Scripture Focus – John 5:1-15
The Gospel according to John 5:1-15 is no stranger in the lexicon of human preaching, particularly in the Black Church tradition, from which I was birthed and was given insight into this religious faith. I, even in my young career, have preached from this text. But I have been privy to extraordinary preaching from this text, which has enriched my life and understanding of faith in GOD through Christ Jesus and the yearning of the Holy Spirit. This scripture is replete with wisdom to be carried to the masses, but something about it has bothered me for the longest time. Out of the extraordinary preaching I have been blessed to hear, I have actually only heard one preacher address this thing in the text that has bothered me so.
John 5:1-5, particularly if you’re reading the King James or New King James Version, introduces the idea of scarcity. Scarcity simply means insufficiency or a shortage in the supply of something. It is rare, such as an infrequent occurrence. Scarcity on a practical level in our society and world operates on the assumption that there are limited resources, such as food, water, money, clothing, housing, and other essentials of life to go around. In essence, scarcity presumes that of the 7.6 billion people that inhabit this planet we call Earth, someone is going to go without. In fact, the notion of scarcity allows for other human beings to be okay with, or, at the very least, turn a blind eye to other human beings lacking the basic necessities that we all need. “Hey, there is not enough to go around, so these are the people that get left out. It’s unfortunate, but it’s just the reality.” People would be less inclined to buy into the idea of scarcity if they really acknowledged just how crazy, for lack of a better term, it is when we have billionaires and mega-millionaires in our world. Or when they really acknowledge and analyze the fact that according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the United States alone (2010 numbers), we waste 133 billion pounds of food each year, which totals to $161 billion worth of food. What is worse, however, is that these figures are an estimated 30-40 percent of the food supply. Scarcity?
In verses two through four of John chapter five, the pool at Bethesda that is introduced ushers in this same concept. It reads:
“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he (they) had”
This bothered me because only one of these “great multitude” of people received the opportunity to be healed of whatever their affliction was. And then, we have to assume that it was only those who had someone to put them in the pool, as the man suffering the infirmity for 38 years responded back to Jesus about (v. 7), or those who were not the worst off (i.e. able to get themselves in the pool). So, this pool is operating on scarcity causing competition between those who had already been marginalized and discarded by society, and, to top it all off, the ones who were in need the most weren’t even being made well.
I was already of the understanding that this is how our society and world operate, but what kind of GOD would allow this charade to continue on like this? This particular man, which we can infer was among the worst of the worst, had been there or trying to get into the pool for 38 years upon Jesus’ visit! Well, the beauty of the story is even in that question because of what Jesus does. The man responds to Jesus asking, “Do you want to be made well?” (v. 6, NKJV) by saying, “Sir, I have no man (one) to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me” (v. 7, NKJV). The man answered a question that Jesus never asked, which indicates that this man had completely bought into the idea of scarcity as well. He had bought into an idea of scarcity that is even more damaging than the belief about finite everyday resources like food and money. The man bought into the scarcity of the love, power, and grace of GOD!
Jesus’s arrival at the pool at Bethesda is, for me, a story about delegitimizing the myth of scarcity. Not only in our society is scarcity of resources a fallacy, particularly based on those statistics mentioned earlier, but GOD’s love and grace being finite is fallacy as well. This text challenged my thinking as it relates to the character of GOD manifested in the life of Jesus. As Christians we can often times talk about salvation and The Lord in very closed off and conservative ways. What we tend to do is box GOD in when GOD is so much bigger than our boxes. We tend to think GOD’s love, grace, mercy, and power only extends to those we deem eligible, but, again, that is not the character of GOD, but our own human prejudices at work. Jesus came to a place where access to the miracle working healing power of GOD was only offered for a select few while being closed off to everyone else. With his actions and life Jesus showed that in him, all can come and receive rest from their burdens, their trials, sickness, and pain. His love is abundant and without end!