22 April 2013

Encountering Jesus - An Amazing Afternoon Hanging out at the Pool One Day

We love to hang out at the pool! 

See the photo below of our youngest fishy, 4 years old? She has been swimming for over a year now. In fact, she tends to spend about as much time under the water as on top of it.

Back in the time of Jesus, however, hanging out at the Pools of Bethesda wasn't as clearly a pleasant pastime  Most people were only there because they felt they had no other choice... These folks were mostly people for whom magical waters was their last or best hope...

After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 
Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a multitude of them that were sick, blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole, with whatsoever disease he was holden. 
And a certain man was there, who had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity. When Jesus saw him lying, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case , he saith unto him, "Wouldest thou be made whole?" 
The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me." 
Jesus saith unto him, "Arise, take up thy bed, and walk." 
And straightway the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked. 
Now it was the Sabbath on that day. So the Jews said unto him that was cured, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for thee to take up thy bed."
But he answered them, "He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk." 
They asked him, "Who is the man that said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?" 
But he that was healed knew not who it was; for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in the place. 
Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, "Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee." 
The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him whole. (John 5.1-15, ASV)
Jesus, shortly after healing the nobleman's son, began a journey from Capernaum to the Holy City, a journey of approximately 120 km. Once there, he visited the Pools of Bethesda, located near one of the gates and also not far from the Temple. At the Pools of Bethesda, He found a huge crowd of sick and handicapped people, laying around on the terraces, waiting for their chance at a miracle. According to tradition, every so often an angel would descend, stir up the water and the first person to immerse in the moving water would be healed of whatever was ailing them.

A few years back, the first time I studied this passage in great depth, I was preparing to teach a Bible study for the ladies at the Haro Banda church. Reading the part about angels stirring the waters not only left me feeling a bit unsettled, it also resulted in an interesting discussion among those women. I'm not quite sure how to explain the "greater" reality of the spiritual world, but it is a consistently much more tangible presence living here in Niamey that I ever noticed it to be when I lived in Midland, Michigan. People here - be they Christian, Muslim, or from local tribal religions - our Nigerien friends come from a heritage that assumes a very active, involved and powerful spirit world, where things both good and bad that can not be readily explained are quickly attributed to spirits, and where belief in angels, demons and other spirits is not something only attributed to the weak, uneducated, deceived or foolish. For those from such a background, mixing the Christian faith with traditional religions and cultural practices presents a huge struggle

Why are members of God's chosen people waiting for an angel to magically stir waters, blindly hoping for a cure? 

They were, most likely, those for whom visits to the doctors and/or the priests had not given them the results they were hoping for. They could have been the poor, who perhaps could not afford to give the required recompense to medical professionals or  to compensate corrupt clergy. Perhaps there were foreigners who did not have access to professional care. Maybe they were widows, orphans, abandoned older relatives - anyone set aside by the culture and often without any hope of a better future. At the risk of repeating myself, I'll say it again: It is highly unlikely that any of these folks had come to have a pleasurable afternoon, just hanging-out at the pool. Rather, they were desperate, broken, hurting people.

And just the kinds of people Jesus seemed to seek out...

At Bible study, the women hypothesized that maybe what happened at these pools was of a spiritual nature, but not necessarily from the Lord... Yet because of the proximity of the temple, there were some elements of the Jewish faith mixed in. 

This is dangerous; it can lead away from a pure faith in the Savior, prevents followers from first seeking and then seeing Him, and tempts worshipers to become dependent on something other than the Lord. Some of the women admitted to struggling with this, but it was so encouraging to hear one of the woman testify of how God has strengthened her and provided for her so that she has not had to resort to traditional practices and as a result, all glory for the things He has done and is doing in her life goes to Him unquestionably. Even her Muslim family members remarked time and again about this.

Even though western culture often denies or simply seeks to ignore the power of the spirit world, the temptation to mix local perspective and worldview with Christianity remains. African locales do not have the monopoly on such syncretism. How do you see it practiced in your corner of the world?

Two key players participate in this story: Jesus and the lame man. 

There was another detail that really stood out to me as I have studied this passage. In Nigerien culture, confront an individual with the Gospel message happens rarely. People here tend to make their decisions in groups, working collectively as a group until attaining a consensus. There are some beautiful aspects to that collectivism and unity in a culture. We also clearly read of instances of "groups" coming to know the Lord (i.e. all who heard believed, families being baptized, etc.). Yet in this Jesus encounter, the Lord fixed His gaze on one person and asked him individually, "Do you (singular) want..."

Amazing, isn't it. Jesus seeks us just as we are, right where we are, arrogant, proud and preoccupied with self, engaged in behaviors that will lead to His horrendous death, already knowing what we will say and what will result, He still asks if we desire to be made whole. He still gives us the freedom to choose, to answer "Yes," or "No."

Do you ever marvel at that, and just wonder why?

African locales do not have the monopoly on such syncretism. How do you 
see it practiced in your corner of the world?

Do you, like me, stand stupefied by that liberty and the fact that God still asks and respects the decisions, right or wrong... obedient or sinful... good and bad... 
that we make?

-edited post from the archives:

this week's gratitude list

(#'s 3752 - 3777)
I couldn't have planned to end on that number if I tried... It just happened! Smile!

amazing freedom granted to men by an Almighty God

a gloriously cooler weekend, thank you Lord!

sleeping snuggled under covers, without the air conditioner

three rains last week

listening as the children played and danced in the rain at the local school next door 

reading Stone Fox with Elsie Mae

finishing a math workbook

piles growing smaller... and smaller... and ever smaller

lists growing shorter.. and shorter... and ever shorter

exchanging emails with a  sweet gal as we discuss Niger

some really great blog posts this week

outgrown Spider-man jammies

cobwebs gone

chattering  with colleagues around the lunch table

things starting to make the final suitcase cut

more and more  "correspondence" with friends and family from home - people seem excited to know that we will be on our way, soon

starting a new exercise regime

fun 2/3rd grade simulation - neighboring cities competing to build the most magnificent cathedral the most quickly

goats gone

big girls involved in worthwhile projects

good friends I can trust to wisely advise and counsel those big girls

littlest one in her bed all night long, two nights in a row and 
the uninterrupted sleep that results

littlest one giggling on my lap as she tells me that I need to keep her forever, just not in a box so she has room to walk around

and the million other funny things kids say EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. around this house

dorm students coming to visit for the weekend, NEXT weekend

the benefits of walking barefoot... since I love to walk barefoot (and often choose NOT to fight the  "Wear some shoes" battle with this tribe of wild Wrightlings

Ten most recent posts in this series: 

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