This next Sunday we get to pay a visit to the Pool of Bethesda, which in Hebrew means "house of mercy". It is this pool in Jerusalem where people who were ill would lay hoping to see the water bubbling and swirling and foaming that they thought meant an angel was present to bring healing to the first person who went into the waters. So, the people lying beside the pool hoped that they would be the first one in the water in order to obtain their healing. Only one person would be healed so they had to be able to get in the water on their own or have a friend or relative who would help them into the water ahead of others.
When I went to the Holy Land back in the 1990s, I visited the Pool of Bethesda with the tour group I went with. We were told that this place is directly on a volcanic crack in the earth where, from time to time, hot lava erupts causing the water to boil or swirl or bubble up. This has been going on for thousands of years and has been noted by visitors to Jerusalem throughout the ages. So, people had a belief that the movement of the water had a divine source.
The man who could not walk that was approached by Jesus had put his hopes on being lucky enough to be the first one into the water at the time of its eruption so that he could receive his healing. When Jesus passed by all the sick and crippled people lying beside the pool, he singled out this one man to bring healing to his body. We do not know why Jesus did not heal everyone who was beside the pool for the same purpose but there was a reason why Jesus wanted this man to receive his healing.
Perhaps it had something to do with what his reaction would be or how he would become a spokesperson for the marvelous works of God. He really did not even know who Jesus was. He simply obeyed Jesus when he told him to pick up his mat and walk. The man who had been unable to walk for 38 years and had been seen by many as he lay beside the pool day after day was suddenly walking on this was on the Sabbath day.
The passage goes on into detail as to how the religious leaders reacted when they saw the man walking whom they knew had been unable to walk just moments before. They were not excited that he had been healed. They did not stop to give God praise for this man's miracle. No, they were immediately angry that Jesus had worked this miracle on the Sabbath day when on work should be done. Even healing someone on the Sabbath was forbidden because it was an act of work that could have been done on another day.
So, Jesus was put on the "bad list" of the religious leaders and they scolded the healed man for carrying his mat on the Sabbath (also against the rules) and they decided to further persecute Jesus for performing this act on the day of rest. They could not see a reason to rejoice in what Jesus had done for this poor man but decided even an act of healing that benefited one who had hoped for a miracle for so long was very, very wrong.
Rules are made by many who want their rules obeyed strictly because they are their rules. The rules do not have to make sense or benefit others. The rules are strictly the rules because an authority figure or group decided that the rules should exist and should be enforced. There are many rules in religious circles that exist simply because someone made up the rules. There is often no biblical authority for the rules. They are there just because a human wanted them to be there.
I grew up in a religious tradition that had so many rules that it seemed impossible to keep them. I also was the type of child and teen that questioned the rules repeatedly and did not obey the rules if I did not think they were fair ones. We were forbidden to do many things that others in society did with not even thinking about whether or not they were right to do. We were told not to go to movies so I sneaked out with friends and saw movies under the cover of night hoping no one would see me there. We were told not to dance so I only danced when my Baptist friends invited me to do so because they were forbidden to dance also and did not obey that rule. I never desired to smoke or drink during my adolescence but never saw a biblical passage that specifically said that we should not do these things.
Rule keeping is something we all do in society. If the rules make sense and serve the common good, most of us think they should be obeyed. When a rule does harm rather than good, such as the one that Jesus disobeyed, then God's will is done through the breaking of the rule because the higher good of not obeying it benefited someone who needed healing in his life.
God will direct us in the way we should live. God will help us to understand how to follow the ways that will lead us to eternal life. Humans may have rules and guidelines that instruct us and many of them are very beneficial. The ultimate authority of life, however, belongs with God who will teach us the ways we should go and speak to us in ways that will reveal God's will for our lives and for others around us.
There is healing in the waters of life that God supplies to all who are thirsty. Come to the water and drink and live and learn.