Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.Now that day was a sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.’“
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was a painter of the Spanish Baroque period known for religious paintings as well as lively portraits of peasants and working class people. Influenced by Zurburan, Rubens, and Velasquez, his paintings often exhibit tenebrism or chiaroscuro, the strong contrast of light and dark that was a hallmark of the art of this period. Murillo’s style is known for its elegance, realism, and fusion of the earthly and spiritual realms. In his painting of Jesus healing the cripple at Bethesda, we see all these traits. Jesus stands tall in an elegant pose at the center, reaching his hand out to the man lying on the ground, whose hands are outstretched as he explains that he is unable to make it to the healing waters. In the heavens behind Jesus, an angel of the Lord hovers in glowing clouds, either to stir the healing waters or to assist Jesus. We see three disciples on Jesus’ right, and in the scene behind, Murillo has carefully drafted the porticoes described in the passage, as seen in this model now in the Israel Museum.
Such porticoes were common throughout the ancient Mediterranean, offering relief from the hot sun, and were commonly used as resting and sleeping quarters in sanctuaries for gods of healing.
When I read of Jesus’ healings, I ask myself, “Where am I ill, blind, lame, or crippled in my own life?” How are my relationships? My habits? My morals and ethics? What is the mat that I’m laying on? Self-pity? Ego? Where is Jesus beckoning me to “Rise, take up your mat, and walk”?