This is the Sunday of the paralytic. Whose role are we in? In John’s Gospel, we learn that the one who first enters the pool of Bethesda after the waters are stirred is healed. Jesus and his apostles, who have come to town to celebrate a Jewish feast day, walk through the crowd of people with ailments to reach the Temple. Amongst the crowd, Jesus notices a man who is paralyzed, lying at the side of the pool, unable to get in. The story is well known: Christ heals the man and the onlookers are outraged, not because the man is healed, but because he’s carrying his bed on the Sabbath, that day of rest, when no one is supposed to work. The literal scene is almost comical in that they are so obviously obtuse—scandalized about a technical detail of custom (is lifting a mat for the first time in 38 years work?)—while completely missing the astonishing wonder of the event: a man walking away from his life-long predicament, from his inability to enter the healing pool of his community.
It seems that the significance of this story is not in miracle making or walking after paralysis. The pool was, after all, one of physical curing. Somehow, we, like those at the pool, still tend to miss the lessons of this account for us here and now. What did Jesus do for this man? Simply he “un”paralyzed him. How? He forgives his sins. But what does this mean? Surely we cannot randomly cure people by forgiving their sins? Or can we . . . ?
What sins do we hold in our heart that prevent us from relationships and joys we’d otherwise have? Would some’s forgiveness set me free?
This man at Bethesda had no one, no friends, no family to put him in the water. Even amidst the crowd, he was on his own. 38 years, isolated perhaps, because of his sins; unable to move forward in his life; paralyzed because he has been separated from relationships of love and acceptance. He wants to enter the pool, but cannot on his own.
Jesus notices this man whom everyone else ignores. Christ goes to him directly and gives him what no one there has. He gives him attention, respect, forgiveness. He does not interrogate or judge his pathetic plight. Christ gives him, a complete stranger, love. Feeling loved, the man is able to accept himself and rejoin the community. As with all biblical writings, we see the profound depth of symbolism that speaks to all ages. Genuine love forgives our shortcomings and heals our hurts. The miracle is not a physical healing. The miracle is that love and acceptance heal our soul. We need each other, we belong to each other, and only together can we truly be human. Regardless of physical abilities, you, I, depend on each other to enter the healing waters of the pool of life.