1 Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. 2 Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. 3 Crowds of sick people — blind, lame, or paralyzed — lay on the porches. 5 One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
7 “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”
8 Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”
9 Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, 10 so the Jewish leaders objected. They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!”
11 But he replied, “The man who healed me told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
12 “Who said such a thing as that?” they demanded.
13 The man didn’t know, for Jesus had disappeared into the crowd.
This story is going to take a couple of days to read through and I want to make sure we’re reading ourselves into this story properly. Reading in? Isn’t that a bad thing? Well, it can be, when we read in things or meanings that aren’t in the text. But when we try to see ourselves as different characters in the story, or see how each has traits similar to our own, that is the way to good interpretation. We don’t read things in – we read ourselves in. This is especially helpful in cases where we might tend to dismiss characters or see them as somehow other than us, that is, sharing no traits with us.
The Pharisees are the people we are most prone to otherize in the Gospels because they seem to always stand in opposition to Jesus and we like to think that Jesus is on our side. But Jesus doesn’t join our side, we are always invited to leave our side behind and follow Jesus, which always moves us from our starting point. We oppose Jesus a good deal more than we want to think about, so working to see ourselves in the Pharisees is a good way to engage in spiritual reflection.
And let’s be honest, we do a lot of what we see here from them, a lot of saying, “You can’t do that. Stop it. Don’t do it like that.” Quite often, we are saying that sort of thing to people who have been healed by Jesus and are doing what Jesus told them to do. It doesn’t look like what Jesus told us to do and Jesus didn’t run these other approaches by us first, so we assume the other person is wrong and needs to be stopped. Then we appoint ourselves to be the stopper. But Jesus is quite open in the Gospels about issuing different commands to different people (even some that violate standing religious law and cultural convention), he doesn’t have to get our permission for what he tells people to do, and the vast majority of the time Jesus is not going to appoint us to a stopper position.
If we’re not careful, we can wind up working against the healing power and commands of Jesus. The Pharisees can help us with that if we can see in them a reflection of ourselves. This will lead to a more gracious reading of them and a more critical reading of ourselves.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.