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?’ (John 5:2-6, NRSV)

When visiting the Holy Land, it’s common to hear claims that an important event happened in a particular place.  We recognize that people of faith may commemorate an event occurring in a particular place, though it’s not always possible to verify the historicity.  The Gospel of John has long been known as the “most spiritual and least historical Gospel.”  So when one hears the claim that an event occurred in a particular place from John’s Gospel, well then one can’t help but really doubt the claim!

A noted exception is the story of Jesus healing a man in John 5—a story that has archaeological connections to St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem.  Scholars long believed this story to be 100% metaphorical.  Yet in 1871 there was a restoration at St. Anne’s Church and The White Fathers and archaeologists discovered the Sheep Pool (Beth-zatha) with a shrine to a healing god from Roman times.  Many scholars rightly question the reliability of John’s Gospel when it comes to information about the historical Jesus, but its author might have been an eyewitness to several events in the life of Jesus.  At any rate, the author certainly knew about Jerusalem and this pool where healings were said to happen because it really did exist in the first century![1]

St Anne’s Church stands above the Sheep Pool and is known for its amazing acoustics.  The White Fathers encourage anyone to sing in the sanctuary (as long as it’s a religious song!)  And when you sing in the sanctuary, it’s like an angel chorus echoing back your words.  One morning I accompanied two new friends to Mass, and even though I’m an American Protestant who was worshiping with two Australian Catholics (and the Mass itself was in French!) it was an incredibly moving experience.  In the end and should we so choose, we can stick to a more metaphorical interpretation of John 5 (even knowing that the story’s physical location was a real one during Jesus’ lifetime.)  Though the question Jesus asked that man in the story remains as important today as it was when John’s author wrote it down: “do you want to be made well?”  Where might we need healing and restoration?  And will we say yes when God offers us new life?

[1] John J. Rousseau and Rami Arav, Jesus & His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary, 155-157.

Photo by Rev. Lauren Lorincz.