There is a very insightful quote that has really stuck with me from the movie Cool Runnings. Many of you may not have seen it but I would wager you would remember the origin of the movie. The 1993 movie’s inspiration was the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. Or better yet the Jamaican Bobsled Team that showed up there. Three of the main characters had suffered misfortune and did not end up qualifying for the Summer Games in their specialty, sprinting. But they all longed for the glory of the gold medal and they signed up to try bobsledding. The one character, Derice, the driver was pushing so hard it was pushing others away from him. His focus became the medal and the glory and not his teammates and their feelings. That’s when their coach, a man that had been stripped of his Bobsled gold medals for cheating goes to him and talks to him. Derice asks him why he cheated, and the coach tells him that he had made winning his life and that if you do that you just have to keep on winning. Derice doesn’t understand, as he felt that the coach had had it all. That’s when the coach tells him, “ Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.” Hey coach, how will I know if I’m enough? Coach: When you cross that finish line, you’ll know. How often do we set goals for ourselves or long for glory or the winnings of the lottery or the desire for objects or people and tell ourselves that if we just had that everything would be perfect. How often do we then turn to work or practice or gambling or any means necessary to achieve that goal while forsaking relationships, integrity, honor, health or God to try and get it? We wash our hands of faith, family and real friends in pursuit of fame or fortune. And then we look at many celebrities and the uber-rich and see lives filled with pain, loneliness and heartache, often times with abused bodies and physical pain. I think that the drive to overcome or to fill the voids in life can produce dramatic results, but at what cost if the pursuit becomes all the person is and their self-worth and value is inseparable from it. If I just had this my life I would be a better person, I would be complete, I would be happy, just this thing and all the sacrifices will be worth it and I will be able to rest on my laurels and live happily ever after. Or sometimes we view handicaps or shortcomings or inabilities as the one thing that is standing in our way of true happiness. This becomes our life’s focus and all other relationships or pursuits fade into the background. In today’s gospel we see an individual whose life has been an unfair one. Because of some disease or malady the man is by the pool of Bethesda and has been bedridden for 38 years. The name of the place varies in ancient texts, but we can see why hospitals would be called Bethesda. Jesus sees him and knows his situation. He asks if he wants to be made well and the man replies with an excuse for not being well. Why does Jesus have to ask this man if he wants to be made whole, and what’s with the excuses? Why does Jesus ask this man if he wishes to get well? And why does the man not give a simple “Yes” in response? Instead, the man seeks to defend his “system” for failing to provide him with healing. He blames this failure on others, since no one will help him into the pool, and others beat him to it. I think we have to investigate the system of healing to better understand what’s going on here. The deal was the man was in an Asclepion. What on earth is that? I am sure you are asking. Starting around 350 BC, the cult of Asclepius became increasingly popular. Asclepius was a hero and god of medicine in ancient Greek religion and mythology. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia (“Hygiene”, the goddess/personification of health, cleanliness, and sanitation), Iaso (the goddess of recuperation from illness), Aceso (the goddess of the healing process), Aglæa (the goddess of beauty, splendor, glory, magnificence, and adornment), and Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy). The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, remains a symbol of medicine today. Those physicians and attendants who served this god were known as the Therapeutae of Asclepius (as in therapy or therapeutic). Pilgrims flocked to asclepieia to be healed. They slept overnight and reported their dreams to a priest the following day. He prescribed a cure, often a visit to the baths or a gymnasium. Since snakes were sacred to Asclepius, they were often used in healing rituals. Non-venomous snakes were left to crawl on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. At this pool, the water would “be troubled” in some way and then you had to be the first in. To be true to the text, there would be a very large group of sick and hurting people gathered at the pool of Bethesda. Every one of them would be hopelessly incurable. Nothing more could be done for them. All they could do is beg, and hope and pray for a miracle. How eager all of them would be to believe the stories they heard about miraculous healings at this pool, even if they had never actually seen anyone healed. Can you imagine the pushing, shoving, and tripping that takes place as every ailing person desperately strives to be the first into the water? It is sad to imagine the sick crawling, hopping, rolling, clawing their way to the water’s edge. Think of the chaos. And then, even if one person was healed, it would not be the most needy person, because the one with the smallest ailment would be the most likely one to reach the pool first. So the man gets his heart’s desire. He’s cured and able to walk away without a thank you or a how-do-you-do or anything. Then in the verses afterward he tries to avoid difficulties with the authorities by blaming the one who has healed him; he did not even find out Jesus’ name and once he finds out he reports Jesus to the authorities. All the people under the portico and he picks this guy. Jesus then warns the man and exhorts him to stay away from sin. I think that this man’s sin may have been related to his way of seeking deliverance from his illness. He sought the help of false gods. Oftentimes, when we are suffering, we are often tempted to do almost anything to find relief. For example, some turn to drugs, alcohol or other diversions to “ease the pain”. This man may have known that his “cure” is pure superstition, and that God did not approve of it, and may be why the man seems almost defensive as he seeks to explain to Jesus why his method didn’t work. This is why Jesus pressed him as to whether he really wants to be healed. What we do see though that we can hear and share with others is a beautiful example of God’s grace. This gift is unearned, God’s undeserved goodness. Because it is grace, and cannot be earned, it must be given. That is, grace is not bestowed upon anyone because of who they are or what they have done or how righteous their actions are, or how quick they can react. Grace is not given to those who are worthy and withheld from the unworthy. We are always unworthy of the grace God bestows upon us. Knowing what we know, who of us would have selected this fellow to be healed, rather than some other individual? Jesus heals this man, knowing him as well as he knows us. He knows this man’s sin, which he persists in practicing up to the moment of his healing and beyond. Jesus knows this man will turn him into the authorities, who are determined to kill Him. This man is the recipient of God’s grace, not because of who he is, but because of Jesus’ love and kindness. This is the love and the gift that we have to share with this world, with the famous who may have the Gold medal but are left alone and wanting, the bereaved, the sick, the homeless our friends and as Jesus has shown us, our betrayers and enemies. Amen.