The Man healed at Bethesda

The Man healed at Bethesda

Bethesda. Sabbath.

(The Gospel History, Section 37)

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. And a certain man was there, which 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 wist 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 which had made him whole. And for this cause did the Jews persecute Jesus, because he did these things on the sabbath.

The Man healed at Bethesda

(The Saviour of the World, Vol II Book II Poem XV)

Silent and sad, the Master, occupied
With tactics of the warfare He must wage;
For, challenge given and taken, follow plans:
Captain of our Salvation, went He forth
With following to the Temple, to keep Feast.

Now, by the Sheep Gate is Bethesda’s Pool;
Round it a loggia, graced with porticos;
And in these lay a multitude of sick,
Blind, halt and withered, contrast pitiful
To the structure’s airy grace: Jerusalem
Poured out her misery on this fair spot;
For why? A gracious legend haunts the place—
Angel of God, descending, stirs the pool;
In jets the waters rise at periods due,
And lo, the water troubled, who first comes,
His malady is healed—he steps out whole!
Small wonder suffering folk should crowd the spot,
And friends should gather to help sufferers in;
And while they wait and watch for the red-spring’s leap,
All gossip of the city goes the round.
A superstition, say we, idle dream?
We, too, know springs of healing, travel far
To dip in this or that one; wise are we;
Our fancy tarries not with angel-dream;—
Sulphur or iron, salts of various kinds,
These work our cure—what need have we of God
Or, those, His unseen ministrants, who serve
Where’er He worketh health or any grace?

And Jesus walked among them—saw, belike,
(For things that met the eye, to Him, the shew
As in a figure of the real things);
The sick—those souls aweary of the world;
The blind—whose eyes were closed to Him, but saw
Matter and modes of outer universe;
The halt—whose progress is distressing-slow
In path that leads to God; the witherèd—
Dead souls and dry who knew no aspiration,
No gracious grief for sin. A certain man
For eight and thirty years was lying there;
And Christ, who deals with us men one by one,
Singled out him; eager, we wait result.
We know when Christ, our touchstone, finds a man
Straight he himself discovers, all he is:
Poor man, for half a life-time lying there!
Unwittingly we wish him all good speed—
That he may pass the certain tests applied
By every word of the Lord. Now, Jesus knew
How long he’d been in that case, and saith to him—
That single question reaches every soul
With whom the Lord hath dealings—“Wouldest thou
In very deed be whole?” Men say, to-day,
“I would, alas! I were a better man!”—
A worthier father, mother, daughter, son,
But idle wishes may not climb the skies
Nor reach the ear of Him, the nations heals;
The active will—condition He exacts;
The will that strenuous bends a man’s full force
To vigorous attention: there be sick
To-day who will not bend an idle mind
To think on what should heal them,—work, or food,
Or free consumption of God’s blessed air.
But how behaves this man—he surely wills,
Why else was there? He whines and takes Christ’s words
In merited reproach; “Sir, I have none
To put me in the pool, the water, moved;
While I am coming, lo, some other man
Before me steppeth down.” “Arise,” saith Christ,
“Lift up thy bed and walk.” Peevish complaint
Forgotten for the nonce, constrained by Christ,
The man, made whole, took up his bed and walked;
Nor ever turned to see who was’t that healed,
Nor lifted praise to God. We know Him now.

’Twas Sabbath on that day: the vigilant Jews
Surround the man was cured: say they to him,
“To-day, the Sabbath, to take up thy bed,
This is against the law.” Straight he replies,
“He bade who made me whole.” “And who is he?”
He that was healed wist not who made him whole;
A multitude was there, and, quiet act
Of healing done, Jesus had disappeared,
Lost in the crowd of many like-robed Jews.

“One like a Son of Man” had come that day;
From out his mouth proceeded a sharp sword,
Mere ritual and worship, cut in twain!
Controversy pursued to Calvary
Grew definite that morn; removed had He
The keystone from that arch which held in place
Fabric of Jewish polity and rites:
Who bore a burden on the Sabbath day,
Stoning to death his due, ordained the Law:
Out of His way had gone the Son of Man
To cast this challenge down; the next day sure,
The next, and the day after he’d be there,
This impotent man: why heal on Sabbath day?
His time was come:—and henceforth goes He forth,
Dogged and pursued and wearied unto death
By virulent incessant enmity!

The man that was healed—was it in brave defence
He spoke of Him who bade him bear his bed?
The sequel shows. In the crisis of Christ’s life
When He brake with Jewish sanctions, even then,
Leisure had He to think upon the man,
Ungrateful, He had healed; went after him,—
(With such persistence finds He thee or me),
And in the temple found: to gift of health
His tested soul made no response of thanks;
How will he bide rebuke? Lo, here a sword
Divides our joints and marrow! All sweet souls
Are gentle under judgment, take reproof
As that which is their due; who will not bear
To know offence in them—unworthy found
By Him who holds the scales. “Thou art made whole,
“Go thou, and sin no more, lest some worse thing
“Come unto thee!” Instant, the worse thing came:
Resentment like a flood o’erwhelmed his soul;
Ingrate before, vindictive turned he now:
To enemies of Christ he went with haste
And told them Who had healed him; played his part
In that dire tragedy for men was wrought!

St. John v. 1-16