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  • Writer's pictureElpidio Pezzella

After the Pool of Bethesda

"The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed."

(John 5:10 NKJV)

Last week we followed, in John's gospel account, Jesus to Jerusalem during an unspecified "feast of the Jews." With him we entered the porticoes of the pool of Bethesda, among the crowd of "desperate" people seeking a solution to their plight, but in ways closer to superstition than to faith. Here a crowd of sick people of all kinds, excluded from the temple because of their physical condition, is huddled at the edge of the pool waiting for the "miraculous" movement. While they have no pity for one another, Jesus arrives there to save and even heal. There in the crowd, he notices a man who has spent thirty-eight years begging and surviving, approaches him and asks, "Do you want to be healed?" The poor man does not grasp and begins to justify himself, thinking perhaps that Jesus wanted to help him get down into the water. Then he is ordered, "And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath" (v. 9), as John informs us.

After the healed paralysis, Jesus faces a second and more difficult one to heal: that of fanatical and exaggerated religiosity. Sabbath rest was a specific characteristic of Israel: far more than a day of leisure and one that made the Romans deem them a lazy people. Keeping that day was a gesture of obedience to God's plan for humanity (Exodus 20:8). As is often the case, however, from an agreeable principle they had turned to a series of punctilious prescriptions that had made the Sabbath a bondage instead of an opportunity for freedom. And here the Jews (surely figures from the religious world) stop the man by noticing the straw mattress he is carrying under his arm. Unbelievable. They are so focused on the observance of the precepts that they do not notice what has happened: a walking paralytic. The latter finds himself inquired about his new condition, and as done earlier with Jesus, he tries to justify himself, "He who healed me said to me, 'Take up your bed and walk" (v. 11). He thus becomes a witness to how Jesus has made himself evident to his life and changed it. But her interlocutors are not at all interested in her physical condition. They search, to no avail, for the culprit of the instigation of the transgression of the Sabbath rest. About the miracle they care nothing. Poverty and human blindness.

The paralytic still does not know who Jesus is, since he has vanished, fleeing from the ovation of the crowd and leaving us with a fundamental lesson. The Master does not want recognition or publicity, unlike those who chase likes and plaudits, constantly seeking to emerge from anonymity. The disciple's logic should be other and the attitude always that of hiding in Christ. As in other episodes, Jesus finds the miraculous. This time in the temple, which becomes the place of encounter. How wonderful to meet the Lord in the temple! How wonderful to think of having the churches always open! God meets us in the place of our suffering, but also in the church. And here he faces a third paralysis: "See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you." (v. 14). Sin can paralyze and prevent us from walking, turning us away from God and causing us to fall into progressive spiritual weakness. The moment we exclude God's Word from our hearts, everything appears confused, and we become prey to anger, envy, avarice, and lies. Jesus also wants to heal us spiritually and show us the way to salvation and health.

From Bethesda to the temple, we see how much each of us cares for the Lord, beyond the legalistic observance of any rule, by-joint manipulated by the religious in every age. If observance of the Law, as in this case, prevents one from seeing the greatness of God's work, then it is meaningless. It would be important to stop, and thus have a "healthy paralysis" to reflect and run for cover. Let us not be paralyzed like the Jews, dull Law-keepers, who remain locked in their reductive perspective of divine action. Let us stand up, sling on the cot of our past history, and walk in newness of life, recounting what good and glorious things the Lord has done for us and in us.



Weekly Bible Reading Plan # 13

March 25, Joshua 22-24; Luke 3

March 26, Judges 1-3; Luke 4:1-30

March 27, Judges 4-6; Luke 4:31-44

March 28, Judges 7-8; Luke 5:1-16

March 39, Judges 9-10; Luke 5:17-39

March 30, Judges 11-12; Luke 6:1-26

March 31, Judges 13-15; Luke 6:27-49

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