Guests: Paul Dybdahl and Bruce Johanson
Relevant Passages John 5
Putting the Past Behind You. Today’s lesson takes us to the story of the man whom Jesus healed at the Pool of Bethesda, a man who had been sick for 38 years. Tradition suggests that the angels would occasionally “trouble” the water; the first one into the water would then be healed. If true, such an approach would mean that those most in need of healing would always be left out in favor of those who were more able-bodied.
In the context of the Gospel of John, the story stands in stark contrast with the narrative just preceding it, the healing of the royal official’s son. The official had undertaken a significant journey (16 miles) in order to track down Jesus. Yet Jesus questioned his faith in such a way as to suggest that half-hearted faith would leave the anguished father short of his desire. Finally, Jesus did declare that his son would live. The following questions pick up the startling and contrasting elements represented by the story of the man healed at the Pool of Bethesda.
- A Sabbath miracle. Jesus performed a number of miracles on Sabbath, apparently intent on showing that the day was intended to be a blessing, not a burden. Mark 2:27-28 bluntly states that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. But note the two additional features which make this miracle so startling:
- Chronic disease, not an emergency. Jewish law allowed for emergencies to be addressed on Sabbath. But Jesus chose to heal a man who had already spent nearly 2000 sabbaths in pain and illness (38 x 52 = 1976). Why did Jesus wait until the Sabbath?
- Commanded to carry his bed. Numbers 15:32-36 records the sobering story of the man who was stoned to death at God’s command simply for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. Here Jesus actually commands a man to pick up sticks (so to speak) and carry them on the Sabbath. Yet this is the same Jesus who declares at the end of his monologue to the stunned Jewish onlookers: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” (John 5:46-47). Why the contrast between the Old Testament and the New Testament in this respect?
- Only one person healed, and that after 38 years. Could this be a mark against a gracious God, a God who would only heal one from among the many suffering, and that one, a man who had to wait 38 years? Why couldn’t Jesus be a bit more generous with his healing skills?
- No faith required. In contrast with the royal official who had his faith tested, Jesus caught this man totally by surprise and healed him without any evidence of faith whatsoever. Why such a stark contrast?
- Do not sin any more (John 5:14). At its worst, this story could confirm the popular sentiment that suffering is a direct result of sin, a view which Jesus actively sought to counteract by healing the man born blind (see John 9). But the official Sabbath School study guide points to another intriguing aspect of this story: “The form of the word translated ‘sinning’ is extremely continuous. Jesus commands the man to stop something that he had been continuously doing, right up to the time of this encounter in the temple.” In short, given his lack of physical capabilities, his “sin” must have been in his mind, “his thoughts, his attitudes, his imagination.” Can one stop such sinning on command?
- Confronting authority. This miracle resulted in a confrontation which put Jesus’ life at risk. Could Jesus or should Jesus have been more careful? Of course, as the monologue in 5:19-47 makes clear, Jesus’ confrontation with the authorities involved claims which no follower of Jesus would ever be tempted to make, that is, claims of being in a special relationship with his Father, claims of divinity. But to what extent is Jesus’ relationship with tradition and authority a model for those who follow him, even if they never make the bold claims that Jesus made for himself?