Imagine that you're wandering through Jerusalem in the days when Jesus walked the earth, and you come upon an unusual scene. But before you see it, you hear it, and then you can smell it. Nothing can prepare you for this, though for the local people, it's an uncomfortable reality that they're well acquainted with.
You first hear the sound as you approach a row of columns that are parallel to the road you're walking down, but you can't yet see what's on the other side of them. At first you're not sure you heard right, as you can barely make sense of it amidst the competing sounds of the city: a chorus of baa'ing from the nearby sheep market, the haggling among the many sellers nearby, a donkey braying in the distance, a group of men arguing heatedly over some land title over by the Sheep Gate. But as you get closer, the sound becomes more recognizable. It's the sound of moaning; moans mingled with occasional cries that sound like prayers of painful desperation. In fact, it sounds as though many people must be in pain. Curiosity draws you closer until you notice the smell. You wonder what it could be as your senses are assaulted by the awful stench of infection mixed with body odour in the stifling heat. You've now walked close enough to begin seeing between the columns, and as you draw closer, an unforgettable scene opens up before you. On the other side of the columns, you see what appears to be a multitude of beggars in ragged clothes lying on several sizable porches – no, there are five porches, each with a roof overhead, all of them surrounding a pool of water, and each one crowded with sickly, crippled and even paralyzed people! Some are blind, many clearly can't walk, and others have bloodstained bandages that barely cover their broken limbs. Your eyes fill with tears as you wonder who all these people are, and why there are so many of them lingering here by these waters.
The place you have discovered is Bethesda (John 5:2-4), which in the local language of Aramaic means, "House of Mercy." But considering the scene before you, it would be fair for you to wonder why this horrible place of pain would be referred to as a place of mercy. According to local lore, it is said that in certain seasons, an angel of the Lord visits this pool and stirs the waters, and then whoever first steps into the water after the angel has stirred it will be made well from whatever ails him or her. That sounds like mercy. But considering the multitude of suffering people who wait for this precious moment, the sense of desperation and impending disappointment is palpable in this place.
As you gaze over this morbid scene, covering your mouth and nose with your hand and listening to the groans that are now unmistakable, your heart is overcome with sorrow and with hopelessness. But then suddenly you see movement nearby – about a dozen men are approaching the multitude just a few columns away. And then one of the men in that group crouches down to talk to a man on a mat, and you can just make out their brief conversation.
The man crouching down puts his hand gently on the lame man's forehead as He softly asks him, "Are you here because you want to be healed?"
The invalid replies, "Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." (John 5:7)
And then suddenly, and without warning, the man crouching beside this sad, defeated man says, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!" (John 5:8)
You're taken aback at this, and the initial expression of shock you see on that poor crippled man's face reflects your own reaction to this unexpected demand! What could this man be thinking in being so bold?! By the way that crippled man's bony legs look, he hasn't walked in years – even decades! But then as you watch the man on the mat stare into the gentle eyes of this unusual stranger, he begins to stir. A smile begins to spread across the stranger's face as He extends His hands and begins to stand from His crouching position. You watch in awe as the crippled man takes His hands and struggles to kneel. As he does so, you do a double-take as you see his legs thickening with muscles that appear to be forming before your very eyes! Soon the man is tentatively standing, grinning from ear to ear, but unsure where to look! First at this stranger's beaming face, then at his newly strengthened legs, and then back at the joyful face of this man who has done the impossible! Soon the newly healed man is comfortable enough to stoop down and pick up his mat, and with a cheer, excitedly set off, likely for home, you suppose.
One man's life, among a multitude of others, unexpectedly chosen and forever changed. You're left open-mouthed, still staring at the amazing man who worked that great miracle, and suddenly he looks your way and catches your eye with a smile on His face. "Do you want to be healed?" He asks.
And your heart leaps with a great yes! You imagine what it would mean to be well from all that ails you – not only from an illness that's lingered far too long now, but also from the sin that so easily besets you, the ruts you can't get out of, the weaknesses you've been unable to overcome! Perhaps this House of Mercy is actually a place where we all belong, a place that reflects the realities in all our souls, a place where we can meet this wonderful man who stands before you now, looking gently into your eyes and asking with the conviction of One who can save you, "Do you want to be healed?"
© 2016 by Ken Peters