- December 15, 2006
- By John Rutledge
BaptistWay Bible Series for December 24
Jesus stands ready to heal
• John 5:1-24
By David Wilkinson
Broadway Baptist Church, Fort Worth
As John 5 opens, Jesus is back in Jerusalem following his eventful sojourn in Samaria, and the series of personal encounters continues. As a good storyteller, John interweaves several story lines or subplots into this account.
The primary storyline is the healing of an invalid man. John describes the setting as a “pool” (the word is found only here in the New Testament) near the Sheep Gate, one of the entrances into the walled city, surrounded by “five porticoes” (v. 2). Archeologists suggest steps in the corners of the pool provided access to its waters.
Creating a scene
It must have been quite a site and sight to behold. A variety of disabled people“the blind, the lame, the paralyzed”were camped under these covered porches (v. 3). Verses 4 and 7 tell us why. Verse 4 (not included in the best early manuscripts but still alluded to in the invalid’s explanation in verse 7) may be a reference to a local legend that an angel “stirred up” the water, and the first person in after such an event would be healed of his disease or disability.
With only one winner, all other contestants were losers, and this particular man had been losing for nearly four decades, never able to beat the others to the water’s healing powers whenever the magic moment arrived. Whether he was motivated by persistence or hope or whether he was there despite cynicism and despair, we do not know. (How much hope would you have after 38 years of a debilitating and humiliating illness you were powerless to change?)
As John Chrysostom noted in the fourth century, whatever may have been the man’s motivation or attitude, at least he was there at the pool, “while we, if we have persisted for 10 days to pray for anything and have obtained it, are too slothful afterwards to employ the same zeal.”
Adding to the man’s burden, popular theology in Jesus’ day often surmised physical illness or deformity was evidence of judgment for sin (see the disciples’ question of Jesus in John 9:2). Like others who were considered “unclean” or less than whole, he likely felt the weight of spiritual judgment and suspicion, in addition to the loneliness of second-class social status.
Notably, this unnamed man did nothing to call attention to himself in Jesus’ presence. Unlike blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), he did not call out to Jesus as he passed by and plead for mercy. Instead, it is Jesus who notices him among the others and initiates the conversation.
The question Jesus asks him is striking. It is not “Do you believe?” or “Do you have faith?” but rather, “Do you want to be made well?” (v. 5). If the man had been incredulous, it would have been no surprise. The narrative not only points out he had been sick 38 years, but also that Jesus was aware he had been lying by the pool “for a long time” (v. 6).
The answer seems obvious (who wouldn’t want to be healed?), so why did Jesus bother to ask? Part of the answer may be that the healing Jesus offered first required a response on the man’s part. The miracle is not imposed. Even in the presence of the Son of God, the man must exercise the gift of free will.
Further, Jesus requires the man to pick up his own mat and walk (v. 8). In accepting Jesus’ healing, the man simultaneously gives up whatever dependence he had developed on others. From now on, he will not be getting attention by getting others to attend to him. Jesus gives him wholeness, including the ability to care for himself.
Jesus’ question also may be appropriate for the reader. We, who know our own failings and infirmities, might well ask ourselves, “Am I ready to give up my dependencies and convenient excuses in order to allow God to make me whole?” Healing may require change.
The man’s answer focuses on his understanding of why he could not be healed, implying all he was hoping for was that someone, even Jesus, might tote him to the water at the right time. He seems to view Jesus as a helper rather than a possible healer.
As John Calvin noted, the man did “what we nearly all do. He limits God’s help to his own ideas and does not dare promise himself more than he conceives in his mind.”
A story with subplots
A subplot is the conflict the healing triggers between Jesus and his religious opponents. Jesus easily could have adopted the cynical “no good deed goes unpunished” line; he gets nothing but trouble for his compassion. Immediately, the Sabbath police are on his case for “doing work” on the Sabbath in violation of strict interpretation of religious doctrine.
Worse, Jesus’ own words, suggesting he was equal to God (v. 18), provide his enemies with clear evidence for the charge of blasphemy. The conflict that ultimately leads to Jesus’ execution begins to unfold.
For their part, the Pharisees cannot rejoice in the man’s healing, blinded by the threat Jesus poses to their authority. For his part, even the healed man refuses to go out of his way to stand up for the One who healed him. “Hey, it’s not my fault” seems to be his stance, whether applied to his physical disability in verse 7 or his response to the Pharisees in verse 11 (“It’s not my fault that I’m sick,” followed by “It’s not my fault that I’m now well.”).
Finally, this chapter offers further insight into Jesus’ intimate, life-giving relationship with God whom he called Father. Twice Jesus emphasizes he can “do nothing” on his ownthat is, nothing outside the will of the Father (vv. 19 and 30). Jesus lives and ministers with an absolute dependence on his Father. In contrast to the Pharisees, who are bound to the law, Jesus is bound to God.
• What does the fact that Jesus initiated this healing encounter with an invalid man suggest to you about the grace of God in your life?
• What needs to be healed in your life and in your relationships with others and with God? What if Jesus were to ask you, “Do you want to be healed”? Is it a simple matter of “yes, please,” or could it be more complicatedand more difficultthan that? What would you be living without if you accepted Jesus’ healing?