Today's lectionary gospel reading comes from the gospel of John 5:1-9, which reads as follows:
1 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids--blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4 They were waiting for the water to be stirred, because an angel from the Lord would sometimes come down and stir it. The first person to get into the pool after that would be healed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" 7 The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." 8 Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
As I listened to this passage read during worship this morning and the priest was preaching on it during his sermon, the question kept returning: where is your Beth-zatha? Where is it that you were healed (and perhaps are continually healed), but at which you first had to be lifted and placed and had to have the "water stirred" by the angel of the Lord? Where is it that you met (and/or constantly meet) Jesus for healing?
My first impulse is to claim many "Beth-zathas," for there are many places and people that, in the gracious power of Christ, make me well and help me pick up my mat and go on my way. But this is a more pointed question, requiring one to think more deeply about that single place and time of healing after many years of praying and waiting, after a lengthy dark night. And then comes the simple, pointed question: "Do you want to be made well?" And you answer, "Well, of course I do." And then, more suddenly than we thought possible after waiting so very long, we are told to stand up, take our mat and walk, and find we are actually able to do so. The healing has begun almost before we were even ready, even though we said we were.
My Beth-zatha was (and continues to be) at St Christopher's Episcopal Church in Pensacola, Fl. I visited with a friend just a few months ago, when I still considered myself an agnostic. I left that first service deeply in love with Christ, my heart pierced by His grace. I don't want to say it was (or is) necessarily comfortable or completely immediate, but it was (and continues to be) healing. After many years of doubt and dryness, it was where I responded to Jesus' "Do you want to be made well?" by just falling into His arms and trusting.
Jesus did this on the sabbath. The gospels always point out when Jesus does something he wasn't supposed to have done on the sabbath according to legalistic religious norms - in most cases, healing or taking care of people in one way or another. It is to accentuate that the sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the sabbath. In this story, though, I feel like the mention of the sabbath isn't just to focus on Jesus' re-envisioning of sabbath, but to point out that, for this man who was healed, his time of resting had finally come. And for we who've experienced a Beth-zatha, our time of resting and trusting has also come. As with most experiences, perhaps we need to regularly revisit our Beth-zatha so as to be reminded that we, indeed, are being healed and held in the loving arms of Christ.