To read the texts click on the texts: Ezek 47:1-9; Jn 5:1-3,5-16
The miracle of the healing of the paralytic is exclusive to the Gospel of John. The story is set in Jerusalem and the miracle occurs during one of the Jewish festivals though John does not specify which one. Later in the narrative we are told that the day of the festival was also the Sabbath and this adds to the significance of both the festival and the Sabbath and thus the miracle and the controversy that follows. Festivals in John are used as a platform for a deep revelation of the person of Jesus and this festival is no exception.
John gives a detailed description of the place where the miracle was performed as if encouraging the reader to place him/herself in that place. Three kinds of invalids are mentioned: the blind, the lame and the paralyzed. These are at the pool waiting for the stirring of the water. Popular belief was that an angel was responsible for the stirring of the water and thus for the inexplicable bubbling at the surface. Of these one is singled out. He is a man who has been ill for thirty-eight years, which symbolizes that his illness is almost permanent. At this point the text does not tell us what his illness is. Jesus picks out this man and again we are not given a reason. Did he come across to Jesus as the one most in need? Was he the only one who did not have someone to help him? We are only told that Jesus “knew that he had been there a long time”. Jesus initiates the miracle by approaching the man. Yet, he does not force his healing on the man as is evident in the question that he asks him; “Do you want to be made well?” The man does not answer the question but begins his litany of complaints. He has already set limits to what he believes can be done for him. He does not expect the impossible. Jesus responds to the man’s complaints with three imperatives: “stand up, take your mat and walk”. That Jesus’ words are effective and transformative is evident in the fact that the man was made well. He obeys Jesus’ commands to the letter: “He took up his mat and walked”.
Immediately after the miracle, there is an objection on the part of “the Jews” (which here refers to the Jewish authorities who oppose Jesus and not the Jewish people in general) because the man was carrying his mat on the Sabbath and this constituted work which was not allowed on the Sabbath. The man responds that he is simply obeying what Jesus asked him to do. The Jewish leaders prefer to focus not on the fact that he had been made well, but on the one who told him to violate the Sabbath. The man cannot respond to the question of the Jewish leaders about who Jesus is, since he does not know Jesus.
At this point Jesus reenters the story and finds the man in the temple confirming that he has been made well and speaks to him about sin. He invites the man to move from the mere physical healing to spiritual healing. The man on encountering Jesus again, announces to the Jews that it was Jesus who made him well. While some see these words of the man as pointing Jesus out to the Jewish leaders, others interpret them as an announcement of the man about who Jesus is. Again the leaders refuse to focus on the positive action of the man being made well and focus instead on the violation of the Sabbath. This is why they decide to persecute him.
Two issues are brought out in this story. The first is that of illness. While we may be able to see with the eyes of our head, it is possible that we too like many of those who were at the pool may be psychologically or spiritually blind. We may not be able to see another person’s point of view and imagine sometimes that ours is the only correct viewpoint. We may also be blind to the sufferings of the numerous people around us and close ourselves in on our own small worlds. We may have the facility and use of both of our legs, but may have given in to lethargy or laziness. We may have lost the desire and drive to do what we have to do. We may be able to use all our limbs and move about freely, but may have given in to fear. We may also be carrying resentments, bitterness, anger, jealousy and even rage in our hearts because of which we are paralyzed and not able to move freely.
The second issue which the story brings out is that of law versus love. Like the Jewish leaders we are also guilty sometimes of focusing too much on the law and not enough on love. Like they were not able to focus on the man’s wholeness but only on the violation of the Sabbath, so we are sometimes prone to focus on the negatives rather than on the positive. We prefer often to give a negative interpretation to a person’s actions and words rather than a positive one.
The miracle thus calls each of us to give up the blindness of our heart and the lameness of our mind and the paralysis of our spirit and to focus on the positive of God’s unconditional healing and love made visible in Jesus.