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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

John 5:1-9 Man healed at pool of Bethesda
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
May 16, 2004

Wade in the water,
wade in the water, children
Wade in the water,
God's gonna trouble the water.

This is on one of Emily's CDs that we listen to in the van. It requires a keen sense of rhythm, clapping your hands and swaying. Obviously not a Presbyterian hymn. And it sounds odd being sung as it is on the CD by a little boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old. I've taken our girls to the pool when there are herds of 10 year-old boys there. Those guys can trouble the water all on their own with no help at all from God. I try to teach our girls to trouble the water right back at those nasty old boys. It's non-violent but assertive resistance.

At the pool of Bethesda, there weren't any happy kids, singing, swaying or splashing. The pool of Bethesda was more like a nursing home. The people who couldn't be cured any other way came to the pool hoping to find a miracle. We'd look at a sight like this with pity. Poor supersitious people, with no affordable health insurance and no prescription drug plan. You put it in those terms, a few more years and our kids may be taking US to the pool.

At the pool of Bethesda -- and this is where it gets even more pathetic -- like Dolly's Splash Country turned evil -- the legend went that at unpredictable times, an angel would "trouble" the waters. The people would see the water moving and then the blind, lame and leprous would race to see who could wade in first. The person who won would be cured. And everyone else would hobble back and wait until the horn blew and the waves splashed again. The pool of Bethesda was filled with troubling waters not so much by the presence, but by the absence of angels among those who were too ill to outwit, outrace and outplay.

And so a man who couldn't walk complained to Jesus, "Sir, when the water is troubled I have no one to put me into the pool. But while I am coming another steps down before me." The pool had been torturing this guy for thirty-eight years. I'd want to tell him, "Well, find a better seat." Or, "Trip the others with your cane." Something. Thirty-eight years is a long time. You've gotta come up with a strategy. Thankfully, that's not what Jesus said because that would make the gospel very different. Jesus simply asked, "Do you want to be healed?"

Do you want to be healed? Well, of course he wanted to be healed. He had laid at the poolside for thirty-eight troubling years, waiting to win just one race instead of always being a such a "loser." What a silly question.

The trouble God brought to the waters that day wasn't from the fingertip of any dark angel. Oh, God troubled the waters alright, but troubled them by challenging them, challenging the belief that they were the only good way to be healed. God troubled the age-old belief in the waters with a question that a ten year-old could have asked, "Do you want to be healed?"


They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That is not the definition of insanity. I looked it up. Seven times. In the same dictionary. I fully expected exactly the same answer each time. If it had changed, or I thought it had changed, THAT would be a sign of insanity. So applying logic, then, this would make the definition of sanity doing the same thing over and over because you know you're going to get the same results. Like watching reruns of "Gilligan's Island." Or eating at McDonalds. You always know what you're gonna get. What could be more sane?

For a lot of us, sanity means not having our waters troubled. Smooth sailing is good sailing. Sanity means dancing along with life because we've got a groove going, and even if we don't particularly like the song we're moving to, as Sonny Bono said, the beat goes on. Stopping and changing something that ain't broke would be, like, crazy. People would laugh.

The truth is a lot of times we stick with things that are broke because it's less trouble than trying to fix them. At least we know what we're dealing with. So a man doesn't go to the doctor for that pain in his chest, because it always goes away after a couple of days. Or a woman goes home to a man she's afraid of. Or a teenager calls himself a "loser" because that's what someone said in so many words. You stick with something broken long enough, you wrap your brain around it so many ways, and after a while it's hard to tell what's crazy and what's sane.

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that outlawed segregation in American schools. And how many years did good people on both sides of the issue not try to fix the problem because dealing with it was less dangerous? Or because that's the way things had always been, so God must have intended it that way? With hindsight we look back at those troubling waters and think, "How were we ever so blind?" It takes tremendous patience to sit and wait for the angels to come and save us. But sometimes it takes tremendously simple faith to do as the man at the pool of Bethesda, and get up and walk away. Or walk into a building. Or just to stand up and walk on our own two feet.

The Bible doesn't say what the rest of the people at the pool whispered to each other after the man walked away with Jesus. "He'll be back, just you wait." "Stinkin' TV evangelist. Had that guy planted for 38 years." "Why didn't Jesus come to me?" Or did each morning see fewer and fewer people there until one day the pool just dried up, and people said, "Wow. How could we have ever been so crazy?"


Wade in the water.
Wade in the water, children.
Wade in the water.
God's gonna trouble the water.

The old song is really a twist on the reality of the Bible story. Because the people at the pool didn't wade in the water. They waited by the water. "Wait by the water. Wait by the water, children." Just sit and wait.

But the real song sings this passage the way Jesus might have, and twists the peoples' "sane" reality into the reality of God. Jesus would have stepped forward, and started the song, and taken the man by the hand. And he would have stood and taken another hand, and that person would have stood and taken another hand, and so on. Until all of them were standing and singing and walking into the un-troubled waters as one. "Wade in the water, children!" And all of them would be healed. All of them would sing and dance in the waters, clapping their hands, and swaying and splashing to the rhythm of God's beautiful song. Wouldn't that be a sight.

But you know. Crazy stuff like that doesn't really happen. People would laugh. And so we wait. And Jesus wonders, "Do you want to be healed?"

Don't wait. Wade. Be healed.