Bridging the Troubled Waters … July 18, 2012


Poolside at Bethesda in Jerusalem near the sheep gate.

Yuk. Who wants to go swimming near a sheep gate?? I guess the key would be to dive under the water a lot to avoid the smell.

Now, this particular place has significance because it is the source of a story of supernatural proportions, which allows it to become a magnificent tourist attraction. According to legend, an angel fell into these waters and somehow or another transferred heavenly energy into the stream, so occasionally the waters would become “troubled” and allegedly, anyone who jumped into the bubbly brew was immediately healed.

It probably did not occur to anyone that the “troubling of the waters” was brought about by a deep underground spring, and the Artesian effect created the bubbling. But it made for  an impressive mythology and drew out great crowds of people who wished to become the next benefactors of the bountiful bubbles.

You may insist that I am being sarcastic about the miraculous proportions of this tale. Not at all. I believe in miracles. I am humbled by a gracious intervention of a mysterious origin. It’s just that I know that this was not a miracle. How? Let me give you three reasons:

1. It favors those who are the fastest. Honestly, if you were truly sick and completely unable to walk and needed the miracle the most, you were least likely to get it because somebody with acne would immediately leap into the pool ahead of you. Blessing from God is not contingent on portability.

2. The myth was kept alive because the only people who got healed were those who were healthy enough not to need it. If the only success stories in your life are those people who were basically successful before and just hit a bad patch, then you are a pit stop, not a salvation station.

3. Rather than creating faithful, excited individuals who are anticipating great benefit from God, the pool ends up making those who linger around it into grumpy, cynical and whiney losers.

For when Jesus runs across a man who has been crippled, as it turns out, for thirty-eight years, he does not ask him why he failed to get into the waters. He doesn’t move him closer to the pool so that all he has to do is fall in. Jesus asks him “if he really wants to be made whole.”  Is it a dumb question? After all, the guy’s LIVING next to this magical pond. Doesn’t that demonstrate his willingness to be transformed? The guy doesn’t even answer Jesus’ question. Instead, he explains to Jesus why it’s impossible to get to the waters before the “speedy sickos.” The man has developed an apology for his belief.

This is my problem with religion. It develops a storyline filled with angels, heavenly promises and seemingly grounded in the Word of God. Then all the sick people come and sit next to this little piece of superstition, devoid of healing or change–just developing excuses for their desperation and need.

I hate superstition. I hate it when people are left in bondage and handed a series of scriptures to hold onto while they struggle with their misery.

So does Jesus. He doesn’t waste any time. He tells the man to rise, take up his bed and walk. He doesn’t trouble the water for the man and put him in, to promote the lie. No–he connects him. And the funny thing about the story is that this guy, who has now been healed, rather than being grateful, overwhelmed and unabashedly appreciative, ends up joining up with the religious leaders to finger Jesus as the guy who did this wonderful deed for him … on the Sabbath Day.

Jesus is angry. He finds the man and warns him to repent lest a worse thing happen to him. Now, answer me this: what could be worse than being crippled for thirty-eight years, sitting next to a pool of water, sniffing sheep dung and waiting for the waters to bubble up in front of you, knowing that you probably will never receive restoration from its flow? I guess what would be worse is being healed and still bound to a religious system that did nothing to help you get that way.

We have to begin to ask our faith to make us whole, not merely comfort us. Not just be satisfied with wonderful stories that we all recite, memorize and retell, never fully understanding the meaning, nor eat magical bread and drink mystical wine, thinking that somehow or another it transforms us into new creatures. Instead, step away from the superstition and ask God to teach you how to be a good human being.

Here are the three things I believe need to be done to escape the religious rhetoric that is driving people away and has no authority to address the problems of our present generation:

1. If our faith makes us whole, then it’s time to teach people that God will involve them in their miracle.

2. There is nothing wrong with questioning stories, fables and even scriptures that do nothing to invite newness of life.

3. If the by-product of our spiritual experience is not becoming rehabilitated humans, then what we’ve entered is a time capsule of belief that was relevant to a former generation and obscure to us.

Here’s a clue:

  • If your reaction to disappointment is the same as the worker in the cubicle next to you, who does not believe in God, then your faith is meaningless.
  • If you are not finding new ways to use your talents to improve your lifestyle and increase your possibilities, then your religion is an albatross hanging around your neck.
  • If you find yourself defending God more often than you do living out His promises with good cheer, then you probably hooked up with the wrong team.
  • If you’re listening to scriptures and the words are beginning to blur together like a highway on a sleepy drive, you probably have lost the power of the word to transform you.
  • If you find yourself criticizing those who don’t believe more often than using your belief to uplift the critical, you are part of the problem, not the solution.
  • And if you’re lying next to a pool of water, waiting for the angels to trouble the stream so you can be healed, you might just have entered a religious Twilight Zone.

Sometimes people make up reasons for religion because the ability to turn disciples into the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth” has been sacrificed on an altar of tradition. Spirituality is a daily bathing in good cheer and good ideas.

Anything less is religion, which merely gives you an excuse for why you’re not well.


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