1. A man who had suffered for thirty-eight years was healed by Jesus. That is the event that [our] passage for today will be speaking to us about. For anyone who has suffered with an illness for a long time, this passage will probably strike home to them. But, I just wonder if the words of this scripture might not apply to the healthy?
2. But even if a healthy person reads it, the really surprising part appears in the passage right after it. Here the Lord said this afterwards to the healed man, "You have become well Do not sin any more. Otherwise, something worse may happen," (verse fourteen).
3. Of course, we need to pay attention to such a statement. We can't avoid but link the two together simply as if different illnesses are always the effect of sin. For example, in chapter nine of this gospel account, there is the story of when the disciples asked Jesus about the man born blind, "Was this man born blind because someone had sinned? Was he himself [the one who sinned]? Or was it his parents [who sinned]?" Then the Lord said, "It wasn't because he himself sinned or because either of his parents sinned. It was so that the work of God would be manifested in him," (9:3).
4. However, on the other hand, it isn't realistic that we argue that human sickness and suffering are completely unrelated to sin. I say that because we experience a lot of pain not limited to sickness but as a consequence of sin. And because, even more so, we have experienced continual long term pains [as a result of our sins]. If we think of this in those terms, then even physically healthy people can't push this off as a story that doesn't concern them. For that matter, worse than getting sick from sin, sin in and of itself is but the fundamental disease that causes great pain and suffering for human beings. Therefore, I think we can say that the figures of the people we see acting out in the drama here are pointing to humankind which is damaged by this fundamental disease of "sin" that affects all persons and that dreadful disease that causes a deep infestation and consumption of human life.
5. [This] had to do with Jesus and it came from him to this one miserable soul who suffered with a chronic disease that he could do nothing about and who had lost all hope [of ever recovering]. He was healed by Jesus and he could stand up. Now he threw his bedroll, upon which he was in use to lying, over his shoulder and began to walk. I think we should carefully consider the meaning of this event as having to do with us.
The Pool Of Bethesda Will Not Bring Deliverance
"After that, as there was a Jewish festival, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, beside the sheep gate, there was a pool which in Hebrew was called 'Bethesda,' and it had five corridors in it. A crowd of people with diseases, people who were blind, people with lame feet, people paralyzed in their bodies were lying down in the corridors," (verses one through three).
7. This man [I've been talking about] was there at the pool called Bethesda which was beside the sheep gate in Jerusalem. Also lying there at the pool in multitudes were sick people, blind people, crippled people, paralyzed people and so forth. Why were they there? No reason is written in the text. Verse four is missing in the New Interconfessional Version [our Japanese translation]. This verse was appended into the gospel account from the very end [of the sentence where it says multitudes were lying there at the pool by the sheep gate...]. There the text reads like this, "They were waiting for the waters to move. They waited because from time to time the angel of the Lord came down to the pool and the waters moved and when the waters moved the person going into the water first was healed of whatever illness that was afflicting him," (second half of verse three through verse four). This is an explanatory note which was added into The Gospel Of John at a later time period. It was a superstitious belief at that time. Stories like this one are found everywhere through out the world. Because of this superstition, the people were all at the corridors of the pool trying to be the very first one to dive in. We should suppose that this man in our story, who had been suffering with illness for thirty-eight years, was there with the intention of being healed. But, in the real world, the pool of Bethesda had not resulted in deliverance for him at all.
8. So then, the text tells us there were "five corridors" at this pool. There were four corridors [with pillars] that enclosed the pool in a square and there was probably a fifth pillar that crossed the very center of it. In this way then, it has been understood from antiquity that that there had been five corridors was deliberately written into the text because it symbolized the Pentateuch of Moses, the law of Moses.
9. Therefore, we might say that what is being symbolically expressed here is the powerlessness of the law. The law itself indeed shows us what is right. But, the law which commands righteousness is not able to heal and restore to life the person sadly afflicted with sin and its effects. Even though the law in and of itself is a good thing, it does not result in deliverance for the sinner. Even though this man spent a long time at the pool, it didn't result in his being healed at all.
The Word Of Christ Will Bring Deliverance
10. However, Christ came right into the miserable world of this man the way he was. The story continues as follows:
"So, there was a man there who had suffered with an illness for thirty-eight years. Jesus saw him lying down and knowing that he had been sick for a long time already, he said, 'Do you want to be well?' The sick man answered, 'O Lord, when the water stirs, there is no one to put me into the pool. While I go, others fall in first.' Jesus said, 'Get up. Carry your bedroll and walk.' Whereupon, he immediately became well, carried his bedroll and began walking. That day was the Sabbath day," (verses five through nine).
11. The Lord saw that he was lying down. This was the man's actual condition. But, the Lord wasn't only looking at his current condition. It is written that he knew "that he had been sick for a long time already." He remembered in his heart the long history of the past behind his actual condition. The Lord knew that he had suffered for years and years even. But with that in mind, he said, "Do you want to be well?"
12. He had [already] decided he wanted to be well. That was why for a long time he had been staying at the pool's corridors. But, he couldn't say meekly, "I want to be well." He said, "O Lord, when the water stirs, there is no one to put me into the pool. While I go, others fall in first," (verse seven). It's not my fault. Because it's been useless for these thirty-eight years. Because it's been one long continuous letdown. And without even realizing it, giving up had [taken] control over his heart for sure. Of course, he thought others were trying hard as they could in their own ways [for their people]. But, no one was there to help him. No one even did anything like even think of him. Mostly everybody thought of only their own affairs. That was how his excuse for his condition went. Controlled by giving up and resignation to his condition, he certainly had an excuse in which to justify [things for] himself [or so it seemed].
13. Well, the words of this man are frequently our own words too. It's not that we haven't given it an effort. If we know what is right and could regulate ourselves by that knowledge, we would probably have a healthy life from that. As the body of a sick person doesn't move like one wants it to, our bodies won't work much the way we want or as we think it should. We get disappointed. We lose hope. Somehow we end up thinking a person like me is just that way. We get under the control of despair and resignation. We justify ourselves that way with all kinds of excuses. First we say we got that way because of the people around us, we make it their fault. We see it as stemming from the coldness of those around us, because nobody will think about me. Even though we might make this sort of an excuse and we understand thoroughly that it serves no purpose, we still find reasons.
14. But, please listen to the voice of Jesus. The Lord is not asking him "Why are you in this current shape?" He asks, "Do you want to be well?" He already knows the excuses we'll make. The Lord understands everything about us. Even after he has understood us, he has approached us and is near us, isn't he? But, even with all that, the Lord doesn't say, "Oh, well. It's useless." He doesn't want us to give up on the sick bed of our sins. The Lord wants us to get well. Therefore, he wants us to want to get well. The Lord has wanted that we have a compelling desire to be healed and delivered.
15. Thus, the Lord wasn't about to pay attention to this sick man's excuses. As if paying no attention to his words or even as if shifting from the blame in his words, he said, "Get up. Carry your bed and walk." Now the thing he needs now is not to explain why he is still sleeping in this bed, but to believe in the one who has approached him just like he was, who has understood him, and still has lifted his voice with "Do you want to be well?" He needs to believe in him - yes, he does. He needs to believe in the Lord and his words and to get up.
16. Of course, he could have rejected the Lord's words here; because, even though [Jesus] said "Get up," he had been lying down until now precisely because of the fact that he couldn't get up. However, he makes no more excuses. He accepted Jesus' word. He believed him. He believed he was the one who would heal him, and so he stood up. With gusto he carried upon himself his bed which he had been staying upon until this moment and began to walk. He began to walk to his new life. He met Christ and then the word of the Lord, which he had accepted, healed him.
17. The pool of Bethesda where he had stayed and stayed was completely powerless for him when he was so sick. But, what this pool couldn't do the Lord [did], God did [what this pool couldn't do] for the sick man through Christ. What happened here reminds us of the words of Paul. "What the law could not do for the weakness of the flesh, God did for us," (Romans 8:3). The Lord is also calling upon us and lifting his voice, saying "Do you want to be well?" Will you keep up your excuses still and stay in your resignation? Or rather, will you believe the Lord and his word and stand up?