Saturday, October 12, 2013

Lectio notes on John 5: 1-18

The Ruins of the Byzantine Church,
adjacent to the site of the Pool of Bethesda

Today's reading deals with the healing of a man who had waited for 38 years in the hope of being healed through the action of an angel stirring up the waters of the pool at Bethesda.  The existence of the pool had been discounted by rationalist theologians, who viewed the story as symbolic rather than historic, and claimed the Gospel of St John was written much later by someone not familiar with Jerusalem.   Archaeological remains that precisely fit the Gospel description, have since undermined this claim.


You can find the Latin, Greek and English of John 5:1-18 here.  The video below provides the English and Latin read verse by verse; alternatively, you can find the Latin read here and the Greek here.

The Latin:

1 Post hæc erat dies festus Judæorum, et ascendit Jesus Jerosolymam. 2 Est autem Jerosolymis probatica piscina, quæ cognominatur hebraice Bethsaida, quinque porticus habens. 3 In his jacebat multitudo magna languentium, cæcorum, claudorum, aridorum, exspectantium aquæ motum. 4 Angelus autem Domini descendebat secundum tempus in piscinam, et movebatur aqua. Et qui prior descendisset in piscinam post motionem aquæ, sanus fiebat a quacumque detinebatur infirmitate. 5 Erat autem quidam homo ibi triginta et octo annos habens in infirmitate sua. 6 Hunc autem cum vidisset Jesus jacentem, et cognovisset quia jam multum tempus haberet, dicit ei: Vis sanus fieri? 7 Respondit ei languidus: Domine, hominem non habeo, ut, cum turbata fuerit aqua, mittat me in piscinam: dum venio enim ego, alius ante me descendit. 8 Dicit ei Jesus: Surge, tolle grabatum tuum et ambula. 9 Et statim sanus factus est homo ille: et sustulit grabatum suum, et ambulabat. Erat autem sabbatum in die illo. 10 Dicebant ergo Judæi illi qui sanatus fuerat: Sabbatum est, non licet tibi tollere grabatum tuum. 11 Respondit eis: Qui me sanum fecit, ille mihi dixit: Tolle grabatum tuum et ambula. 12 Interrogaverunt ergo eum: Quis est ille homo qui dixit tibi: Tolle grabatum tuum et ambula? 13 Is autem qui sanus fuerat effectus, nesciebat quis esset. Jesus enim declinavit a turba constituta in loco. 14 Postea invenit eum Jesus in templo, et dixit illi: Ecce sanus factus es; jam noli peccare, ne deterius tibi aliquid contingat. 15 Abiit ille homo, et nuntiavit Judæis quia Jesus esset, qui fecit eum sanum.16 Propterea persequebantur Judæi Jesum, quia hæc faciebat in sabbato. 17 Jesus autem respondit eis: Pater meus usque modo operatur, et ego operor. 18 Propterea ergo magis quærebant eum Judæi interficere: quia non solum solvebat sabbatum, sed et patrem suum dicebat Deum, æqualem se faciens Deo.

The English:

After these things was a festival day of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. [2] Now there is at Jerusalem a pond, called Probatica, which in Hebrew is named Bethsaida, having five porches. [3] In these lay a great multitude of sick, of blind, of lame, of withered; waiting for the moving of the water. [4] And an angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond; and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water, was made whole, of whatsoever infirmity he lay under. [5] And there was a certain man there, that had been eight and thirty years under his infirmity.[6] Him when Jesus had seen lying, and knew that he had been now a long time, he saith to him: Wilt thou be made whole? [7] The infirm man answered him: Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pond. For whilst I am coming, another goeth down before me. [8] Jesus saith to him: Arise, take up thy bed, and walk. [9] And immediately the man was made whole: and he took up his bed, and walked. And it was the sabbath that day. [10] The Jews therefore said to him that was healed: It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for thee to take up thy bed.[11] He answered them: He that made me whole, he said to me, Take up thy bed, and walk. [12] They asked him therefore: Who is that man who said to thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? [13] But he who was healed, knew not who it was; for Jesus went aside from the multitude standing in the place. [14] Afterwards, Jesus findeth him in the temple, and saith to him: Behold thou art made whole: sin no more, lest some worse thing happen to thee. [15] The man went his way, and told the Jews, that it was Jesus who had made him whole. [16] Therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, because he did these things on the sabbath. [17] But Jesus answered them: My Father worketh until now; and I work. [18] Hereupon therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he did not only break the sabbath, but also said God was his Father, making himself equal to God.


I have to admit that this is one of my favourite sections of St John's Gospel, for, although it is only a subsidiary aspect of the story, it attests to the action of the angels in the world.  Tradition names the angel who stirs up the healing waters as St Raphael the Archangel, hero of the Old Testament book of Tobit.

St Augustine interprets the text for us, in a Sermon on John 5:2 as follows, providing meat for our meditation:

"Give heed then. Those five porches were significative of the Law, bearing the sick, not healing them; discovering, not curing them. 

But who did cure the sick? He that descended into the pool. And when did the sick man descend into the pool? When the Angel gave the sign by the moving of the water. For thus was that pool sanctified, for that the Angel came down and moved the water. Men saw the water; and from the motion of the troubled water they understood the presence of the Angel. If any one then went down, he was cured. 

Why then was not that sick man cured? Let us consider his own words; “I have no man,” he says, “when the water is moved, to put me into the pool, but while I am coming, another steppeth down.”Couldest not thou then step down afterwards, if another step down before thee? Here it is shown us, that only one was cured at the moving of the water. Whosoever stepped down first, he alone was cured: but whoever stepped down afterwards, at that moving of the water was not cured, but waited till it was moved again. 

What then does this mystery mean? For it is not without a meaning. Attend, Beloved. Waters are put in the Apocalypse for a figure of peoples. For when in the Apocalypse John saw many waters, he asked what it meant, and it was told him that they were peoples. 

The water then of the pool signified the people of the Jews. For as that people was held in by the five books of Moses in the Law, so that water too was enclosed by five porches. 

When was the water troubled? When the people of the Jews was troubled. And when was the people of the Jews troubled, but when the Lord Jesus Christ came? The Lord’s Passion was the troubling of the water. For the Jews were troubled when the Lord suffered. See, what was just now read had relation to this troubling. “The Jews wished to kill Him, not only because He did these things on the sabbaths, but because He called Himself the Son of God, making Himself equal with God.” For Christ called Himself the Son after one manner, in another was it said to men, “I said, Ye are Gods, and ye are all children of the Most High.” For if He had made Himself the Son of God in such sort as any man whatever may be called the son of God (for by the grace of God men are called sons of God); the Jews would not have been enraged. But because they understand Him to call Himself the Son of God in another way, according to that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;” and according to what the Apostle saith, “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God;” they saw a man, and they were enraged, because He made Himself equal with God. But He well knew that He was equal, but wherein they saw not. For that which they saw they wished to crucify; by That which they saw not, they were judged. 

What did the Jews see? What the Apostles also saw, when Philip said, “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” But what did the Jews not see? What not even the Apostles saw, when the Lord answered, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet have ye not known Me? He that seeth Me, seeth the Father also.”Because then the Jews were not able to see This in Him, they held Him for a proud and ungodly man, making Himself equal with God. 

Here was a troubling, the water was troubled, the Angel had come. For the Lord is called also the “Angel of the Great Counsel,” in that He is the messenger of the Father’s will. For Angel in Greek is in Latin “messenger”. So you have the Lord saying that He announces to us the kingdom of Heaven. He then bad come, the “Angel of the Great Counsel,” but the Lord of all the Angels. “Angel” on this account, because He took Flesh; the “Lord of Angels,” in that by “Him all things were made, and without Him was nothing made.” For if all things, Angels too. And therefore Himself was not made, because by Him all things were made. Now what was made, was not made without the operation of the Word. But the flesh which became the mother of Christ, could not have been born, if it had not been created by the Word, which was afterwards born of it.


St Augustine gives us the image of Christ as the disturber of waters, the messenger or 'angel' who brings both disruption and healing. It is an important reminder: the Gospel message is never a comfortable one.

That is easy to forget as our human institutions - our schools, hospitals and age care facilities for example - though established for holy purposes, ossify and become self-perpetuating rather than seeking to perpetuate the Gospel.

It is easy to forget when some would have us soft-soap Christ's hard teachings, in order to avoid offending the sensibilities of this post-modern age.

Yet Our Lord himself never did this.

The next set of lectio notes can be found here.

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