“For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubles the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatever disease he had.” – John 5:4
“Wade In The Water” is a spiritual embedded with codes apart from the lyrics referencing the Christian tradition of baptism. By faith, the slaves utilized the stealthy messages in those vocal roadmaps to pave their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The phrase, “God’s gonna trouble the water,” signaled our ancestors to find a body of water and immerse themselves to mask their scent from detection by the tracking bloodhounds. The familiar line, “God’s gonna trouble the water,” is our theme from the text!
Bethesda means “the house of mercy,” the place of an occasional healing miracle for a single person. A scholar shared, “The bubbling water was moving as it were to life, and in its healing power seeming to convey new energy to the blind, paralyzed, and lame was to them as the presence of the living God. The man in this text and numerous others were convinced of some power available to them at the water’s stirring.” They gathered at the pool’s edge – waiting for renewal, looking for trouble.
Jesus was looking for trouble also. He sought to be the catalyst for change among the oppressed, paralyzed, the ostracized, the marginalized, and the stigmatized by the pool. Jesus saw the man, learned of his condition and its duration, and asked the man a question. In doing so, Jesus demonstrated for us what it means to look for trouble. Jesus saw, learned, and asked with the heart, intention, and power to replace death with life.
For this 38-year invalid and others by the pool, looking for trouble was equal to seeking wholeness. It is a position of the dissatisfied and disenfranchised. It is the bold proclamation of Fannie Lou Hamer, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Looking for trouble indicates the need to be seen, heard, and cared for toward meaningful and lasting change.
Trouble is a catalyst and can characterize “a person or thing that functions as a pivotal agent or agency. It is any entity that produces an effect or is responsible for events or results.” Implementing change requires a careful examination into the systems that oppress, which operate with partiality, corrupt integrity, and lack accountability. Making a difference means looking for trouble. Through God’s Spirit, trouble seekers fight to establish order in chaos, bring clarity to confusion, and promote healing from various states of brokenness and the dis-ease. This kind of unsteadiness is like walking with one foot on the sidewalk and the other in the gutter.
Congressman John Lewis was known to look for trouble. He encouraged generations to “get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.” Lewis’ longing for our people to be seen, considered, and our concerns appropriately addressed led him into the troubled waters of his time and ours. Harm’s way was his path during the Civil Rights Movement. Lewis was selected as a leader among groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington. Trouble called him to participate in the Nashville Student Movement. He organized bus boycotts and other nonviolent protests, engaging in “good trouble, necessary trouble” to achieve change. This was John Lewis’ life philosophy and calling.
Each move, each statement of resistance kept John Lewis in fellowship with God. His faith was ignited at an early age and sustained him throughout his life. Our national treasure John Lewis said, “Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.” As we connect with God, our possibilities are limitless!
The days of decision have dwindled. Bennett College community, let us join the ranks of citizens who have already indicated their commitment to the hope of a more just and honorable future. In the spirit of activism, which is foundational to Bennett’s existence, VOTE! VOTE reflecting Congressman Lewis during his youthful and maturing commitment to justice with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during Freedom Summer. Encourage your peers and family members to honor his memory and VOTE! Like Lewis, please use your influence and platforms to inspire your community to VOTE!
Freedom’s quest is not a singular moment. Lewis said, “Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.” Live Lewis’ legacy. Look for trouble! VOTE!
The man at the Bethesda pool was looking for trouble, as was Jesus. We look for trouble when we work to reroute the flow of the school-to-prison pipeline into open-ended opportunities. We look for trouble when we stand at the gates along destructive paths and walk with our neighbors onto avenues offering hope, progress, productivity, and joy. May the Spirit of God within us guide us as we look for trouble with the eyes of love for all humanity.
Bennett College, we thrive when we look for trouble, and our communities gain strength when its members look for trouble. In your quiet time, I invite you to reflect on these thoughts considered by fellow trouble seekers: In what circumstances have you experienced God’s troubling waters of change? How can God use you to “trouble the water” for others’ growth and enrichment? How is God calling you to respond to the trouble you see? Assuredly, one crucial and timely action is to VOTE!
By the leading of God’s Spirit, sisters and brothers, let us all engage in looking for trouble. As we await the results of the upcoming election, let us all pray for peace and healing. Amen.
Stay prayerful, careful, and civically engaged!
Natalie V. McLean ’80
John Lewis quotes from Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change