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  • Writer's pictureElpidio Pezzella

At the Pool of Bethesda

"When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”"

John 5:6 NKJV

Among the signs that John's gospel offers us we find the account of a man who had been paralytic for thirty-eight years. We are in Jerusalem during a "feast of the Jews," which is not specified, which raises a consideration. It is a feast belonging to the Jews, to the people, and not to God; just as happens among us today with some feasts that were born to glorify God and then over time became merely a ritual of tradition. In the next chapter we find a reference to the proximity of Passover, the feast of the Jews (6:4). Every pious Israelite went up to Jerusalem at least three times a year, and Jesus is among them, although he goes to a place not liked by the pure ones of Israel, whose name appears in the various manuscripts in different versions. The one considered the most likely is Bethesda, which would mean "house of mercy." Here there was a pool with a double basin, where sheep were washed, which then ended up being sacrificed in the temple.

Something peculiar happened here, explained as follows: springs adjacent to the pools would burst in with a few jets of water, creating a current flow in the pool that would otherwise be stagnant. This created eddies of water interpreted as supernatural events. This had fostered a popular religiosity giving the place a certain notoriety, although the priestly class frowned upon such beliefs. The caption in verse 4, not found in all our manuscripts, appears as an explanatory note by a copyist to explain and justify the presence of the crowd: "For an angel at certain times descended into the pool and stirred the water." Even today we have our places of crowds, where "desperate people" go in a search for a solution to their drama, almost always with an approximate faith and in ways closer to superstition than to new life in Christ. The scene described is precisely dramatic: a crowd of sick people of all kinds, excluded from the temple because of their physical condition, crowds at the edge of the pool waiting for the "miraculous" movement, ready to wage war among the desperate. All united by illness, they have no pity for each other. Each waits for himself, ready to believe anything to survive.

As we wonder, they are similar to those who struggle and hope daily by appealing to anyone to get well. The people huddled under the porches do not pray, do not offer sacrifices, do not believe, just hope that someone in good health will lend them a hand. Jesus is there, he goes to that very place, instead of going to the temple. He goes to the pool, to the last ones, the sick, the excluded, the abandoned, the poor even in faith. Once again Jesus shows that He did not come to condemn, but to save, and also to heal. While we judge, He meets those who wait, does not ignore them or humiliate them if they do not formulate a refined prayer or manifest a mature vision of faith. And there in the crowd, he notices a man who has spent a lifetime begging and surviving amid the hardships and judgment of others. He inquires, approaches him, and asks, "Do you want to be healed?"

The question seems silly, without logical sense, so obvious is the answer. Yet it forces reflection. Behind it is a demand for change. To be healed meant to stop begging and working, to step outside the logic that had characterized his life, to begin to fight back and fight. Now it is his turn to respond. We find that he has not grasped, as he begins to justify himself, talking about the pool and being alone. He must have thought Jesus wanted to help him get down into the water! Then he is ordered, "Get up, take up your cot and walk." Three imperatives. And it happens. The man gets up, takes his cot, and begins to walk. Jesus has reversed his condition. Until then he was carried by others on that bed, now he is the one carrying the cot, without having touched a patch of water. I can only pray that the same will happen in your life. What happens next will be discussed next week.



Weekly Bible Reading Plan # 12

March 18, Joshua 1-3; Mark 16

March 19, Joshua 4-6; Luke 1:1-20

March 20, Joshua 7-9; Luke 1:21-38

March 21, Joshua 10-12; Luke 1:39-56

March 22, Joshua 13-15; Luke 1:57-80

March 23, Joshua 16-18; Luke 2:1-24

March 24, Joshua 19-21; Luke 2:25-52

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