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, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." 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, "The man who made me well said to me, "Take up your mat and walk.' " They 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 him 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 went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, "My Father is still working, and I also am working." For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
- John 5:1-18
Verse 4 is missing from most translations. It says, “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.” This verse does not appear in the earliest, most reliable manuscripts, which is why we don’t see it much now. But it does help us understand what may have been happening here: the man who had been ill for 38 years claims that he doesn’t have the ability to get to the pool in time to be healed.
Jesus comes upon this man, and I’m struck by the question he asks: “Do you want to be made well?” Wow—that’s a good question. What would happen if he were actually made well? For one thing, he couldn’t lie there and complain anymore about having nobody to help him. But Jesus doesn’t help him into the pool. He circumvents the old superstition altogether and heals the man on the spot.
Of course, the religious authorities miss the point; they’re not interested in the fact that Jesus healed the man, but in the fact that the healed man is carrying a mat (working) on the Sabbath, and that Jesus was working, too. God was “troubling the water”—not the literal water of the pool, but the stagnant Pharisaical water that had turned the Sabbath into an idol.
This spiritual, “Wade in the Water,” seems at first glance to be about Moses leading the Israelites across the Red Sea. But it’s deeper than that—it’s a spiritual reflection on water and faith. “God’s a-gonna trouble the water …”
Eva Cassidy version of "Wade in the Water." By writing this song, American slaves linked the stories of the Red Sea and Bethesda Pool on a whole new level. Healing, deliverance, freedom … all of these are intertwined. And there's a reason we often sing this song at baptisms, too!
What is being stirred up in your life? What is being healed in unexpected ways? What will have to change once that healing is complete? What freedoms might come? Do you want to be made well?