5:9b Now that day was a sabbath.

10 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.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.'” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”

In the interests of full disclosure, it is only fair to admit at this point that I do not find a lot of heroes in this story of a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years lying by the pool “called in Hebrew Beth-zatha.” In fact, other than Jesus, I do not find any of the characters in this sad tale even particularly likeable. And, most unlikeable of all are this group John calls “the Jews”, a term John uses repeatedly to refer, not to all Jews, but to the religious hierarchy of the day who felt threatened by this itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth.

These religious bean counters are so tied up in their complex lists of righteous rules and regulations that they are unable to see the miracle that stands before them. A man who has been lying sick for thirty-eight years, is suddenly able to “take up his mat and begin to walk”, and all these pious law-keepers can see is a violation of their meticulous, rigid, anti-life interpretation of a law that was intended to be a source of richness and blessing.

The name of the pool beside which this story unfolds is “in Hebrew Beth-zatha”. It is a complex word made up of the prefix “Beth” which means house and the root word “zatha” which is capable of a variety of translations. “Zatha” comes from the Aramaic and Hebrew word “hesda” which can mean mercy or grace. This story is a tale of God’s unmerited mercy flowing out to heal a man who, through absolutely no merit of his own, is graciously granted a gift of healing.

Zatha” can also mean “flowing water”. Typically, a “pool” does not “flow”. But the biblical view of the world is indeed a “House of flowing water”. The mercy and grace of God circulate through all of life. Our task is to enter into that stream and allow ourselves to be carried by the grace that is the truest and deepest nature of life.

But there is another odd meaning to “zatha”. The word can also mean “shame” or “disgrace”. And this is a story of shame and disgrace. The disgrace here is the disgrace of religious leaders whose job it is to cooperate with the flow of grace and mercy, but who are unable to enter into this flow of love. It is the shame of religious leaders whose first job is to support heart opening, but who are determined instead to erect barriers against God’s healing work.

What are the barriers I erect to the liberating mercy of Christ at work in the world?