Chapter 16: Bethesda and Chapter 17: Jericho {Jesus: A Pilgrimage}

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Welcome to our virtual book club! We’re reading Fr. James Martin’s bestseller, Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Each week we will tackle a chapter and look forward to a lively discussion together.

Jesus book conversation

Chapter 16: Bethesda

So much of this book has made me really consider that yes, maybe I do actually have a desire deep inside to go to the Holy Land. This chapter on Bethesda is the perfect example.

The Pool of Bethesda and the healings that happen there are very remote to me. Oh, I’ve known sick people, people who need healing. But…somehow this idea of sitting by a pool and just waiting has never resonated.

But when Father Martin wrote this, I couldn’t help but highlight it and my wheels started turning:

The man’s departure is a reminder that not all were called to follow Jesus in the same way. This man has met Jesus and continues on with his life, made whole, transformed to be sure, perhaps returned to hope from despair, perhaps returning to a family who had given up on his ever being healed. Perhaps his healing was the sign that enabled his family to believe. There are many ways to follow Jesus.

Here, in a chapter about a remote place I may never see, about a Gospel passage I’ve always found rather befuddling, is this two-by-four to my head.

Picture this guy. He sat by the pool, helpless. He couldn’t do anything else. His family had pretty much abandoned him. He’d been paralyzed for 38 years–that’s more than my entire life (by a matter of months, but still).

Enter Jesus, who changes the man’s life in more ways than one. There’s the obvious, the physical. Then there’s the less obvious, the internal change that must have taken place.

Because the two are intertwined. We are body and spirit.

Jesus healing on a Sabbath was a topic of scandal to some in the Jews. But that doesn’t stop him from doing it, from bending over and giving this gift.

Fr. Martin continues, later:

Jesus is asking the man, “Have you given up hope?” Jesus is asking the man if he still has faith.

God asks the same question to those of us who enjoy perfect physical health, but who may have given up in other areas. A broken marriage, a miserable work environment, and overwhelming financial difficulties can lead us to despair. We can experience a spiritual paralysis that needs to be healed. But buried deep down under the despair is hope.

Hope is like the Pool of Bethesda. For years that place was thought to be lost, then just a myth. For years it was covered by dirt and gravel and trash. Perhaps it existed once, people thought, but no more. But it was always there, waiting to be uncovered, waiting to be restored, waiting to be seen again. It took work, but it was found.

This is how God comes to us–asking if we still want healing, if we still believe, if we still have faith.

Even while we dwell in despair, God excavates our hope and asks us, “Do you want to be made whole?”

Talk about bringing it home to me! I’ll never read or hear this gospel story the same way again. I think it’s just become a favorite, actually, thanks to Fr. Martin!

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. In what ways do you live as though you have hope? How can you share this hope with others today, through some small action for them?
  2. Do you accept God’s offer to heal you? What are some ways you can open yourself to his healing touch?

Chapter 17: Jericho

Whenever I hear the word “Jericho,” some sort of muscle memory kicks in and I start dancing around (even if only in my own head) to a Sunday school song.

But wait, it’s a real place? Well, it always seemed like the stuff of fairy tales until I dug into this chapter. And Fr. Martin’s reflections on Jericho don’t necessarily lead where I was expecting them to go (with crashing walls).

In one of the passages I highlighted, I read this:

Paula Fitzgerald, a campus minister at John Carroll University in Ohio and a friend from graduate theology studies, once told me how moving she finds the words “Jesus stood still.” The Christian life is often so busy, said Paula, with its emphasis on doing and acting, that it’s important to see Jesus being still. Jesus is not so busy that he cannot notice, or be attentive to, Bartimaeus, who has something important to say. Paula likened it to two friends walking side by side when one of them suddenly says something important. The listener may stop so that she can be more attentive. It’s important to be active, but sometimes it’s essential to be still.

This goes along with my growing appreciation for silence. As someone whose mind goes 1000 miles a minute and who always has something to say, I found Eucharistic Adoration quite a challenge when our parish started it a decade or so ago. Of course I signed up (I’m a signer upper! I support things!), but then I showed up and…it was quiet, a quiet unlike anything I had really experienced before.

Oh, I love the silence of nature. But this was silence with God in a whole new way.

I’ve come to cherish that silence, and to learn to harness it in other ways, to tap into it.

And often, silence and stillness seem to go together in my world. When there’s activity, there’s noise. It’s part of my season in life as a mom with young kids. It’s also just part of how I am.

But stillness: sitting on the porch and looking out over the fields, drinking coffee on the back porch as the sun comes up, just sitting and being–these are beautiful…and a bit contrary to my nature.

Let’s take it farther, though (because Fr. Martin does):

Bartimaeus’s encounter with Jesus also highlights the importance of being honest in our relationship with God. It would be difficult for the blind man not to ask Jesus to heal him from something that had troubled him all his life, especially if he knew Jesus’s reputation as a healer. In a similar way, when we stand before God in prayer, we should feel comfortable expressing our longings. If you say only what you think you “should” say in prayer, while denying your deep desires–if you obey the crowd’s order to “be quiet”–your relationship with God might grow cold. God invites us to be honest about what we desire, even though this can be a challenge when those desires are not fulfilled. But even in those difficult times God invites us to remain in the conversation. And this includes the transparent sharing of our deep desires. God craves our honesty.

Sometimes, it’s easier to be honest in the silence and stillness. I can talk to God without being interrupted by the noise.

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. How often are you still? Spend some time, this week, in stillness. If you can, commit to doing this at least once a week for the next month. Consider, at the end of the time, how it has impacted your relationship with God.
  2. Write a letter to God, baring your heart and expressing your deepest longings. When’s the last time you’ve shared that with him?

Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week’s reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.

Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 18: Bethany and Chapter 19: Jerusalem. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Jesus Book Club page.

Copyright 2014 Sarah Reinhard

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7 Comments

  1. Sometimes just quieting my thoughts long enough to be still with God proves difficult. My multitasking mind has a will of its own. Of course, I pray. Sharing my deepest longings hasn’t happened in awhile. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Sandi Belleque on

    Our parish has adoration 24/7 for 28 years now. I’ve had a chapel hour for 19 years. Some nights I manage to pray and be still and some nights I’m up lighting a candle, straightening books, reading this or that. Sometimes it feels “profitable” sometimes not so much. We’ve added a chapel card so that you can give it to someone you’ve prayed for during your hour. That has really helped me spend the hour more focused! Many prayers answered.

  3. All of this book makes me want to visit the holy land but at the same time makes me feel like I have. I had read recently about the finding of the pool, but had no idea of the connections in Jericho. the oldest consistently lived in city in the world! how amazing it must be to see this! I agree with you that I will never read or hear any of these passages the same again because through Fr. Jim, I can “see” them. what I liked about the mix of these two chapters was that in the first one, the man by the pool, Jesus asks “Do you want to be healed” and in the second asks the blind man “what do you want me to do for you”…wow!!!!! put those two questions back to back and they are so powerful…alone powerful too, but first we need to see in our lives if we truly want ourselves to be “fixed” and then what do we want that we feel would “fix” us! so much to ponder. what I took from the stillness, is not only the stillness I need to take in prayer, but as a catechist the stillness I need to take with the children in my care….to learn to listen to them to hear what they “need” besides what it is I am trying to teach them! thank you FR. JIM!

  4. Ever since a retreat I made in 2009, the story of Bartimaeus will forever be a “classic” in my spiritual life. After reflecting on this story in that retreat, I prayed that I may “see” what God wanted me to see, and that retreat transformed my life beyond belief. I feel like I’ve experienced my own resurrection – a coming into new life. I “see” everything differently now; every homily I listen to seems to move me in new ways; much of the reading I do leaves me with marvelous insights. Father Martin’s rendition of this story brought it all back to me again.

  5. I’m on a journey, and Father Martin’s book has (all his books) helped so much. I read, listen, pray, attend Mass and listen some more. Today was my first time serving as a Eucharistic Minister; it was overwhelming. I usually have my iPod on after Mass, playing hymns etc. while I pray in front of the tabernacle. Today, after the Mass that I served, I really needed silence so I could talk to Jesus…well, thank him profusely for allowing me the opportunity to serve at Mass. I’ve learned how to be still…what a trip!

  6. “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 I think. A hard command for most of us to live up to I think. Like others have said when I began adoration in our chapel I was a little put off but I have come to cherish that time more than practically any other in a given week. To be that physical proximity to God, a thing granted to the High Priests of old on only one day a year and to no one else; that my friends is an awesome thing. I’m still learning to be still.

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