I said that our Lord, at the beginning of his ministry, stayed most of the time near the Lake of Galilee. But the great days came as the year went round,—the great days of the church,—when all who could get away from home made a journey to the temple. So our Lord went also to pray in the great church which they called the house of God. And one day there was a feast of the Jews, and all the roads to Jerusalem were filled with pilgrims on their way to church, and Jesus and his disciples went up with them.
The temple stood on a rocky hill, looking out over all the country round. At the foot of the hill there was a spring, and a little stream of cold water running out of it. They had a sheep market by the side of the stream, for the sheep were thirsty after being driven in over dusty roads out of the country. There was always a flock of them with their noses in the water drinking, and there were men buying and selling. But besides the shepherds and the men who were buying sheep, there were always other people who were there, not for that business, but for medicine. Amongst the shepherds, and the butchers, and the priests who were getting lambs for the sacrifices at the temple, were sick folks in great numbers, some of them blind, some of them lame, who had come to bathe in the spring.
The water bubbled up out of the ground in a great pool. And beside the pool was a porch with five arches. And the sick people lay on blankets in the porch waiting for the moving of the water. For this was a strange pool. Sometimes the water lay so still that the sick folks could use it for a looking-glass and could see their thin and anxious faces in it—all but the blind ones. But presently there would be a great commotion in the water, as if somebody were blowing it with the breath of a giant, or were stirring it with a huge stick. And some people thought that this was caused by an angel going down into the clear pool. And as soon as this happened, the sick people scrambled down as best they could into the water, and the sickest were helped down by their friends. The idea was that whoever got in first would be made whole of whatsoever disease he had. It must have been a strange sight, that crowd of miserable people limping and crawling and rolling down into the pool.
Now one day our Lord came by, and he was very sorry, for his heart was always full of compassion for those who were in trouble. It made him sad, too, to see them struggling so one against another, each trying to be the first and to get the blessing for himself. So he stopped and looked. And there among the crowd he saw one man who had been sick longer than the others. He had had an infirmity thirty and eight years; he had hardly had a well day since he was a boy. There he lay close by the pool, waiting for the angel, but waiting always in vain; for when the spring began to stir somebody else always got in before him. When Jesus saw him lie there, and knew that he had been now a long time in that condition, he said to him, "Do you wish to get well?" To get well! That was what the man desired with all his heart, though he had almost ceased to hope. So he answered, "Sir, I am a poor man and I have no friends. When the water is beginning to stir, I have no man to put me into the pool; but while I am coming, another steps down before me." Then our Lord said, "Arise, take up thy bed and walk."
And immediately the man started to get up. That shows that he had great faith in our Lord. He had never seen him before; probably he had never even heard of him; but he saw him now and heard his voice, and he believed in him with all his heart. Some men would have said, "Why, I can't do that. You don't know how sick I am. I have been lame all my life, almost forty years. I can't get up." But this man tried. When Jesus told him to get up, he tried to do it. And when he tried, God gave him strength. So he took up his bed and walked.
But it happened that that day was the sabbath. You remember that the people had made themselves a great many rules about it. The commandments said that nobody should work on that day, meaning that there should be a good holiday every week, and that all people, especially those who worked very hard, should have a rest. But the ministers had been so anxious that the day should be a rest day that they had tried to keep the people from doing anything at all. They had spoiled the beautiful day. One of their rules was that it was wrong to carry anything during the sabbath. So when they saw this man, with his glad face, leaping up and down as he walked, first on one leg and then on the other to make sure that they were both sound and strong, and carrying his bed rolled up in a bundle under his arm, they stopped him. They said, "It is the sabbath day; it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed." He answered them, "I have been a sick man, lying on my bed for eight and thirty years, and today I have been cured at the pool of the angel. He that made me whole, the same said unto me, 'Take up thy bed and walk.' " Then they asked him in an angry voice, "What man is that which said unto thee, 'Take up thy bed and walk?' " They did not think at all what a good and wonderful and blessed thing it was that this poor neighbor of theirs had been made well. All that they thought of was that one of their little rules had been broken. They were angry with the man for being healed, and with our Lord for having healed him.
All this seems very strange to us, though there are still people who care more for their own way than they do for the bodies or even for the souls of their fellow-men. Such persons made many a complaint during our Lord's ministry, for he went straight on doing good deeds, no matter what day of the week it was. One sabbath day he was in a synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand, and they watched him whether he would heal him on the sabbath day, that they might accuse him. And he called the man to come and stand up where all could see him. So there he stood, the poor man with his useless arm. "Now," he said, "say what is in your hearts. Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days?" And they said never a word. And he looked around upon them all with deep indignation, being grieved because their hearts were so hard that they thought of their rules rather than of the need of the man. And he said to the man, "Stretch forth thine hand." And he stretched it out; and his hand was restored whole as the other.
But the man who came from the pool of the angel did not know who our Lord was; so when they said, "Who told you to carry your bed on the sabbath day?" he could not answer; for our Lord had gone away through the crowd. Afterwards Jesus found the man in the temple, and said unto him, "Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee;" meaning that sin is worse than sickness, and that disease of the soul is a worse thing than disease of the body. But the Jews not only hated our Lord for what he had done, but from that day forth they sought to kill him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.