Troubling the Water


John 5:1-9

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Heals on the Sabbath

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath.

This picture is of the stained glass window just behind the altar at our church, St. Peter’s, McKinney, TX (  In today’s sermon by Fr. Michael, he discussed the meaning of our window – the focal point of the church.  There is a great story there about how the church once faced the other direction after being rebuilt by fire, and that the window was covered by the choir loft for years before the church was reoriented to the south wall.  If you look closely at the picture above, you can see that there is an angel coming down (head is down and feet are up in the window) and the bottom of the window is the water being “troubled” by the angel.  Fr. Michael also pointed out something I had missed completely on the first read through of this passage – verse 4 is missing above.  He explained that there was some controversy about this verse not always consistently found in early Biblical writings and this is the text for verse 4:

for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.

Today’s Gospel reading is a story of healing at first glance.  Jesus heals a long-sick man who is found waiting at the healing pools by the Sheep Gate (the place the sheep were brought in to be sacrificed).  But I want to focus on the troubling of the water.  In high school, I first heard the song, “Wade in the Water,” a negro spiritual (here is a link to one version  One of the lines says, “The Lord’s gonna trouble the water.”  This song was one of many songs used as a language secret to slaves from their owners to help slaves find their way to freedom.  Simon and Garfunkel sang “Bridge over Troubled Water which was a #1 hit on the Billboard charts in 1970, written by Paul Simon as lyrics intended to provide comfort to those in need.  The waters where the paralyzed man received his healing from Jesus were the same  – a place to give hope to the hopeless.  There is even a documentary about Hurricane Katrina called “Trouble the Water” that will debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, providing hope in one of the most devastating “troubled water” natural and man made disasters in our country’s history.

Obviously with this much well known focus on troubled water, this image is a powerful one.  If troubled water comes by sending an angel to create healing, helping slaves become free, giving comfort to those in need, then where can we find troubled water  or trouble it for someone else today?  Each of us has the opportunity at some point in time to be there for a person in need.  God calls us to do his work in the world and help people come to know the redeeming love of Jesus.  In the Episcopal church, we state our beliefs in the Nicene Creed every week during our worship.  The last portion of the creed sums up those beliefs about Jesus’ saving grace:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, 
    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
    He has spoken through the Prophets.
    We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
    We look for the resurrection of the dead,
        and the life of the world to come. Amen.
(BCP, pp. 358-359)

In summary, we (not in isolation intentionally!) believe in the Trinity and our community of faith; we are forgiven and will live forever with our Lord in a perfect healing, all because Jesus came and gave his life for us.  No more waiting in the pool for healing, no more slavery or need for bridges over the water – instead, living our life in Christ gives us the hope, grace and mercy to see past all conflicts and challenges and focus on our call to love one another.  All of us are in need of healing of one kind or another, and we can be that healing (troubled) water for each other.

Healing Lord, help us be a source of strength and comfort to those we meet and those we know and love already.  Help us provide hope to others in need and sustain us with your love and grace.  We love you, we worship you, we vow to be your hands in the world.  AMEN.


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