Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (part 2)

Readings
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.  John 5:1-9 Concordant Version of the New Testament

Arcana Coelestia 10400[3]
Let those who wish contemplate whether anyone at the present day has any other idea than that the actual Divine Truth of the Word resides in its literal sense. But let them also consider whether anyone can know the Divine Truths of the Word contained in that sense except with the aid of teachings drawn from that sense, and that if a person does not possess such teachings to serve as a lamp he is carried off into errors, in whatever direction the obscurity of his understanding and the delight of his will lead and take him. The teachings that must serve as a lamp are those that the internal sense provides, so that they constitute the actual internal sense. This sense is to some extent open to every person who, though he may not know what the internal sense is, has his external subject to his internal, that is, has his internal man lying open. For heaven, which is in possession of the internal sense of the Word, flows into that person when he reads the Word, brings him light, gives him discernment, and in this way teaches him. Indeed, if you are willing to believe it, a person’s internal man is of itself in possession of the internal sense of the Word since the internal man constitutes heaven in the smallest form it takes, and when that internal man lies open the person is consequently present with angels in heaven, and therefore also possesses discernment similar to theirs. This becomes additionally clear from the consideration that the interior concepts within a person’s understanding are not like his natural ones, though they are in agreement with these. What they are like however a person does not know as long as he lives in the body; but when he enters the next life he knows them automatically because they have been implanted within him, and by means of them he lives instantly in company with angels. From this it is evident that the person in whom the internal level lies open is in possession of the internal sense of the Word, though he does not know he is, and as a consequence has enlightenment when he reads the Word. But this depends on how much light he can receive by means of the cognitions or knowledge residing with him.

SERMON
Today we come to the second part of our look into the Lord’s healing of the infirm man at the pool of Bethesda. Last time we dealt with the background elements in the story and their meaning in relation to the human mind where the spiritual principles illustrated in this story are found to be a living reality that are true for every person in every age. Everything in the Word describes the Word and its operation within the human mind. Divine revelation is provided by the Lord so that we can have a better understanding of the spiritual processes involved in the reformation of our thinking so that we can acquire a new understanding and regeneration of our motivations in the formation of a new will. This new understanding and new will is the product of the Word in us, and so in that sense is really the Lord, but the nature of life from the Lord, which is pure love, is such that it will always produce in us a sense that this life we receive from the Lord is our very own. So everything in the Word is about the changes we undergo on the way to becoming a new person that is real, authentic, and that possesses integrity or wholeness of being. This is an open ended work, which means that the mode of life for us is one of ongoing transformation or an eternal expansion in our capacity to receive into ourselves celestial and spiritual realities. Paul in his 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians speaks of the transformational power of the Word when he says…

…when one turns to the Lord the veil (over the Word) is taken away [for] the Lord is the Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom [and] we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.   2Co 3:16-18

For those who adhere to the teachings for Spiritual Christianity the message here is that it is the Spirit of the Word that is its internal meaning that brings about an inner transformation within the human mind. That is only possible, “when one turns to the Lord” by which is meant when we turn to goodness, or practise charity, which we learnt last time was to apply the Word to the life of our mind using the spiritual disciplines of self examination and repentance to uncover its evils and seek to have them removed. It is when this kind of turning to the Lord is done that the veil is taken away from the Word. That veil is nothing else other than the darkened state of the understanding when it is stuck in the natural associations of the literal sense. Through application to the life of the mind and in no other way is the glory of the Lord within the Word revealed.  That glory being the internal sense or Spirit of the Lord. So it is to the Romans Paul says…

…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you might prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Rom 12:2.

In other words he is saying, move away from a natural understanding of spiritual things and embrace the processes involved in having your mind renewed so that you might be transformed and know for yourself the will of God for your life.

A natural understanding of the Word is an infirm understanding – it is one that lacks the power to bring about the necessary transformation in a person’s being so that they might become spiritual. It is an understanding trapped in the natural associations of the letter of the Word and is represented in our story today as an infirm man or more accurately an infirm human (Gk anthropos). We have now to drop any idea of an individual person in time, for this belongs to the natural understanding of the letter of the Word. Rather we need to think beyond person and to that which makes a human being truly a human being. The Heavenly Doctrines teach that there is only One True Human and that is the Lord who is the Divine Human, and that people are only human beings to the degree that the Lord is in them and they are in the Lord. The Lord is in people as goods and truths from the Word and people are in the Lord when they are consciously looking to make those goods and truths the basis for their life. They are human by virtue of the presence of the Word in them, and nothing else, for their humanness if you like is a direct reflection of the quality of their understanding of the Word. It is for this very reason that by the Word the Heavenly Doctrines mean the Lord as to His Divine Human, and by human they mean a person’s understanding of the Word. Therefore when we read “man” in the letter of the Word we need to think “doctrine” for it is divine truths lived that make a human being truly human.

So when we see that the infirm human represents an infirm understanding of the Word in general then we can see that the infirm multitude is nothing other than the various truths of the Word that make up that understanding when understood according to the sense of the letter. The Lord desires to heal our infirmity or inability to penetrate through the letter into the spirit of the Word for this is what infirmity is so far as the spiritual life is concerned. In order for Him to be able to do that there are a number of things that need to be in place. First there needs to be recognition that the Word does contain a deeper sense that is to be applied to our inner mental life. There also has to be a desire to want to pass through the multitude of infirm things into the water of the pool when it is stirred by the angel.  Such a desire can only be present when we see that our understanding of things is lacking and that our spiritual life is suffering as a result. What all this really amounts to is a desire to apply the Word to the inner life of our mind to test the quality of our thoughts and affections. If this is lacking then the Word remains a closed book.

The wish to be made whole is such a vital element to developing a genuine form of spiritual life. For it is this wish and a willingness to act on it that is represented by the man being at the pool 38 years. It is the strength of this desire that opens the way so that the presence of the Lord in the midst of this infirm understanding of the Word might be perceived. In the story this is represented by Jesus entering into a conversation with the man. What’s represented here internally is how we receive insight from the Lord concerning the state of our spiritual life. In the conversation we see represented the reasoning processes a person experiences as they are led, empowered, and enlightened, by the Word.

The question Jesus asks is,

…do you wish to be made whole Jn 5:6

The spiritual meaning of this question becomes clear when we understand that the Greek word translated “whole” figuratively means “sound in doctrine” so spiritually we can read the question as “do you wish to be sound in doctrine?”  The man’s response is so much clearer in the light of this…

The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jn 5:7

Here is the recognition that there is a lack of a man – a human that can put him into the pool when the water is stirred. The teaching is that this infirm understanding is infirm because it lacks a human or doctrinal teachings that can carry it into the pool which is the Word. From the Writings we read that…

It is well known that a church is like its doctrine, and the Word is the source of doctrine. Yet it is not doctrine which establishes a church, but the wholeness and purity of its doctrine, and consequently its understanding of the Word. But in the case of the particular church which exists in the individual, it is not doctrine which establishes and makes it, but faith and life in accordance with faith. Likewise it is not the Word which establishes and makes the particular church in the case of a person, but faith in accordance with truths, and life in accordance with the kinds of good which he draws from this source and applies to himself. (i.e. to his own will and understanding, for this is what makes a person a person) True Christian Religion 245.

There being a lack of a human capable of putting this man into the pool when the waters are stirred is like when we are stirred when we engage with the Word; we see or feel something deeper is there, something is stirring but we lack the needed understanding that can carry us into that deeper meaning from which we can be made whole.  Anyone who has genuinely approached the Word as the basis for their spiritual life knows what this experience of seeking, of being stirred, but not quite being able to grasp what’s there is.

This can be a source of frustration and discouragement, but for those who persevere there comes a time when a way opens for them.  You see the issue from the perspective of the man at the pool was that he didn’t have a man or human to carry him into it.  The frame is one of not having a good enough understanding of things – and he rightly perceived the problem as a lack of doctrinal understanding, as we too do when we yearn to understand more thinking that this will be a way forward for us.  If only I knew more, had a better grasp of doctrine and the science of correspondences then I could enter into these deeper things.  Well knowledge and an understanding of things like doctrine and the Word are important but they are not the most important thing.  You see there is a tendency to think that by “sound doctrine” is primarily meant having a comprehensive intellectual grasp of the teachings of the Church.  And if we feel we lack such a grasp of things we can find ourselves feeling paralyzed or infirm or lacking ability when trying to engage with the Word.

But what’s interesting in this story and in the conversation the Lord has with the man is that it isn’t necessary for the man to be taken to the water in order to be made whole.  What the story teaches is that the focus as far as the ‘soundness of doctrine’ is concerned isn’t on having a full intellectual grasp of everything we find in the Heavenly Doctrines, as if this were possible, but is in fact a much simpler proposition than that and it is captured in the Lord’s words…

Rise take up your pallet and walk… Jn 5:8

These words correspond to receiving an insight – Speech in the Word corresponds to thought and so here these words correspond to when an idea arises in us as a thought and specifically it is seeing that intellectual striving for purity of doctrine actually has nothing to do with obtaining ‘sound doctrine.’  The only doctrine that is sound is one that teaches charity or the application of truths to the life of the mind.  For the man to rise is for the understanding to move from a focus on the more external or intellectual aspects of faith into the deeper things of spiritual life that are grounded in love or goodness.  A pallet or bed in the Word corresponds to people’s own understanding of doctrine or truths, and so we see that all that is required of a person if they are to become whole is that they live according to the limited understanding of truths that they have in their possession already, for the man is commanded to walk which spiritually means to live.  To rise and take up your pallet and walk is to live from your current understanding of truths by applying them to the life or activity of your mind.  This is all anyone can do as far as living a spiritual life is concerned.  And it is in doing this that we are made whole or our doctrine becomes sound, for we read…

And immediately the man became sound, and he was roused and picks up his pallet and walked. Jn 5:9

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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