John 5: 1 – 15 The healing at the pool
Before starting to look in detail at the story, let me explain that the NIV translation that I am using relegates verse 4 to a footnote, saying “Some manuscripts include here, wholly or in part, paralysed – and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.” This explanation helps the story make more sense.
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralysed.
St John paints us a detailed picture of the scene, the sort of description that an advocate might give in a court of law. He tells us what the place was, what it was called, where it was and who was there.
To me, this scene feels like superstition. Why did people believe in the healing power of the stirred water? How many people were healed? How did they explain it when somebody wasn’t healed after reaching the water first?
It was, though, a good place for the disabled to spend their time. The five covered colonnades would have provided shelter from the weather, and there was plenty of company. Quite possibly – although this is conjecture – it would have been recognised as a place to go if you wished to give alms to the disabled.
One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’
Thirty-eight years! Surely this man had no real hope left? What did Jesus see in him? He must have seen something or he wouldn’t have asked the question. ‘Do you want to get well?’
‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no-one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’
This is an excuse, isn’t it? If he had really wanted to be well, he could have sat on the very edge of the pool.
Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’
Why? Why did Jesus pick this man out of all those who had been waiting there day after day?
At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
At once. No ifs or buts. The man picked up his mat and walked. Was his faith so strong? He certainly obeyed Jesus immediately and without question.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’
Keeping the Sabbath holy was one of the original ten commandments given to Moses. There were very strict limits on what a Jew could or could not do on the Sabbath. Is it surprising that Jesus told the man to break those rules? What does this tell us about his priorities?
But he replied, ‘The man who made me well said to me “Pick up your mat and walk.”’
So they asked him, ‘Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?’
The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
The man didn’t know that it was Jesus who had healed him. I suppose that there was commotion when the man was healed; at all events, Jesus had slipped away before the man had even thanked him.
The man had been healed without knowing who had healed him. He had not put his trust in the Son of God. He had not known Jesus by name as a healer before he trusted him. He had just obeyed Jesus without question.
Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’ The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
Another puzzle! There has been no mention so far that the man had some sin of which to repent, and yet Jesus is saying, ‘Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’ What are we to learn from that?
And one final conundrum; the man who has been healed goes to the Jewish authorities and, in effect, betrays Jesus to them. What a way to say thank you!
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You will have noticed my confusion over this passage. In fact, I was so confused that I read on a little further. This healing miracle is the preface to a section on Jesus’ authority. The Jewish leaders challenge Jesus fiercely, especially over his Sabbath breaking.
The story of the man’s healing is to set the scene for this, by highlighting Jesus’ deliberate flouting of the Sabbath. This doesn’t eliminate all my questions, but it does suggest that St John may not have been completely meticulous about recording all the detail of the event.
Is it conceivable that the man was only pretending to be an invalid? I’m left with the nagging feeling that this would answer some of my questions…
This is a time for me to have faith, to trust in Jesus’ love for me.
Thank you for being close to me even when I question you. Thank you that you love me.