Stirring the Water

Date: May 05, 2024
Speaker: Rev. Sarah Reed Jay
Passages: John 5:1-9

Our scripture this morning comes from an ancient tradition in which people who were ill would wait by the Pool of Bethesda for the water to be stirred up, so that they might receive healing.  There was a spring that fed this pool that, from time to time, would cause the waters to bubble up, and this bubbling was attributed to an angel stirring up the water.  Tradition held that the first person to get into that stirred-up water would be healed.

One man, paralyzed for 38 years, had waited by this pool for ages, hoping for his chance.  But he had no friend, when the moment came, to place him in the water, and others rushed ahead of him, pushed past him, and so he never made it in.

Jesus had compassion for this man, and asked him that day if he wanted to be made well.  Of course, he did!  And so Jesus told him to take stand up, take his mat and walk.


I’d like us to think beyond the literal meaning of this text today to the spiritual meaning – John’s gospel is rich with these layers.  When we think about this story in light of spiritual healing, then this man’s cry is particularly heartbreaking:  the healing pool has been stirred up – the resource he needs is there – but without someone to help him, he cannot make the journey.  

Our journeys of healing are not meant to be solo endeavors – we are created for community and interdependence – we need people in our lives who are willing to wait patiently with us and go with us to the water’s edge, people whom we can lean our weight upon when we do not have the strength.   


On that day, Jesus was that person for him.  Now, as followers of Jesus, that is how we are meant to fit into this story.  We can be those who help others into the pool.

This story also contains a warning for us – whenever the religious leaders in the gospels do something wrong, it’s a good idea to ask if that’s us.  Jesus asked the man to carry his mat, but it was the Sabbath, and so, the man was not supposed to have carried anything on that day.  When the religious teachers saw him, rather than notice the miracle of his walking, they scolded him for carrying that mat.  In the face of complete life transformation, they noticed the mat!   

When have we, as religious people, missed the beauty of what God is doing by policing the small?  When have we missed the God-life happening within them?  We can be friends who help others get to the pool; we can be those who celebrate Life and Healing wherever they come.  


The bubbling water is the place where the healing that people need rises to the surface and becomes accessible.  Can we also be people who stir up the water?  


Yes!  We can do this by helping to locate available resources – spiritual, financial, material, educational – and by being connectors.  And we can advocate, too.  For example, in March, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches urged lawmakers to ban predatory interest rates on payday loans.  This group of faithful people is often stirring up the water.  

As we praise God today for the gift of Abundant Life, for moments of Rescue, for spiritual transformation, remembering those moments in our own lives, let us commit to be those friends – friends who stir the water, who help others make it down to the pool, and who see and celebrate whenever God does a work in someone’s life.





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