Week 6 – John 5:1-17
In some ways this passage is about the disabled man, and in some ways it isn’t. Certainly Jesus had compassion on this man, whose four decades of disability had surely beaten him down. For some reason Jesus singled him out from the crowds of disabled people, all of whom desperately desired some sort of healing. But simultaneously Jesus was sending a message through this man, a message that would ultimately fuel the plot for Jesus’ death.
Now, depending on what Bible you’re using you may or may not have John 5:4 (it also may be in brackets or in a footnote). The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of John don’t include verse 4; most likely a scribe added it sometime later to help explain this story (whether this addition was based on real knowledge about the pool or was simply a fabrication, we can’t be sure). Here’s a great article about textual variants like John 5:4 and the reliability of the New Testament. Other than this, the healing of the man is quite straightforward; Jesus asks the man if he wants to be healed, the man explains his dilemma, Jesus tells the man to get up, and he does.
For some context though, the passage starts with Jesus heading up to Jerusalem, and every time he goes there he’s met with some sort of opposition. This time the struggle is brief, with just a few people questioning Jesus’ actions, but we see in verses 16 and 18 that this opposition was certainly mounting. One of the sources of this tension was Jesus’ defying of Sabbath traditions. Now, if you go back and read Exodus 20:8-11, you’ll see the command to keep the Sabbath has no mention of picking up beds. This prohibition on bed-carrying was based on an extrapolation of that command; Pharisaical teaching had elaborated on “do no work” by specifying in minute details how to define “work.” While they originally did this out of a commitment to keep the law in it’s entirety, this rule keeping eventually devolved into nitpicky social norms.
Which, notice what the Jews (likely some ruling officials) actually took issue with; they said, “it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.”(v.10) They didn’t have any issue with the man’s healing, but with his “working.” Also note that, when they should have rejoiced that this man was miraculously healed, all they had for him was, “Stop that!” When Jesus specifically told the man to take up his bed and walk, he was inviting the judgmental attention of the officials to try to make a point, which he voices in v.17: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” His mention of work is an intentional affront on the concerns of the ruling officials. This story is much like the healing Jesus worked on the Sabbath in Matthew 12:9-14, in which he said it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Jesus was pointedly denouncing the wrongful assumptions Jewish teachers had made about the Sabbath and exposing the lack of compassion they produced in the community. We can take a helpful warning from this: religious legalism doesn’t yield compassion, and thus it is contrary to the work of Jesus in our lives.
About a year ago Vintage collectively sponsored 650 kids in Brazil through Compassion International. If you haven’t done so recently, consider doing a check in with the folks in your group who sponsored a child. How has letter writing been going? How are the kids doing? Take some time to pray for the kids we’ve sponsored in Codó and Fortaleza, Brazil, that they would grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus.(1 Peter 3:8)
Questions for Discussion
• Could someone read John 5:1-17?
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• What do you think this experience was like for the man?
• What’s the big deal about the Sabbath in this passage? Why do you think Jesus chose to heal this man on the Sabbath?
• What can we learn from the tension in this passage between compassion and legalism?
• How can this passage teach us to love like Jesus loves? (Eph. 5:1-2)