This past Sunday, our Lord came to the “Sheep’s Pool”, which is known in Hebrew as “Bethesda”. The meaning of this Jewish word is “the house of grace,” or “house of mercy.”
In that time, those who would come to make an offering at the Temple for those things prescribed by the Law of Moses would come to the sheep market which was near this place, and there purchase a sheep to take to the Temple to make their offering to God. Before taking their purchase to the Temple, it would be appropriate to groom the animal, to make it presentable to God for the priests to offer within the Temple.
Thus, the “Sheep’s Pool”, a place where this washing of the animals to be offered would be done prior to taking them to the Temple.
As the Gospel for the day records, it is in this particular pool that miracles are granted to God’s people, as a “grace” to them, ergo the “House of grace”, Bethesda. Saint John records the fact that here, the waters used to bathe the sheep are sometimes “disturbed” by an angel of God.
As our Lord comes to the Sheep’s Pool, the waters are calm, placid, peaceful, as are all things subject to His holy will. And there our Lord finds this man, whom Saint John records has been ill for thirty-eight years. He was ill before the Annunciation of our Lord to the Theotokos. Even then, this man sat at the pool, waiting for his miracle.
He sat there while the child Jesus went to the Temple and spoke there with the elders, leaving his mother to worry over his being lost from their company of travelers. The man sat at the pool as the Lord was baptized by John, as He was led to be tempted, as one by one the Apostles were called, as the multitudes were fed and healed.
In all that time, this man was at the pool, waiting, praying that he might be first to enter the waters and receive his healing.
But each time, someone else came before him. He was always too late, the last to receive his goal, a goal which our Lord had set for him to receive at His own hand, and not the hand of His angel.
If we are to find the most obvious message, it needs to be that faithful perseverance will be rewarded. The man knows the “sign of the angel,” that the waters are disturbed. But he does not know the Author, the one whom the angel who stirs the waters himself serves. He does not know Jesus Christ, who stands before him, asking what in human terms seems to be a callous question—”Do you want to be healed?”
For thirty-eight years the man demonstrated his desire to walk, and within that desire was the desire for healing. But his focus was purely physical. Our Lord’s question to the man relates not to his inability to walk, but on his retention of the sins that ties him to this earth, to the place that had foiled his hope for all these years.
Like the man at the Sheep’s Pool, who came to the House of Mercy and of Grace, we find ourselves beggars at His house. Even if we cannot find Him, He seeks us. All we need is to recognize our spiritual paralysis, our need to receive diving healing of the sins which ail us, for no man can help us to receive that grace. Then, we need to be ready to reply to His loving voice, “Yes, Lord—I want to be healed!”