St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Healing at Bethesda

 

Sermon preached by Dn. Jeff Smith on Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Reading is from the Gospel of John 5-1-16

Sermon Text as Prepared

Good morning. So, I think this may be the third time I’ve preached on this gospel. I was wondering if Fr. Antony is trying to send me a message. Why this particular gospel? Is there a lesson for me here? So I decided today to look more carefully at the encounter between Jesus and this paralytic man, at their relationship, and the feelings that arise between them.

The healing at Bethesda, the pool by the Sheep Gate is the result of an extraordinary and rich encounter between two people. I have often wondered why Jesus chooses to heal the particular people that we meet in the gospel. This man is only one person lying among, quote, “a multitude of sick, and blind, lame and paralyzed.” So why was he healed, and how did the others around him feel when he got up and walked away? Why were they not healed? I don’t have an answer. In this case, this man was particularly pitiful, lying in wait for possibility, for the mere hope of healing for 38 years, to the point where I believe he had most likely given up hope. I know this feeling of being left out, of being left behind while someone else “wins,” while others play at the party and I wait outside. It’s not a good feeling. Nobody wants to feel that way. It’s a particular kind of hell, the feeling of being left behind and forgotten, something that many incarcerated people feel. I’m sure that’s what this man felt like.

But somehow he catches the eye of the Lord. Jesus, passing by, takes an interest in him, this one particular creature, lying is despair, so close, yet so far from healing, and asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” Do you want to be well? The question seems to require his volition, his desire to be well, his consent, but he replies, “Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool,” he focuses on his inability.

Then Jesus breaks all the rules. He breaks everything. He doesn’t actually wait for the man’s consent. He doesn’t wait for the angel to stir the water (which was the tradition). He doesn’t pick up the man and carry him to the pool. He just tells him to “rise, pick up your bed, and walk,” on the Sabbath no less, another rule broken.

Of course this parable reflects others that we hear after Pascha including the man born blind healed near another pool, the Pool of Siloam, also undergoing a grueling interrogation by the authorities. And there is yet another reflection in the Epistle reading today, when Peter heals the paralytic Aneas in Lydda, north of Jerusalem by saying, “Rise, and make your bed.”

The Pharisees, of course, in their blind hypocrisy and fear don’t see a man healed before them. Instead they are witness to a man breaking the law as they accuse him of carrying his bed on the Sabbath. Think about that, they actually want to keep him in his place by the pool, controlled, kept down, unchanged, not threatening, and just leave everything to the normal order.

The man dodges their accusation by telling them, “The man who made me well told me to pick up my bed,” or “I’m not breaking the law sir, I’m just following orders.” There is a particularly pathetic quality to his reply. He doesn’t say, “See, I am well!! What joy!” He’s still very defensive and afraid of the law, so when Jesus encounters him again, he says, “look, you are well. Sin no more, lest something worse happen to you.” Jesus is still interested in his well-being, and he seeks him out, just as he does with the man born blind, not just to make sure he can walk but that his whole being is well. This is mercy, and the response is recognition of Jesus as Lord.

And that’s all we really have to do, to recognize that Jesus has made us well. We too can rise from our paralysis and blindness, especially in this time of close, yet so far. Close streaming video, thank God, yet we remain physically distant. But, together Jesus has made us well and we can be that healing, merciful light for each other. We can give hope and hold each other up with mercy and compassion, just like Jesus Christ and the Apostle Peter did today. Thanks be to God. 

My mom shared this with me today so I thought it was a natural follow up and good coda to the sermon. Thanks Mom!

Prayer for a Pandemic

May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake

May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable

May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose
Between their health and making the rent

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children
When schools close
Remember those who have no options

May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those who have no place to go

May we who are losing our money in the margins
In the turmoil of this economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all

May we who settle in for quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home

As fear grips our country
Let us choose love

During this time when we cannot physically
Wrap our arms around each other

Let us find ways to be
The Loving embrace of God to our Neighbor

Amen

By Cameron Bellm