The lame man at the pool of Bethesda
- To show children that no-one is ‘invalid’ (ie not valid), whatever their social status or disabilities.
- To help children understand that it’s important to learn from your past.
Things you’ll need
- Small pieces of fabric (or coloured paper), enough for one for every person in the assembly. These could be ‘fringed’ at each end, if you have time, to suggest a mat.
- Small elastic bands (or short pieces of string), enough for one for each person in the assembly.
1 Talk to the children about the ‘stupid’ questions people sometimes ask. For example, ask the children to imagine they are washing the car. Someone comes along and asks, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s a stupid question, because it’s obvious what you’re doing! So you give a stupid answer (‘Peeling potatoes!’). The person who asked the question continues, ‘No, you’re not…’
2 Introduce the story in the Bible of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, explaining that in it Jesus seem to ask some ‘stupid’ questions.
3 Read or tell the story in your own words from the Bible up to the point (verse 6) where Jesus asks the man, ‘Do you want to get well?’ (The New International Version uses the word ‘invalid’.)
4 Comment that the man maybe thought to himself, ‘What a stupid question!’ After all, he couldn’t walk, but to be healed he had to somehow be first in the race to the pool! Now ask the children to think carefully whether it is a stupid question.
5 Point out that Jesus was not asking a general question to everyone. This was a personal question which was special to this man: ‘Do you want to get well?’ Comment that maybe the man didn’t really want to change. After all, he had been used to being in that place for a long time. People would give him food and drink. Maybe in a way he quite liked living like this.
Jesus’ question was perhaps not so silly as it first seems. He knew that if this man was healed, his life would change. He wanted to know if this man was serious. Did he really want to change?
6 Continue to tell or read the story from the Bible (verse 7). The man’s reply showed he was serious about being healed. He couldn’t get to the pool on his own. He needed Jesus’ help. Then Jesus said something else which sounds stupid. He told the lame man, ‘Pick up your mat and walk’ (verse 8).
7 Ask the children for their ideas about why Jesus might have said this to the man. After all, if the man had left his mat, someone else could have used it.
8 Point out that the mat was an important reminder to the man of his history, his past. If he had left it perhaps he would have forgotten what he had been like and how much he had changed. Emphasise the importance of remembering the past (eg the Cenotaph in London, or other locally well-known memorial). ‘Memorials’ help us remember important events and people. If we didn’t have them or they were knocked down, we’d forget. (Remind the children about the words on war memorials, ‘Lest we forget’.)
9 Ask the children what they think happened at the end of the story. (Answer: the man picked up his mat and walked!)
A Christian viewpoint
It’s important to remember our past. The good things and the bad things all affect our future. God can use our past to help other people.
Everyone needs help. We all need to learn from our own past and other people’s experiences. None of us can look down on others as being ‘invalid’.
- Ask for several volunteers to help you give out the pieces of fabric (or coloured paper) and elastic bands (or pieces of string), one of each for everyone.
- Tell the children that this is to make a reminder for them to keep, a bit like the lame man’s mat.
- Ask them to spend a few minutes in silence looking at their ‘mat’, thinking about one thing from their past which has had a big effect on their lives. It might be something good or something which makes them sad. Now ask them to think about one good thing which they have learnt from that event or situation.
- Tell the children to roll up their ‘mat’ and fasten it with the rubber band (or piece of string), and then put it somewhere safe. Every time they look at their ‘mat’, it will be a reminder of their history and the things they have learnt from it.
- Ask the children to think of ways in which their experiences in the past could help other people.
- Ask the children to think about what they could learn from people who, at first look, might not seem to them to have much importance (eg old people, people with physical disabilities).
- Challenge the children to find out if there is a local community centre where they could help in some way (reading, talking to elderly people etc).
- Finish with a prayer, if this is appropriate:
Lord, help us to be ready to learn from other people, however unimportant they might seem to us at first. Help us to learn from our own past experiences and to be ready to use what we have learnt to help other people. Amen.