Do you want to be healed?

Today’s Gospel reading was John 5.1-15, the story of the paralytic healed at the Probatica pools. I noticed some interesting things while listening to this passage today. First, here’s the full passage (from the Greek Orthodox lectionary text):

At that time, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water; whoever stepped in first after the troubling of the water was healed of whatever disease he had. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.

Now that day was the sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.’ “They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.

There is a movement here in three acts, all leading toward the greater glory of God. First, the Lord asks the paralytic, “Do you want to be healed?” The paralytic doesn’t simply say, “Yes!” Rather, he thinks he understands what must be done for himself to be healed. God knows better: “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” There is the first act.

In the second act, we find some of the Jews more focused on their reading of the Law than on the mercy of God in healing. They don’t rejoice that the paralytic man is walking, praising God. Rather, they harass him for carrying his pallet on the Sabbath. He replies, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.'” And what do they reply? “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” Not “Who is the man who healed you?” But neither did the man know who it was who healed him. There is the second act.

The third act occurs some time later, and elsewhere, in the great Temple in Jerusalem. Note that the paralytic man has gone to the Temple, very likely one of the most joyous days of his life, being able to walk through those beautiful gates and marvel at the magnificent buildings after thirty-eight years of paralysis. Jesus finds him there. Note that. The Lord finds him there, and then he says to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” What a thing to hear, from the very man who healed him! It sounds almost like a threat, really. But this too is a kind of healing, a teaching about spiritual sickness that the Lord is warning the man of. And so the man learns, probably from those also in the Temple, that it was Jesus who healed him. He then lets those Jews who’d earlier harassed him know that the man they thought was a lawbreaker, encouraging others to sin (though he really only didn’t follow the rules these particular Jews were making), was the man who healed him, and that man was the very popular prophet Jesus. Yet again, God knows better.

In each of these three acts, human expectations are overturned. Jesus’ unexpected actions and replies showed to these ancients, and through this written description to many others including ourselves, that God has other ways than the human ones: ways of healing, ways of determining good and evil, ways of teaching. Aside from the knowledge that we learn here that God both literally physically heals and wants us to be spiritually healthy, we learn that our expectations for how these things take place are very likely to be wrong.

Do you want to be healed?

Just say, “Yes, Lord.”

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