Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (part 1)

READINGS
John 5:1-18 (Concordant Literal Version)
After these things there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up into Jerusalem.” Now there is, in Jerusalem, at the sheep gate, a pool, which is termed, in Hebrew, “Bethesda,having five porticos.” In these were laid down a multitude of the infirm, blind, lame, withered, waiting for the stirring of the water.” (For a messenger of the Lord at a certain season bathed in the pool and disturbed the water. He, then, who first steps in after the disturbing of the water, became sound of whatsoever disease he was held.)” Now a certain man was there having been in his infirmity thirty-eight years. Jesus, perceiving this one lying down, and knowing that he has already spent much time, is saying to him, “Do you want to become sound? The infirm man answered Him, “Lord, I have no man that, whenever the water may be disturbed, should be casting me into the pool. Now in the time in which I am coming another is descending before me.” Jesus is saying to him, “Rouse and pick up your pallet and walk!” And immediately the man became sound, and he was roused and picks up his pallet and walked. Now it was a sabbath on that day.” The Jews, then, said to him who has been cured, “It is a sabbath, and it is not allowed you to pick up your pallet!” Yet he answered them, “He Who makes me sound, that One said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.'” They ask him then, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk’? Now he who is healed had not perceived Who He is, for Jesus evades him, a throng being in the place.” After these things Jesus is finding him in the sanctuary, and said to him, “Lo! you have become sound. By no means longer be sinning, lest something worse may be coming to you.” And the man, then, came away and informs the Jews that Jesus is the One Who makes him sound.” And therefore the Jews persecuted Jesus and sought to kill Him, for He did these things on a sabbath.” Yet Jesus answers them, “My Father is working hitherto, and I am working.” Therefore, then, the Jews sought the more to kill Him, for He not only annulled the sabbath, but said His own Father also is God, making Himself equal to God.”

Arcana Coelestia 3820
The fact that affections for external truth are weak so far as the understanding of [truth] is concerned, or what amounts to the same, so far as people governed by those affections are concerned, becomes clear from external – that is, general – ideas which have not yet been filled in with their particular details. They are feeble and shaky ideas, which so to speak allow themselves to be carried along by every puff of wind, that is, to be won over to every opinion. But when those same ideas have been filled in with their particular details they emerge as firm and steadfast ideas, for they then possess…essence and form…[3] Take [this] example. Those governed by external truths know no more than the general truth that the neighbour ought to be loved. They as a consequence believe that every individual is the neighbour in the same degree, and so every individual ought to be embraced with the same love. Believing this, they allow themselves to be misguided. Those however who are governed by internal truths know which degree of the neighbour each person belongs to and that any one person is the neighbour in a different degree from another. Consequently they are aware of countless things which those governed by external truths do not know. They do not therefore allow themselves to be led astray by the mere name of neighbour, or to do what is evil by performing that good which the name alone persuades them to do. …From [this] …it is evident how weak [the] understanding [is when] governed by external truths alone, and that internal truths are what [gives it] essence and form, and also what determine the character of the good [within it]. Nevertheless people governed by external truths, and at the same time when in the world simple good was present in them, receive internal truths and resulting wisdom in the next life, for by virtue of that simple good they are in the right state and have the capacity to receive them.

SERMON
The spiritual sense of the Word offers teaching for the development of the human spirit, what is often referred to in the epistles as a “new man” – or new human being.  In speaking of such a “man” we speak of the need for a transformation that leads to the creation of a new mind from a heavenly or spiritual origin.  So every story in the Word has a natural meaning and a spiritual meaning.  The natural meaning is for those who are natural but the spiritual meaning is for those who are seeking to become spiritual.  Without the spiritual meaning what is called the ‘new man’ is but a ‘man’ in potential, and so in order to access the inner meaning of the Word it is for each person who looks to the Lord as their saviour to value above all things the spiritual meaning of the Word for without it we have no lamp to light the path along which we must travel if our minds to be reformed and our wills regenerated.

The stories of the healings the Lord preformed all point to inner realities or inner processes that all that would be regenerated must pass through if they are to go from being natural to becoming spiritual.  Our story today begins with ‘a feast’ specifically “a feast of the Jews.”  Feasts involve taking in food and drink and spiritual food and drink are the goods and truths found in the Word for these are given as food to support the development of heavenly affections and spiritual thoughts. The term “Jew” in the Word refers to the natural man, specifically, to a natural understanding of the Word and so refers to anyone whose understanding is caught up in the appearances of how the Word reads in its literal sense.  So this being a “feast of the Jews” tells us that we are dealing with a process that begins in the natural mind when it is looking to engage with the Word in an effort to draw spiritual sustenance from its letter.

Without the letter of the Word we have no access to its deeper things and so in this respect the letter is vital if the Lord is to be able to communicate deeper insights that relate to the application of the Word to our internal mental life.  When a person is motivated to read and engage with the Word in an effort to examine their life to discover what evils are present in it so as to have them removed through abstaining from them then the Word will open up for them.  This is what this story today is about.  And the initial state of life that leads to the opening of the Word is described as “and Jesus went up into Jerusalem.”  When we eat and drink from the Word giving attention to our spiritual life we are at a “feast” and in that eating and drinking from the Word the Lord is seen to “go up into Jerusalem” where the spiritual infirmities that afflict the mind might be revealed and the mind made whole.  For Jesus to “go up” is for goodness to begin to be experienced on a deeper level and for Jesus to go up into Jerusalem is for the Lord’s love for the salvation of the human race to be received into our grasp of the heavenly doctrines that sit within the mind for it is these heavenly teachings that are meant by Jerusalem.

We now are introduced into a few details of the setting or state of mind related to a person’s understanding of spiritual teachings; we are told that in Jerusalem there is a “sheep market” at which there is “a pool” which is called “in Hebrew, “Bethesda, having 5 porticos or porches”” All of the details are significant and provide us with insights concerning the operation of the Word in a state of the human mind involved in a struggle to move from the natural meaning of the letter into the spiritual meaning of its internal sense.

The porches are places of reception and notice that there are 5 of them.  Here we have reference to the 5 senses which receive things from the world and present them to the mind.  On a more inward plane these porches correspond to those affections of the mind that are receptive of spiritual good and truths from the Word and so are able to bring spiritual things to conscious awareness.  The number 5 points us to the fact that these things are the few remains from which the Lord is able to bring some level of recognition of what’s required to live a spiritual life into our conscious awareness.  The means by which this is made possible is the Word because the Word is furnished with every good and truth required for the salvation of the human race.  As such it can be likened to a house filled with the mercy of God, to “Bethesda,” which means “house of mercy”.  For this reason Bethesda is understood to be the Word.  We can see this in that this name is given to a “pool” and because pools in the Word correspond to a collection of truths for the purification of the mind and so represent this function of the Word itself.  The Word is a “house of mercy” because the Lord is in it and so is everything required for our spiritual life.  In the work Heaven and Hell we read that…

Divine mercy is a pure mercy toward the whole human race with the intent of saving it, and it is constant toward every individual, never withdrawing from anyone. This means that everyone who can be saved is saved. However, no one can be saved except by divine means, the means revealed by the Lord in the Word. Divine means are what we refer to as divine truths. They teach how we are to live in order to be saved. The Lord uses them to lead us to heaven and to instill heaven’s life into us. The Lord does this for everyone; but he cannot instill heaven’s life into anyone who does not refrain from evil, since evil bars the way. So to the extent that we do refrain from evil, the Lord in his divine mercy leads us by divine means, from infancy to the end of life in the world and thereafter to eternity. #522

The spiritual life consists of self-examination and repentance and it is this that is meant by practising charity.  External acts kindness towards people in the world are to be done, but we shouldn’t confuse such external works with what the Heavenly Doctrines define as charity.  Charity or loving our neighbour is to love truth and by loving truth is meant to do it, that is, to apply it to the life of our mind.  In the little work called Charity we find a clear definition of the meaning of charity so far as the practice of a spiritual form of Christianity is concerned and it is this…

The first of charity is to look to the Lord and shun evils because they are sins; this is done by repentance.  #1

Looking to the Word as the basis for self examination and repentance is the first or leading principle of charity and our willingness to do this is the gateway into the spiritual life.  In the story this is represented by what is called the “sheep gate” for “sheep” in the Word represent goodness and a “gate” a point of entry into the city.  Other authorities render “sheep gate” as “sheep market” which suggests the idea of the exchange of money for sheep which is helpful in the sense that money corresponds to truth and sheep to goods so we have the idea of exchanging truth for good or putting truths into life which is the first of charity.  To enter Jerusalem or the heavenly doctrines as a matter of life is to practise what they teach and they teach, so far as salvation is concerned, that we must compel ourselves to examine the life of our mind and to shun the evils we find there, which is what it means to repent.

Because gates and porches are points of reception found on boundaries they represent the outer areas of the mind and so those more external things of the Word that form the more external regions of the mind and in particular the body of the “new man.”  The Word is in the human form having a body, and a spirit.  The body of the Word is the letter and the natural meanings and associations this conveys to our understanding are its corporeal and sensual parts.  These are filled with fallacies drawn from believing appearances to be real.  Without a spiritual understanding of the inner meaning of the Word the mind remains bound in the sensual aspects of the letter.  These fallacies of the senses are called “a multitude of the infirm” lying in the 5 porches surrounding the pool.  Now in order to understand what’s here we need to drop any thought of a “multitude” as referring to people.  The natural mind understands by the word ‘multitude’ people, but the same word to the spiritual mind has nothing to do with people but everything to do with truths.  We see this in the following passage from the Arcana Coelestia…

2006. ‘Multitude’ means truth. This is clear from the meaning of ‘a multitude’ as truth, dealt with already in 1941, and from the meaning of ‘being multiplied’ as having reference to truth, dealt with in 43, 55, 913, 983

So what is this “infirm multitude”?  They are truths that lack power, and when we speak of truths that lack power we understand truths that are separated from goodness.  The function of truths is to bring forth goodness in life, but if we will not apply them then they can’t do that and so are described as “infirm”, or weak and without power.  The picture being painted here is a multitude of infirm truths surrounding a pool.  In the midst of these truths is what is called an “infirm man” or “human” who is unable to access the healing that available when its waters are stirred by an angel of the Lord.  This pool represents truths on a level that can cleanse and bring healing and these lie beyond the multitude of sensual and corporeal ideas and associations we are prone to that arise from our misunderstanding the letter.  We find a comment on this in the Arcana Coelestia…

That Jehovah has not any anger is evident from this, that He is love itself, good itself, and mercy itself, and anger is the opposite of this, and [so] is, an infirm principle [or truth], which cannot be imputed to God.  When anger in the Word is said of Jehovah, or the Lord, the angels do not perceive anger, but either mercy, or the removal of the evil from heaven. That anger in the Word is attributed to Jehovah or the Lord, is because it is a most general truth, that all things come from God, thus both evils and goods but this most general truth, which infants, young people, and the simple, must receive, ought afterwards to be illustrated by teaching that the intent [of teaching this general principle is] that they may learn to fear God, lest they should perish by the evils which they themselves do [and that no anger actually exists in the Lord]

From these considerations it may be manifest what the quality of the Word is in the sense of the letter, also what the quality of truth divine is in its most general sense or meaning, namely, that it is according to appearances, by reason that man is of such a quality, that what he sees and apprehends from his sensual, he believes, and what he does not see, neither apprehend from his sensual, he does not believe, thus does not receive. Hence it is, that the Word in the sense of the letter is according to those things which appear; nevertheless in its interior bosom it contains a store of genuine truths, and in its inmost bosom truth divine itself. – AC 6997.

The infirm man or human is our understanding of the Word which is said to have lain there for thirty and eight years.  Spiritually speaking numbers and years mentioned in the Word never mean numbers or years.  Numbers refer to real things or spiritual qualities while years or periods of time refer to developing states of mind related to our understanding of truth.  So here we have the number 30 and the number 8.  The meaning or qualities related to the number thirty can be seen when it is broken down into its factors between 1 and 9 which in this case are the numbers 5 and 6 (5×6=30).  Each number from 1-9 carries a specific spiritual meaning and numbers larger than these are simply intensified forms of the meaning found in the factors between 1 and 9 that make them up.

The Heavenly Doctrines provide us with the meaning of these numbers and in the case of thirty, the factor 5 relates to the presence of remains implanted by the Lord that makes spiritual life possible for a person.  So where the natural mind reads 5 the spiritual mind understands remains.  The second factor of 6 on the other hand always relates to the idea of labour; which we can see in the fact that the Lord laboured for 6 days to bring creation into being.  Again where the natural mind reads 6 the spiritual mind understands labour or spiritual work.  Five relates to the work the Lord accomplishes in us while 6 relates to the effort of self-compulsion on our part that opens the way for the Lord to stir into life what He has planted within us which we feel as a desire to be made whole.

The number 30 speaks of the fact that the Lord has provided everything out of mercy for our salvation and that we, if we are to see that realised in our life, must act as if of ourselves to engage with the Word and use its truths to reflect on the life of our minds to have its evils removed.  For it is through spiritual combat, the willingness to compel ourselves to working spiritual that those remains of good and truth implanted by the Lord are awakened in us.  This stirring within is represented in our story by an angel of the Lord stirring the waters, and the desire for wholeness is seen in the man being there waiting in the hope that he might somehow find his way into the waters at the right moment.  The number eight means what is joined (AC 9659) and so what is complete from which a new beginning is possible.  The number 38 in this case refers not to years but to a specific state of life when a person through having worked to gather truths from the letter of the Word has finally come to see that knowledge in and of itself is not able to carry them forward so that they can be made whole.  Something more is needed.  The recognition of this marks the end of one state and the beginning of a new state and this is seen in the conversation that the man has with Jesus which will look into next time.

Amen

About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
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