Just a lowly street man, that’s all he was. Ill, bedraggled, poor, and in suffering 38 long years. And there he lay, near the healing waters, always hoping for a miracle or cure. Waiting for someone, anyone, to notice him. To see his need, and help him into the water.
Crowds passed continually by that Pool of Siloam, next to Jerusalem’s Sheep Gate. The rich and poor, along with the religious leaders. People who should have helped, should have cared.
But day after day, they passed him by. Never noticing his struggle to reach the pool. Until that day, in John chapter 5, when the Lord passed by and healed him. And then told him to pick up his mat and walk.
So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed’, (John 5:10).
A marvelous miracle. An end to a man’s suffering, and the chance to lead a normal life. But the religious leaders saw none of this. Just as they had not seen the man in his great need, neither did they see the wonder of the freeing miracle.
They were too busy looking at a mat.
At the mat and the rules he broke by carrying it. Blind to 38 years of suffering. Blind to his poverty and need. And too blind to give thanks for the healing miracle.
Significantly, this healing took place at the pool of Bethesda, which means House of Mercy.
Scholars think the pool, with its five shady porches, was likely built by a rich benefactor, as a shelter for the sick. A hospital of sorts, where they could bathe in the healing mineral water of the spring-fed pool. Or rest under the shady porches.
And the thought came to me: There at the House of Mercy the two kingdoms clashed. Two worlds, with strikingly different moral codes and worldviews. Christ’s loving, merciful kingdom and the Pharisees power-hungry, religious kingdom.
Because nothing perhaps depicts so clearly the contrasts between these two kingdoms as mercy does.
Mercy sees another’s need. Mercy reaches out to help. And mercy rejoices in God’s goodness.
But religious self-righteousness blinds. Keeps us from seeing need. Keeps us from reaching out. And keeps us from rejoicing with others. “Leave your mat. So what if it’s all you own? Just don’t break the rules. Don’t rock our religious boat. Or threaten things as they are.”
And the minute he did, they jumped on him to find fault. To blame and accuse. “You’re wrong to carry your mat.”
Two kingdoms. The house of mercy. And the house of rules, which finds specks in everyone’s eye but their own.
The House of Rules that calls for walls. Build them high to keep out the foreigners, those who worship the wrong gods, or choose wrong lifestyles. Heaven forbid we should have that next to us. The House of Rules doesn’t want to see. To look at need, and have to reach out. So it builds fences, leaving people out in the cold.
But the House of Mercy builds bridges. It sees their need. Understands they need healing. And it helps them come to the healing Water of Life.
And that dirty old mat? Mercy never even notices it at all!