THE TIME came for another feast at Jerusalem, and as on the year before, Jesus went to attend it. We do not know whether his disciples were with him on this visit, for in the story as given by John in his gospel, they are not mentioned.
On one Sabbath day, while Jesus was in the city, he walked past a public bath not far from the Temple. It was a large pool or cistern, where several could bathe at once; and beside it were five porches, forming an arched over platform. These porches, when Jesus came to the pool, were crowded with people, all suffering with disease. Some were blind, some were lame and some had legs or arms all withered and palsied.
At certain times the water in this bath used to bubble and rise up; then it would go down again and be quiet. The people believed that this bubbling up of the water was caused by an angel (whom no one could see) going down and stirring up the pool. They believed, too, that at such times when the water bubbled up, any person who was ill would be cured by taking a bath in the pool. We know that there are many springs whose water will cure diseases, and this pool may have been one of these health-giving springs.
Jesus saw lying there upon a mat beside the bath one man who had been helpless, unable to walk for almost forty years. Jesus who knew all things, knew that this man had been ill for a long time. He said to him:
“Would you like to be made well?”
This man had never seen Jesus before and did not know who he was.
“Sir,” he answered, “there is nobody to put me in the bath when the water rises; but while I am trying to crawl down and get into the water, somebody who can walk steps in ahead of me.”
“Rise, take up your mat, and walk!”
The crippled man had never heard words like these; but as soon as they were spoken. he felt a new power shooting through his body. He stood up for the first time in thirty-eight years, picked up his piece of matting, rolled: it up and put it upon his shoulder. Then he started to walk toward his house, carrying his burden.
You remember that it was on the Sabbath day that this took place. The Jews were exceedingly careful in keeping the Sabbath. God had said to their fathers many years before, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” But the Jews had added to this commandment many useless rules. They could not light a fire on that day, for that would be working; they could not hold a pen, for that would be carrying a load. These little rules had not been given by God, but had been made by the scribes or teachers of the law.
Some people saw this man carrying his roll of matting through the street. They said to him:
“Stop! don’t you know this is the Sabbath day? You have no right to be carrying your bed.”
The man did not lay down his load. He said, “A man saw me helpless by the pool, for I was nearly forty years a cripple. This man made me well; and he it was who said to me, `Take up your mat and walk.’ ”
“Who was this man,” said the Jews, “who told you to carry your bed on the Sabbath day?”
The man who had been cured did not know who it was that had cured him, for many were standing near, and after healing the man Jesus had walked away without being noticed. Soon after, the man went up to the Temple to give thanks to God for his cure, and there he met his healer and learned for the first time his name. Jesus said to him at that time:
“You are now free from the disease which for so many years has made you helpless. Do not sin any more against God, or something worse will come to you.”
The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had cured him. The leaders among the Jews, the priests, the scribes and the Pharisees, were very angry at Jesus, because he had made this man well on the Sabbath and because he had told the man to carry his mat on that day. The rulers tried to stir up the people against Jesus, saying that he was a Sabbath-breaker, and nobody should listen to his words.
But Jesus said to them, “My Father works on all days doing good to men; and I do only what he does.”
He meant to show them that God sends his sunshine and his rain every day in the week, causing the grass and the grain and the flowers to grow as much on the Sabbath as on other days; and that it was right for him and for every man to do good works, helping men and curing their sickness, on the Sabbath day.
But his words only made the Jews all the more angry, because he had spoken of God as his Father, making himself (they said) equal with God. They would havé killed him if they could, so great was their hate against him.
Jesus did not stay long in Jerusalem at this visit. Soon after the feast he went again to his home at Capernaum.