Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8 NIV)
It was at the pools of Bethesda where 1 of 2 recorded healing miracles took place by Jesus in the book of John (*the second was at the Pool of Siloam where Jesus healed the blind man*).
The pools of Bethesda (Bethesda, also meaning “House of mercy”) is situated right next to the Church of St. Anne – a beautiful Roman Catholic church with incredible acoustics that would make you swoon. Also known as the home site of the Virgin Mary’s parents and where the Virgin Mary was born.
I have read that the pools of Bethesda were used for three purposes. 1) To collect water that met the daily needs of people living in Jerusalem. 2) To wash sacrificial animals of worshippers on their way to the temple grounds – where the people brought their animals for sacrifice through the Sheep Gate. 3) Where people with physical disabilities gathered around the pool, hoping to receive a miraculous cure when, it is believed, the angels stirred the waters. This – is where the lame man of 38 years laid on his mat, waiting for someone to help him in. This – is where he met Jesus and his story of healing was recorded. For me. For you. For us.
I’ve just returned home from a 10 day trip visiting the Holy Land, Israel. The Pools of Bethesda was one of many places we visited. Standing in this same exact place where that miracle happened was extremely emotional for me. I knew I would find some appreciation there, but I wasn’t expecting to be so consumed by it. I had read the lame man’s story so many times before and had heard so many sermons based on it – it seemed like a fairy tale. To visually see where Jesus had met such a man and offered him such a gift was overwhelming. It was especially overwhelming because not long before arriving at this site, my group and I had to walk up a pretty steep hill which proved to be a challenge for me as I started to have some chest pains and difficulty breathing. I have prayed many prayers since being diagnosed with Lupus, asking God to restore my health while also believing that He has a purpose even in my illness. I watched most of my group effortlessly walk up the hill and got angry with myself, ignoring all thoughts of taking a break to rest. I kept thinking about how before my diagnosis, I used to be able to climb hills with no problems at all. I didn’t want to fall behind; I didn’t want to be “that girl” and it was infuriating. My ego was infuriating. But then I made it to this place – with a few puffs of my inhaler – and it seemed like God was working on my heart even before I got there. I stood there and looked out at the ruins and as our tour guide shared with us the significance of this place, I couldn’t hear any of it. All I know is that God had walked with me up that hill, had met me there, and was in that moment, healing a piece of my heart.
At some point, the group had made their way a few steps over into the Church of St. Anne but I couldn’t bring myself to move. I just wanted to stay in God’s presence and receive the healing He had for me. I realized one of the guys in our group had stayed behind and was not far from me. I don’t know if he stayed behind because he recognized what was going on internally or if he was just being a gentleman and didn’t want to leave me alone. Either way, I was happy to have a friend. After a few minutes, we made our way into the church to join the group who was now at the front singing. I can’t remember what the song was, I just know that it was beautiful. My friend was still next to me comforting me as I cried out so desperately for Jesus, listening to my friends sing praises to Him, every note perfectly captured by the acoustics. God was softening my heart. After listening to a few other tour groups sing, we left the church and right outside, stopped and decided to pray for a member of our group who had fractured her ankle the previous day while in Beit She’an – where the bodies of King Saul and his sons were hung from the city walls (1 Samuel 31:10-12). Before leaving, my sweet friend Maegan asked the group if it was ok that she pray over me. I had slowly been sharing with members of the group – my new friends – my diagnosis with Lupus and she had saw me struggle to catch my breath a few times that day. And so, with the pool of Bethesda in view, right outside of the Church of St. Anne, and surrounded by my new friends, I received their prayers of strength and healing.
Before this trip, I don’t think I ever realized that the scriptures never actually say the disabled man got into the water. It simply says that (as he laid there), “Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!…” (vs. 8-9). I’d like to believe that, like the lame man, without having to step foot in the water, I received my healing. Maybe not physically (yet), but a piece of my heart was healed right there, at the pools of Bethesda.
All my love, Syd