In this morning’s Gospel from John 5 we read a portion of the story of Jesus healing the man by the pool of Bethzatha who had been lying there sick for thirty-eight years.

With a great deal of preacher’s licence and imaginative expansion, I offered two versions of this story. I know my reading of this story did not win universal acceptance. It is a somewhat quirky rendition of the story; but it makes a point that is at least worth considering.

Here’s how the story should have gone, and how it actually went:

John 5:2-16a

How the story should have gone:

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed.

One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

The sick man answered Jesus, “Oh yes please. I have been lying here for thirty-eight years. I have longed to get well all this time. I would give almost anything to be healed.”

Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”

At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. And he gave thanks to Jesus saying, “Oh I am so grateful you have saved my life. How can I ever repay you?”

Now that day was a sabbath. So the religious leaders said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”

And he answered them, “But don’t you understand? It’s a miracle. I have been ill for thirty-eight years and this stranger came by and healed me. So I jumped up, rolled up my mat that has been my only home for thirty-eight years and I am going to my family to tell them about this great thing that has happened in my life. You should not be critical, you should be praising God with me.”

Later Jesus found the man who had been healed in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

The man gave praise to God, again thanked Jesus, and promised, “I will try my best from now on to live a good life. I am sorry for all the things I ever did in the past that may have contributed in any way to keeping me sick for thirty-eight years. You have given me new life and I will live the rest of my life in gratitude to you for the gift of this healing you have given me.”

Invalid Pool of Bethzatha

How the story actually went:

John 5:2-16a

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed.

One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

The sick man answered him, “It’s not my fault. I am helpless. I can’t make my way down into the pool of water when the water is stirred up; I am powerless. For thirty-eight years, not a single person has ever offered to help me, not even once. And when I am trying to get down to the pool on my own, someone else pushes in front of me and makes it impossible for me to get down into the pool. It’s not fair. People should be more considerate.”

Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”

But he answered them, “Don’t blame me. It’s not my fault. I’m not responsible. The man who made me well told me to do it. I was just lying there, perfectly innocent and he came along and told me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’ What was I supposed to do? It’s his fault that I’m carrying this mat. He’s the one who made me break the Sabbath. If you want to pick a fight with someone; go pick a fight with him.”

And the religious officials asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk?’”

Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found the man in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

The man rushed away, found the religious officials and said to them, “It was that man Jesus who told me to carry my mat on the sabbath. If you are looking for someone to blame, talk to him. I’m not guilty. He’s the one you should be quarreling with, not me.”

Therefore the temple officials started persecuting Jesus

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In the second version, although the man’s body is healed, he is not made well. He continues in the sin that Jesus told him to leave behind after the healing when they met in the temple.

For thirty-eight years he identified himself as a victim. Even when he was confronted by a power that could heal him, he remained unwilling to let go of his victim identity and receive the fullness of healing that was available.

He stayed stuck in his stories of self-justification and blame. Feeling threatened by the religious officials of his day, he sought to protect himself. He refused to take responsibility for his actions, and condemned the man who had given him the gift of healing.

If I want to get well, I am going to need to give up the sad stories I tell to justify my condition and choose to live in the power of light and love that is present in my life no matter how difficult my circumstances may be.

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