Jesus was in Jerusalem and was walking by the Pool of Bethesda. This pool, fed by an underground spring, is down off the street, surrounded by porticoes offering some shade and shelter. Legend had it that on occasion an angel would trouble the waters of the pool and the first person into the water would be healed. So the pool had become a gathering place for anyone with some sort of illness, but especially the blind, the lame and paralyzed. In one of these porticoes Jesus struck up a conversation with a man who has been ill for 38 years, lying there beside the pool, but can’t get to the water. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be healed (made whole)?” The man says, “Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” (John 5:1-9)
It seems to me that Jesus wants all of us to participate in our own salvation, and to enable and empower others to participate in theirs (their path to wholeness). It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been on the mat, or even why we’re there. We’re dealing with the God who “remembers our sin no more.” We are all at the pool in need of the one who can take us to that holy and healing place, and there are others we can accompany along the way.
There is a lot of talk this election season about the pain that is out there in American society, about how the American dream is out of reach for so many – they can’t get to the pool. And we know how social, political and economic systems have created conditions - especially for the poor - that keep them on mats of dependence and desperation. Some are capitalizing on all this for political gain, whipping up anger, fear, and promoting a kind of tribalism that brings only further divisiveness. In a recent column in the New York Times David Brooks speaks to this, and reflects on what is necessary to figure out a right response, and that it is first necessary to “go out into the pain.” Then he gets confessional: “ . . . I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata – in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable.”
Not only does Christ want us to participate in our own healing and salvation, but to journey alongside others in their walk toward wholeness. Healing is out of reach for any of us alone. Whether it is the “mats” of our own making, or the conditions of the world that press people down, Christ works through us to bring his healing and hope to the world.