Do you want to be made well?

With cancer in his middle-aged body and the prospect of lifespan shortened, Doug Brewer joined a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2014 while health permitted. Near the start of the Via Dolorosa—the traditional “way of suffering” where Jesus carried his cross through Jerusalem—Doug and fellow pilgrims visited ruins of Bethzatha (Bethesda) Pool. A man who had been sick for thirty-eight years once lay beside that pool until Jesus asked, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6)

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At Bethzatha Pool, fellow pilgrims surround Doug Brewer with love and prayers. Others in the picture (clockwise starting with woman in black close to the camera) are Mary Lou Farmer, Hortensia Unternaher, Ruby (local tour guide), Shana Peachey Boshart, Roger Farmer, Martha Yoder, Randy Dalke, Karen Dalke, Helen Lindstrom, and David Boshart (leading the prayer).

Bethzatha Pool was known in ancient times as a place of healing. Some New Testament manuscripts say that “an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well.” The man sick for thirty-eight years must have been paralyzed. “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up,” he said to Jesus. “While I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”

Having others in church or society step ahead of them sometimes happens to persons with illness or physical challenges. “I have no one to put me into the pool” is another way of saying my community ignores me. In some faith communities, those with chronic illness feel judged as lacking faith or willpower, or even as having sin in their lives.

The man at Bethzatha Pool did not have a sustaining community. No one helped him into the water, and religious watchdogs were quick to bark when miraculously and wonderfully he was able to rise and carry his mat—but in violation of strict Sabbath rules (5:10).

Warm hands and heartfelt prayers

Someone in our pilgrim band at Bethzatha Pool asked Doug if he wanted prayer for healing. Soon we surrounded him with warm hands and heartfelt petition to God. No one presumed personal powers to cure; all of us entrusted Doug’s health to a loving Creator.

Two years later I inquired by email about Doug’s well-being. Turns out he was at death’s door in the interval, but survived. “By God’s grace and many prayers, I’m back to normal and feeling really good,” he wrote. “My cancer level has been at 0 for the past several months, so I’m not on any chemo at the moment.”

Praise God! A loving family and community walked with Doug through his own Via Dolorosa. Faith, divine power, and modern medicine converged to restore Doug. We do well to view all healing as a gift from God, without needing to distinguish between miraculous and natural recovery. We also do well to accept that sometimes, even with faith abundant and excellent medical care, we or persons we love remain ill or die.

The author of Sirach (a book the early church considered canonical), writing about 200 BC, gives counsel still good for us today: “When you are ill . . . pray to the Lord, and he will heal you. . . Then give the physician his place, for the Lord created him . . . There may come a time when recovery lies in the hands of physicians, for they too pray to the Lord that he grant them success in diagnosis and in healing” (Sirach 38:9-14).

© 2016  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************IMG_0425

Thanks to Doug Brewer for reviewing this blog and giving me permission to publish. For a fascinating article on prayer and healing in an unlikely source, see “Mind over matter,” National Geographic, December 2016, pp. 30–55.

In 2018 I plan to lead a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour for people with hiking boots, accessible to non-athletes like myself. Tentative dates are May 15-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum, and possibly hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls (yes, you can circumnavigate the Old City on top of the walls), trace the Triumphal Entry route, and more. Interested? Please be in touch with me and/or with www.TourMagination.com

Whirlwind of betrayal and peacemaking

The whirlwind appeared so suddenly, and came so swiftly toward us on the dusty road at Tel Dothan, that I scarcely had time to take the lens cap off my camera. Then the little twister was upon us, blinding our view and rattling the car. Was the spirit of Elisha—who once famously lodged at Dothan—getting playful with us? After all, Elisha’s prophetic career began when a whirlwind swooped his mentor Elijah to heaven (2 Kings 2)!

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Beyond the whirlwind are hills surrounding Dothan that Elisha saw filled with the army of the Lord.

Two fellow pilgrims and I had approached Dothan with an Israeli driver we hired to take us to biblical sites in the West Bank that once were part of ancient Samaria. Dothan today is a sizable tel—an archeological mound where multiple city ruins are layered on top of each other.

Betrayal happened here when the lad Joseph, sent sixty miles from Hebron by his father Jacob, found his brothers tending sheep at Dothan (Genesis 37). Jealous of Joseph’s favored spot in their parents’ hearts, the brothers contemplated killing Joseph. Instead, they sold him to slave traders bound for Egypt.

Reconciling imagination

Dothan appears again in the Bible in a peacemaking story. Israel is at war with Aram (Syria), and the Israelites repeatedly scoop Aramaean military intelligence. Assuming there is an informer in his ranks, the king of Aram angrily demands, “Who among us [is the traitor who] sides with the king of Israel?” (2 Kings 6:11).

One of his officers explains what is happening: Elisha of Israel has prophetic gifts that grant him foreknowledge of Aramaean troop movements. Determined to capture the pesky prophet, the king of Aram sends an army at night to surround the city of Dothan where Elisha is staying. In the morning Elisha’s servant sees that the city is besieged, and is terrified.

“O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see,” Elisha prays. Suddenly the servant has spiritual sight to see that surrounding hills are full of Yahweh’s horses and chariots of fire. The army of the Lord will protect Elisha and his servant!

Elisha asks God to strike the Arameans blind. When the enemy no longer can see, Elisha goes out and mischievously offers to “bring you to the man whom you seek.” The blind Arameans follow Elisha ten miles to Samaria, capital of Israel, where their eyes are opened and they see they are trapped. “Shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” gloats the king of Israel.

“No!” answers Elisha. “Set food and water before them . . . and let them go to their master.” So the king of Israel prepares a great feast for the enemy, then sends them packing—and the Aramaeans “no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.”

Justice concerns at modern Dothan

In the biblical narrative, betrayal and reconciliation swirl around Tel Dothan like a whirlwind. This storied spot could use some reconciliation today. A much-contested Jewish settlement nearby, deemed illegal by Palestinians and much of the international community, announced plans in 2016 to double in size. Houses adjacent to the historic tel now stand empty because of the continuing tension.

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Tel Dothan

Our Israeli driver, fearing we could be mistaken as the other either by Palestinians or by Jewish settlers, did not want to linger at Tel Dothan. The whirlwind that engulfed us as we left Dothan seemed an apt metaphor of the continuing conflict. God grant this beautiful land something of Elisha’s reconciling imagination!

© 2016  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************IMG_0425

In 2018 I plan to lead a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour for people with hiking boots, accessible to non-athletes like myself. Tentative dates are May 15-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum, and possibly hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls (yes, you can circumnavigate the Old City on top of the walls), trace the Triumphal Entry route, and more. Interested? Please be in touch with me and/or with www.TourMagination.com