On the Healing of the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda
3rd Sunday after Pascha
The third Sunday after Pascha is referred to as the Sunday of the Paralytic. The paralytic referenced in this Gospel reading is the one at the pool of Bethesda, different to the paralytic of Capernaum mentioned in Mark 2: 1, which is read on the second Sunday of Great Lent, or on the Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas.
The Evangelist John mentions that the Lord Jesus came to Capernaum where he healed the king’s servant (4:46), then He went up to Jerusalem, as it was a feast for the Jews, a feast which is not specified by St John. According to St Irenaeus, it was the Jewish Passover, but according to John Chrysostom and St Cyril, it was the feast of Pentecost. We know this visit to be the second time that Jesus visited Jerusalem for a feast. The first time is mentioned in John 2:13, the third is found in John 6: 4, and the fourth and last in John 13: 1.
Jesus Christ, as the Omniscient and all-knowing God, came to the pool of Bethesda at the “Sheep Gate”. The pool was called Sheep’s Pool because sheep intended for sacrifice were gathered there, and after they had been slain, their entrails were washed in the pool’s water. It was the common belief that simply from the washing of the sacrificial entrails, the water took on divine power, and because of this, the angel would come to it at certain times to work a miracle. The name of this pool is also symbolic, as in the sheep are the people, according to the passage: “For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand.” (Ps. 95:7).
So, it is most likely that Jesus went to Jerusalem for the second time to observe the festival of the Passover, a time where the Jews observed the custom of sacrificing sheep. The Holy Church has seen in these Judaic beliefs and practices that God prefigured Baptism, which would contain great power and the gifts of cleansing sins and bringing souls to life.
St John Chrysostom writes: ‘What then is it that they show in outline? A Baptism was about to be given, possessing much power, and the greatest of gifts, a Baptism purging all sins, and making men alive instead of dead. These things then are foreshown as in a picture by the pool, and by many other circumstances.”
Truly, it is not the nature of water to heal by itself; it is entirely through the activity of the angel that the miracle was accomplished. So, it is with us that the water of Baptism is simple water, which, through the invocations made by Priests to God, receives the grace of the Holy Spirit to free us from spiritual disease. “We pray that this water may be sanctified by the visitation, power and energy of the Holy Spirit,” (from the service of Holy Baptism).
Inside these five porticoes of the pool, “lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralysed, 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; whoever stepped in first, after the troubling of the water was healed of whatever disease he had”.
Of all these patients, there is one patient that Jesus came to seek, a man “who had been ill for 38 years”. Most likely he was paralysed as “he had been lying there a long time” unable to move.
The perseverance of the paralytic man is astounding. For 38 years of pain and suffering, but with patience and faith, he was laying there waiting, each year hoping to be healed, but always prevented by those who were stronger. Yet he neither gave up nor despaired.
Jesus came to him and asked him, “Do you want to be healed?” To our minds, this question comes across as strange: What can a patient of 38 years of sickness ask for but be cured?! The Lord questioned this man of faith in order to show us the steadfastness of this paralytic and to bring to our attention the patience of the man.
The man answered Jesus, “Sir, I have no man!” We understand this as a cry from every abandoned paralytic, the cry of every person who finds themselves abandoned by and disconnected from all human help and community. We read in the Psalms: “My friends and my neighbours drew nigh over against me and stood, and my nearest of kin stood afar off” (Ps.37:11). Elsewhere, we read: “When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the LORD will take care of me” (Psalm 27:10).
For this reason, because you do not have a man, God has incarnated and become a Man for your sake. He descended from His highest to heal you and save you. You do not have a man, but the Lord Jesus, the Incarnated God, came from Capernaum, a three-day journey to Jerusalem, not only for the sake of the feast but in order to heal you because you do not have a man to help you. You are waiting for an angel to come down to trouble the water in order to be healed, but the Lord Jesus is the “Angel of Great Counsel” (Isaiah 9:6) who heals you directly without a need to step down into the water of the pool.
The paralysed man answered meekly with great kindness and gentleness: “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another step down before me.” He did not answer with blasphemy; he did not rebuke Christ for asking a strange question; he did not curse the day of his birth. He answered meekly and pleadingly, indeed not knowing to whom he was speaking, and also intending perhaps to ask Christ to carry him into the water. He was unaware that this man who asked him the question, was indeed the healer of soul and body.
The Lord did not require faith in him before the healing. He did not ask him, “Do you believe?” But instead, Christ witnessed this man’s faith through his patience and endurance of 38 years of suffering, patiently waiting. The Lord Jesus did not need a greater proof of his faith than this.
There is a wide difference between our Lord’s mode of healing, and a physician’s. Jesus acts by His word, and acts “immediately”, while others require a longer amount of time to treat their patients. The word of Christ was a strength for the paralytic; so that this word alone was responsible for this man’s healing.
We read in the Vespers of the Sunday of the Paralytic:
“O Lord, the paralytic was not healed by the pool, but Thy word renewed him; nor was he hindered by his infirmity of many years; for the effect of Thy voice was seen to be sharper than the infirmity. Wherefore, he cast down his heavy burden and carried the weight of his bed, a testimony to the abundance of Thy compassion; glory to Thee”
the Doxasticon of the Paralytic
We read on to see how this act of healing provoked the Jews because it took place on a Saturday. “So, the Jews said to the man who was cured, ‘It is the Sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet?’” The Jews did not bother to ask this man “who was that who cured you?” but “who is the man who said to you, ‘take up your pallet, and walk’?” It is as if they chose to be blind to the good, and instead were obsessed by what they considered to be a transgression of the Sabbath.
Speaking generally, they say the truth; for among the Jews, it was a matter of the highest obligation to keep the Sabbath. All work was then forbidden, as appears from Exodus 20:8. And especially the carrying of burdens on that day is forbidden by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:21). However, what was forbidden by the Law upon the Sabbath was servile work, not pious and divine work such as this.
St Chrysostom says: “Observe here the malice of the Pharisees; they were more hurt at the cure of the sick man, than at the violation of the sabbath. Therefore, they ask not, who healed you; but, as if they wished to keep that out of sight, Who told you to take up your bed?”
“Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.” St John Chrysostom again explores a possible reason for why Jesus would depart so soon after healing the paralytic: “First, that while He was absent, the testimony of the man might be unsuspected, for he who now felt himself whole was a credible witness of the benefit. And in the next place, that He might not cause the fury of the Jews to be yet more inflamed, for the very sight of one whom they envy is wont to kindle not a small spark in malicious persons. On this account, He retired and left the deed by itself to plead its cause among them.”
We read that afterwards “Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befalls you.” There, in that sacred place, the paralytic recognised Jesus as God and saviour. To show his gratitude to God, the man had gone to the temple to pray, confirming the strength of his faith. Indeed, Christ healed his body for this very reason, that He might also heal his soul. As Chrysostom says, “Assuredly a great mark of piety and reverence. He did not go to the marketplace, or the porch; he did not indulge in pleasure or ease; he was occupied in the Temple.”
Jesus’ response of “sin no more, that nothing worse befalls you” may indicate that the cause of the disease is the sins committed in this man’s life, but in general, it’s a reflection of sickness and death as a result of the fall, as evil entered the world after the fall of Adam and Eve.
After this meeting with the Lord Jesus in the temple and his acquaintance with the person of Christ the Savior, this healed man went out and told the Jews that “it was Jesus who had healed him”. Through his gratitude and praise of Jesus, we see that he obtained double healing, the healing of the soul and the body.
Lord, I am a spiritually paralysed person because of my sins like the paralysed of Bethesda. I wait patiently and faithfully to attain the healing of both soul and body; for there is none to put me into the pool. Albeit, I come to You, O Fountain of all healing, that, with all I may cry unto You, Lord Almighty, glory be to You. Amen.
“By Your Divine intervention, O Lord, raise up my soul which is cruelly paralysed by all manner of sin and by unseemly deeds, as of old You raised the paralytic; that being saved, I may cry to You: Grant me healing, O compassionate Christ”.
Troparia from the Holy Wednesday.
+ Metropolitan Basilios