By Angela T. Khabeb

“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?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.”
(John 5:2–9)

In John’s Gospel we learn about a man with severe physical limitations. He is lying by the pool of Bethesda in hopes of being healed. At the pool of Bethesda, an angel of the Lord would come down at a certain season and would “trouble the waters.” And whoever made it into the waters first would be healed.

Great news, right?

That is unless you are the second, sixth, or 28th to get to the water.

Jesus finds this man and asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” The man explains that he wants to be healed but due to limited mobility, he cannot get to the water quickly enough. Jesus tells the man to “Take up your bed and walk.” The man obeys and is healed… but on the Sabbath.

This story is about how only a few who could get to the pool first would be healed. Jesus intervenes to bring healing to a man who had been waiting for 38 years. Jesus’ actions put his own life in jeopardy–healing on the Sabbath angers the religious leaders and they want Jesus to pay with his life. Troubled waters indeed!

My husband Benhi was baptized in his home country, Namibia. Namibia is a country in southern Africa and when Benhi was baptized, Namibia was under Apartheid rule. Benhi was baptized as an infant in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia. But his parents were forced to give him the “Christian” name–James. The same was true for each of his 12 siblings. They all were forced to take “Christian” names: Amanda, Douglas, Evelyn, Jeffery and Sylvia, etc. These names are not “Christian.” These names are Eurocentric.

This is an example of God’s gift of baptism being controlled by a system that is unjust. People were forced to abandon their culture and language in the name of the very God who created them. But the good news for us today is that the ground is level at the font. Baptism is God’s gift to humanity. All are equal regardless of race or nationality. It is a second birth that is open to all.

In Titus 3:3–7, Paul gives us a wonderful illustration of what happens to us in our baptism:

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray… But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water (washing) of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

In this passage, we learn that through baptism, we are washed and regenerated. I heard a preacher once who said that through baptism we are given a new DNA, that we are regeneerated, at least in the spiritual sense. Although we are both saint and sinner, the power of the Holy Spirit living in us points our feet to the path of active hope. It is the Holy Spirit’s power that enables us to live into a life that is alive to God in Jesus Christ.

Paul also provides vivid baptismal imagery in his letter to the Romans. We encounter baptism as being buried with Christ.

“Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3–11)

Through baptism, we are a new creation. We are heirs of the marvelous treasure of eternal life. The Holy Spirit’s cleansing power begins the work of sanctification in us. Through Spirit-filled lives, we become shining lights for others who are journeying with us. The Triune God is fully present in our lives. Our baptismal identity means that we are claimed by God and marked with the cross of Christ forever!

Discussion questions:

1. The waters of baptism have been referred to as “storied waters.” What’s your baptismal story? How does your baptismal identity influence your daily life?

2. Some people use daily routines such as bathing to remember their baptism. What are other ways we can remember our gift of baptism? (Try to think beyond our usual worship settings.)

3. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We are baptized into God’s family as children of God. But we are also baptized into God’s kingdom as ministers of the royal priesthood. What are some ways our identity as Children of God can lead us into active ministry? How can we share our identity as God’s children with others?

The Rev. Angela T. Khabeb is a pastor on staff at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minn. She has an amazing husband, Benhi and three spectacular children, Konami, Khenna and Khonni.