After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.”’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
Healing stories are hard. Full stop.
I appreciate and often share that the healings of Jesus are always about far more that physical healing. Healing has social, communal, emotional, global and physical aspects – all these and more. Receiving healing is also something that can take a lifetime or is discovering a way to cope with and manage the ‘illness’ in our lives.
Jim Cotter, in his wonderful book ‘Healing, more or less’ reminds us all that we are tied to each other and that I am not healed and whole whilst my brother and sister suffer. There is a very real sense in which my health is dependant on the health of all. Just as an example – how can I consider myself ‘healthy’ whilst my desire for cheap clothes leaves some working long hours for little pay?
This is clearly seen as Jesus encounters a man at Bethzatha: ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me’.
We are left with the question: what stands in the way of our healing?
But lo and behold that direct and unsettling question is not what ‘the Jews’ ask. Not, ‘what can we do to bring healing?’, ‘do we stand in the way of others healing?’ but ‘how dare you heal on the sabbath!’.
Jesus stepped in and acted where others had only stepped over or ahead of the man.
Perhaps those ‘others’ were furious with Jesus for showing them up and wrapped their anger in zealous vitriol about the sabbath rather than face the truth.
I am always tentative when discussing biblical healing – not least because I’ve faced my own share of ‘pastoral care’ and opinions over the years. This one point has stood out from the text and from my own experience – that healing is about all of us. Your reactions to me, matter. They can help me cope or they can be yet another barrier to my living in confidence and hope.
We are bound to each other and my healing depends on yours, and yours on mine.
Bind us together Lord,
With cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together in love. AMEN
The Rev’d Martin Knight is the minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon.