This is the beginning of the Sabbath controversies for our consideration.John 5:1-15
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One Reply to “Jesus heals an invalid on the Sabbath”
John, chapter 5, highlights the controversy that Jesus boldly throws in the faces of the Jewish leaders at that time. This section frames the discussion with healing a man on the Sabbath, but a usual, there are several lines of thought to consider as we work through this text.
First, the interaction between Jesus and the invalid, a man who had been lame for 38 years. One interesting part of this story is the man doesn’t know Jesus and doesn’t ask to be healed by him. The man thinks that the waters of the pool will provide all the healing he needs. John doesn’t give us much insight into the thought process, so I don’t know if Jesus saw something in this man that was revealing, something the man didn’t even know himself, when he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” The man’s reply clearly indicates he doesn’t know what Jesus is about to do. After 38 years of lying down, the man’s legs would have had no strength at all and I’m pretty sure there was not home healthcare system visiting him for physical therapy. When Jesus said “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk,” the man must have felt a surge of strength enter his legs–boom! “At once the man was cured.” You better believe he picked up his mat and walked out! No Jewish law or thought about what day of the week–the excitement would be too much to contain.
It’s not until “later” that Jesus sees the man at the temple (a testimony all by itself) and confronts him with another controversial command, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” I’m inclined to believe the man heard this command and complied, he was, after all, at the temple when Jesus found him. But this invites us to consider: is there a relationship between sin and suffering? Was the man’s sin the reason for his condition? If so, can we extrapolate that thought and conclude that sin results in suffering? Or is this an inappropriate line of deductive reasoning? These questions are difficult to process and can only be answered by a complete understanding of the full gospel. It would be a tragedy to pick one verse as the centerpiece of a sin/suffering doctrine. It’s simply more complex than that. I think it is wise to read the story and appreciate exactly what happened in favor of this man at this time while looking at the surrounding text where John is focused on teaching about the Sabbath and the incredible lack of perspective of Jewish leaders at that time.
Looking at the incident itself is intriguing. Jesus heals the man who has not expressed any faith (or knowledge) in God, let alone Jesus as the Messiah. Then Jesus associates sin with his condition. From these two statements we learn that faith is not required for healing and it is possible that infirmities can result in sinful actions. Both of these concepts are steeped in theological controversy. Since I’m not a great scholar, I’m going to provide a rather simplistic conclusion regarding the man and Jesus’ gracious healing: Don’t put Jesus in a box. Don’t create rules that limit his authority or attempt to put everything into some neat little cause and effect, Newtonian physics paradigm. This didn’t work well for Job and it won’t work well for us. Further, I believe this chapter is more about Jesus’ authority as Lord of the Sabbath and King of Kings than it is about a man who was healed.
The Jewish leaders in this story reveal their true nature by being so focused on their rules that they either didn’t recognize the man or simply weren’t listening to his story. I find it hard to believe these leaders didn’t know the man or his story–they would have certainly known who he was. Their reaction, the demand that this man must not carry his mat on the Sabbath, is one of the principal reasons that Jesus is so upset with the Jewish leadership.
This interaction begs us to review how we do church, how we preach and teach, how we live our lives; it demands introspective insight as we find ourselves comfortable in our own little worlds. Jesus is not bound by such limitations, but it’s so easy for us to fall into the trap of rules and procedures that make us comfortable. Advancing the kingdom for Christ has never been about being comfortable as a priority. Sure, God provides and gives us stuff to make life enjoyable, I really think he finds pleasure seeing us thrive, but that’s not the same as endorsing comfort over Christ.
Lord, I hope and pray that I’m not like the Jewish leaders in this story, yet I’m confident at times this depicts my actions precisely. Forgive me for these times and please grow me in your direction. Please give me proper perspective and increase my awareness of your perfect plan in this world, no matter how controversial it seems. Keep me far from Camp Conformity while at the same time let me be compassionate rather than so confrontational that people don’t listen.