New life abounds. Today’s reading shows a form of resurrection. There are two encounters between Christ and the paralysed man, the healing at the pool and the encounter in the Temple, and two aspects to the new life he experienced, thankfulness and answering the call. But, let us be clear, this is an example of resurrection. The man’s life was transformed, renewed and dramatically changed. Resurrection is not confined to physical death. New life is available to us all, day by day.
Ritual bathing is still practised in Orthodox Judaism. This particular cleansing pool was (and is, since it was fairly recently rediscovered) near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. It is where lambs were washed before being sacrificed in the Temple. Healing was granted to the first person to get into the water after an angel had disturbed it. As with some modern medical resources, access to healing was seriously restricted. To be first in needed some help and this man had no one to help him. He had been on the “waiting list” for 38 years!
The gospel shows Christ’s power over illness, sin, the Sabbath and the Law. It also raises other issues concerning the grace of God. Washing is something we equate with baptism and that particular form of healing is achieved in water; not animated by an angel but blessed by the Holy Spirit Himself. It is available to all who ask. We ought not to be keeping that saving grace for a particular few but for all who want it. We should do our best to reveal it. That means, for instance, be prepared to talk about it in pubs, in trains, at work and in supermarkets. Next, this man had waited for what would have been a lifetime for many in those days. God waits for the right time to meet a need and deal with other personal issues, so we need to be patient. “Lord grant me patience - but hurry!”
We need to listen carefully to Christ: “Do you want to be healed?” This hits a great paradox in the Christian life. God can do anything yet he gives us free will. Christ asks the question and if we answer “yes” then healing will follow. After all those years the man was now prepared to receive his healing. There were many that day who were not healed. Perhaps they did not want it. This man did. Perhaps he was desperate and so God came to him in Christ and his suffering was over.
God’s action in our lives demands that WE do something. It is in that beautiful word, “synergy,” - working together. It demands our action no less than His. Our will must be attempting to move in the right direction. We must be prepared to be helped. Our prayer must be real. Christ told the man to do something; to take up his bed and walk, thus bearing witness to his healing. He did just that. He carried his bed. This, of course, was a breach of the strict Sabbath law. We are told in the next chapter that this breaking of the Sabbath led to the planning of Christ’s death. However, for Christ, healing transcends the demands of the Sabbath. The Jewish leaders seemed to be more interested in the breach of the law rather than the healing. This is the sort of mentality that will moan about a person’s way of doing a job instead of rejoicing in the fact that it is done. Beware, then, the next time you criticise others! There is sometimes the need to be unconventional and to take a different approach. Are you with the Healer or the keepers of the letter of the law?
The man who is healed now does something right. He gives thanks. Without knowing much more than the fact that he is healed, he thanks God. We in turn need to be thankful for all our blessings. Then Jesus says that he is to sin no more. We may perhaps infer that this illness was caused by sin. The words Christ uses, “lest worse befall you” suggests this. I find, however, the notion that all illness results from sin is both repulsive and without support in the Scriptures. It is a perverse idea. Some illness does follow from wrong actions but certainly not all. Yet, the critical point here is that Christ can, did and does, break the hold of sin. It is revealed in the gospel here in physical terms. It is also revealed in our lives. Sometimes the scars remain and temptations still exert their pull, but in Christ we are, if we cooperate, free from such bondage.
The paralysed man simply and truthfully thanked God and bore witness to what Jesus had done for him. May we do the same.