13 May 2024

“But you cured them on 𝘴𝘒𝘣𝘣𝘒𝘡𝘩.”

John 5.8-16, Luke 13.10-17.

So Jesus goes to Jerusalem and cures some guy at a pool. I’ll quote the pertinent part:

John 5.8-9 KWL
8 Jesus tells him, “Get up.
Pick up your bed and walk.”
9 At once the person becomes whole.
He picks up his bed and walks.
It’s the sabbath on that day.

In case you missed it, the last line of verse 9 points out that day was sabbath. That’d be Saturday, the seventh day of the week; the day on which the LORD told Israel he wanted ’em to not work. There’s a whole command about it:

Deuteronomy 5.12-14 KJV
12 Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. 13 Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: 14 but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. 15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.

Everybody got that? No worky. Not you, nor your kids, nor your employees, nor your animals, nor “shabbos goys”—which is what certain American Jews call their gentile friends who do things for ’em on sabbath so they won’t break the command. They might think having their gentile neighbor pick up a pizza for ’em isn’t suborning a commandment violation. But it totally is.

Pharisees got mighty specific about what constitutes rest. The Mishna has a whole section, or tractate, called ShabbΓ‘t. It’s all about what you can and can’t do on sabbath. There are 39 specific Pharisee rules about what not to do. No planting, plowing, reaping, gathering, threshing, winnowing, etc. Picking up your bed broke the 39th rule: No moving something from one significant place to another.

Yet here was this guy, carrying his bed. Because Jesus, who cured him, told him to do it.

John 5.10-13 KWL
10 So the Judeans are telling the cured person, “It’s sabbath!
It’s not right for you to pick up your bed.”
11 The cured person answers them, “He who makes me whole—
that person tells me, ‘Pick up your bed and walk.’ ”
12 They question him, “Who is the person
who tells you, ‘Pick it up and walk’?”
13 The cured person didn’t know who Jesus is,
for Jesus slipped into the crowd in that place.

Pharisee priorities.

I don’t know how devout this newly-healed man was. I’m betting he would have been, but wasn’t given the opportunity. Y’see, Pharisees tended to be prejudiced against sick people. The presumption was they were sick because they deserved it; they had offended God, or sinned, or otherwise merited their illness. Clearly they ignored Job, in which Job was struck with boils though he’d done nothing wrong. And ignored Ecclesiastes, which says most of the stuff which happens in our world means nothing. But hey, when you’re a big fan of karma, you tend to downplay scriptures which tell you it’s rubbish.

So because Pharisees shunned the sick, it meant you wouldn’t see sick people in synagogue. This guy had been suffering for 38 years, Jn 5.5 and it’s likely he hadn’t been to synagogue in any of that time. Instead, on sabbath, he was at the pool. Somebody brought him there, or he dragged himself there; either way that was work. Funny how the Judeans didn’t object to that. Instead they objected to him carrying his bedroll out of the pool area.

You’d think they’d appreciate the story of God curing the sick! But a lot of ’em shared the attitude of this one particular synagogue president who rebuked people for coming to synagogue for Jesus to cure ’em.

Luke 13.10-17 KWL
10 Jesus is teaching in one of the synagogues on sabbath,
11 and look: A woman who has a spirit of weakness,
bent over for 18 years,
unable to unbend completely.
12 Looking at her, Jesus calls and tells her, “Ma’am,
you’ve been completely unloosed from your weakness!”
13 Jesus lays hands on her,
and she’s instantly straightened,
and she’s glorifying God.
14 In reply, the synagogue president,
outraged that Jesus cured on sabbath, tells the crowd this:
“There are six days in which you have to work;
so on those, come to be cured!
Not on the day of sabbath!”
15 In reply to the synagogue president, the Master says,
“Each of you hypocrites unlooses your ox on sabbath,
or unlooses your donkey from the manger
and leads it away to get it a drink, don’t you?
16 This is a daughter of Abraham,
whom Satan bound for—look!—18 years.
Yet it’s not right to unloose from these bonds
on the day of sabbath?”
17 Once Jesus says these things,
all his opposition are ashamed,
and all the crowd rejoices
at all the glorious works of his.

The guy at the pool was suffering from a weakness; this woman was suffering from a spirit of weakness. Same word-root. Different results: His legs couldn’t hold him up, and her back couldn’t straighten out. Jesus cured ’em both. On sabbath.

And both times, Pharisees had a cow. The synagogue president (who’d be Pharisee, ’cause synagogues are Pharisee organizations) couldn’t bring himself to rebuke Jesus for performing a miracle, so he went after the people, and told ’em not to seek miraculous cures on sabbath; there are six other days of the week for that.

Because Christians aren’t all that familiar with what the Law actually teaches, we frequently claim Jesus totally broke sabbath—that Judeans and Pharisees were actually right to criticize him for doing good works on a rest day. These Christians also teach Jesus was right to break the Law; after all, he was gonna abolish it anyway. (Contrary to what Jesus himself teaches.)

If you bother to read the Law (and I recommend it), you’ll find there’s no biblical command which forbids curing the sick on sabbath. If you read the Mishna too, you’ll find there’s no Pharisee custom forbidding it either! Of the 39 actions Pharisees forbade, not one of them says “No curing the sick.” In order to condemn Jesus, Pharisees had to stretch the meaning of some of the forbidden sabbath behaviors, and claim Jesus violated the custom, “No finishing a job” (i.e. the job of God making someone whole), and “No loosing” (i.e. freeing someone of illness). Yet like Jesus pointed out right here, Pharisees loosed their animals every day, including on sabbath, to take ’em to water. Lk 13.15

Jesus never violates the Law. Ever. Breaks customs all the time, but not commands—because if he broke commands, he’d be a sinner, and he’s not. He’d be unable to die for the sins of the world; he’d only be able to die for his own. Claiming Jesus broke the Law, significantly misunderstands what Jesus does.

Jesus breaks sabbath customs. Frequently! But he makes a point that he never breaks sabbath. More than once in the gospels, Jesus reminds us it doesn’t break sabbath to do good deeds for others. Mk 3.4 Even the most rigid of Pharisees did good deeds on sabbath, especially in case of emergency. Lk 14.5 How much better of a deed was it to cure the sick? Come on; how is it ever a sin to be benevolent?

But if you’re overly fixated on the idea of doing no work whatsoever—so much so, you’re rebuking people for doing good deeds—you’ve lost your way. As Jesus points out when he straight-up calls the synagogue president, and all the people who objected to him curing the sick, as hypocrites. They do good deeds on sabbath—for their farm animals. Well, isn’t a daughter of Abraham far more important than a farm animal?

Back to the cured guy of John 5. The Judeans go after him for carrying his bedroll on sabbath. And because he wants to get in good with these guys, and go back to synagogue, and start going to temple again, he accepts their rebuke… and, in typical cowardly fashion, tries to shift the blame to his healer. “Well the guy who cured me told me to pick up my bed.”

But he couldn’t identify the guy who cured him. Jesus had ghosted him. Slipped into the larger crowd. So the cured man couldn’t pick out Jesus from anyone else.

Other bible translations go with St. John Chrysostom’s interpretation that Jesus vanished—somehow he’d supernaturally made himself disappear. I don’t know why Jesus would need to do any such thing. Me, I figure he was off curing other sick people. There were lots of sick people at that pool! Why would he only cure one guy?

In fact a lot of people point this out about the story of the guy at the pool: “Why’d Jesus cure that one guy, but no one else?” Good question! But who says Jesus cured no one else? You realize the gospel of John only tells selective stories about Jesus; John fully admits he didn’t include all of ’em, because there’s not room. Jn 21.25 I see no reason why Jesus wasn’t busily going through every single person at the pool, asking them as well, “Wanna become whole?” Jn 5.6

Why not? It’d be just like him.

“Go and sin no more.”

Jesus eventually catches up with this guy in temple. Clearly he’d ritually cleansed himself so he could enter the temple grounds; had more than likely brought God a thanksgiving offering; had possibly brought a sin offering so he could make up for all the years he hadn’t been able to go to temple. Regardless, he’s in temple. Good for him.

That’s where he once again comes face to face with his healer.

John 5.14 KWL
After these events Jesus finds him in temple.
He tells him, “Look! You became whole.
Sin no longer,
lest certain worse things might happen to you.”

Well that’s ominous. And as a result, generations of commentators have assumed, “Oh so that’s why he was unwell in the first place. He sinned. Otherwise why would Jesus tell him to quit sinning lest worse things come?”

They kinda miss the fact Jesus had cured this guy regardless of any sins he might’ve committed. He didn’t order the man to repent before he cured him; he simply cured him. It was only later, after he runs into the guy at temple, that Jesus brings up repentance. The cure had no connection to sin and repentance. And the warning, really, had no connection to being cured.

The same’s true of our salvation. Jesus doesn’t offer to save us once we’re good—once we repent, clean up our act, put away our sins, and make ourselves all nice for him. He accepts us as the sinners we are. He cleans us up. Then after he’s saved us, he tells us to go and sin no more. It’s not a prerequisite. We’re saved by grace alone.

Funny how people remember that’s true of salvation, but miss the fact it’s just as true of Jesus curing people.

Probably because they’re too hung up on how the cured man immediately went to the Judeans and told ’em, “Oh, Jesus is the one who got me to break sabbath.” Which he actually didn’t say. Read the bible again: The guy testified that Jesus cured him.

John 5.15-16 KWL
15 The person goes away and announces to the Judeans
that Jesus is the one who makes him whole.
16 This is why the Judeans are persecuting Jesus:
He’s doing these things on sabbath.

Again, let’s not be too hard on the cured guy. Some folks suffer for 38 years and come out the other end with all sorts of noble, strong character. Others haven’t learned a thing. This guy may have been in the second group. He was weak in spirit; let’s be gracious to the weak.

Just like Jesus is. Jesus wasn’t giving him a threat: “Listen sinner, didn’t you learn your lesson the first time?” That’s not who Jesus is. Jesus is all about grace. We need to see that as his motivation for warning the guy. “Don’t get yourself hurt again!”