do we learn from this story? Well, I believe our gospel tell us that the cure for what ails us is not found in a place, it’s found in a person. There is no perfect church, perfect, doctor, perfect mate, or perfect job that will give us the feeling of wholeness and peace we desire. The only person who can do that is Jesus! Every once in a while, God does trouble the waters and Jesus offers us the miracle healing we desire.
But most of the time what Jesus asks us to do is “Pick up our mats and walk. Keep moving forward.  Don’t look back. Don’t throw a pity party or wallow in despair. I’m going to walk with you each and every step of the way. And whether you are healed or not, you will know that I love you.”
St. Paul in a well-known passage from Romans stated it this way: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble?  Calamity?  Persecution? Hunger?  Nakedness?  Danger? Violence? Yet in all of this we are more than conquerors because of God who had loved us. For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither heights nor depths, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Savior.”  [Rom 8:35,37-39, The Inclusive Bible]
The cure for what ails us lies not in a place, but in a person. We, who suffer the ills of body, mind and spirit are promised we have a Savior who loves us deeply and passionately. We have a Savior who sometimes brings a miracle into our lives, but always, always, always, loves us no matter how messy or desperate our lives become. We can take up our mats and move forward because Jesus meets us in our suffering. He takes us by the hand and invites us to experience grace, forgiveness, and new life.
Therefore, children of God, let us wade into the water of Christ’s love so we may find the healing we need to move forward in life. Do not underestimate the power of love to transforms us, even in the most hopeless of situations and the most desperate of times. AMEN

Copyright ©2016 by David Eck

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