Journey to Israel - Pool of Bethesda and St Anne's Church

We had arrived in Israel on a Sunday. It was now Thursday morning. Our day had started with a visit to The Western Wall and a tour of the tunnel beneath it. Next, we walked down a narrow street to the Pool of Bethesda.

The pool complex is merely a small, walled off area in the middle of bustling Jerusalem. The ancient pool is now dry.

The Pool of Bethesda in the Bible

Centuries ago the blind, sick, and lame camped out at this pool hoping for healing. At times, the water would bubble. The people attributed this phenomenon to an angel stirring the waters. They believed the next one to enter the pool would be healed.

The Bible tells the story of a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. He lay at this pool daily hoping for healing. But no one was ever around to help him into the pool at the opportune time. On the rare occasion of the stirring of the waters, he always missed his chance to be healed.

One day Jesus visited this site and greeted the paralyzed man. “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked him.

Instead of answering the question directly, the man explained his predicament to Jesus.

Requiring no further response, Jesus commanded him, “Take up your bed and walk.”

Imagine the joy on the man’s face as he leaped up, grabbed his mat, and skipped away! (See John 5:2-9)

The Pool of Bethesda Today

Instead of peering into water, our eyes rested on grass and weeds growing on the pool bottom.

Steps led down the path into the depths of the pool and onward to the ruins of a Roman temple. I was surprised at how far the path went. Did we have time to explore it? And would I have the energy to ascend the steps after reaching the bottom?

As I pondered these questions, Mika directed us back up to street level. Further exploration of the pool complex would have to wait for our next Israel trip. Looking up, I noticed the church that stood fifty feet above us. We joined the group and entered the building.

Inside St Anne’s Church

Although we had been the only group exploring the Pool of Bethesda, the church was full of tour groups from all around the world. An Irish priest greeted us and encouraged us to have a seat.

A choir assembled on stone steps at the front of the church. Mika asked our “singers” to get ready—it would be our turn next.

I listened as the music resonated throughout the sanctuary. A slow song would work best with the acoustics. As our growing group of singers walked to the front, I pulled up lyrics for “What a Beautiful Name” on my phone. Together, we sang the first two verses.

The sound from those steps was amazing. It was as if we all had microphones. The music echoed and reverberated. What a heavenly experience!

As the last strains died away, we quietly crept back to our seats as another group prepared to sing. The priest who had greeted us earlier beckoned us to join him at the back of the church. There he spoke to our group.

He explained that St. Anne’s Church commemorates Mary’s mother, Anne. Imagine the role she must have played in preparing Mary to be the mother of the Messiah! The statue behind the priest depicts St. Anne teaching Mary from a scroll. Like many Christian homeschool moms of today, she took the words of Deuteronomy seriously:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…” Deuteronomy 6:4-7

It is reasonable to assume that she raised her daughter to understand God’s Word and seek to honor and please the Lord. This godly upbringing prepared Mary to answer “yes” when presented with the amazing opportunity and challenge of raising Jesus.

St Anne’s Church was amazing. Music constantly filled the air. As soon as one group finished singing, another took their place on those steps. The priests here have an amazing work environment, surrounded by beautiful sounds of worship all day long.

It was time for us to move on. We headed outside into the sunshine to explore more of Jerusalem. Next, we would visit the City of David.