John frequently links his narrative to various Jewish feasts: the fact that on this occasion he unusually fails to give the specific name of the feast must mean that the material in this passage is not thematically linked to any particular festival as elsewhere in the gospel. We are not told why Jesus picks out this one particular invalid from the number who sit by the pool. The reference to the length of the man’s disability – 38 years – might infer that Jesus saw this man as most in need of his attention but of course this is mere speculation.
The question, “Do you want to get well” (v. 6) is sometimes taken as proof that in order for healing to be granted we need to want it but that is not the point here at all. The man’s response describing the repeated failure of his attempts to be the first to reach the pool at the stirring of the water most obviously relates to a superstitious hope in the healing properties of the pool on the occasion of what was probably a natural disturbance of the surface by a spring. Once again an individual takes what Jesus says on a purely natural level: at worst the man is being scornful as if it should be obvious to anyone that he would want to be cured and at best he is making the point that he has done all that he can to try and get healing by manoeuvring himself to the pool.
The man’s healing is reported in a very matter-of-fact way – “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked” (v. 8). Jesus commands the man to action, demonstrating his authority to heal. Elsewhere in the gospels the Pharisees challenge Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, but here it is the restored invalid who is challenged for carrying his mat that by their laws constituted work.
On seeing the healed man in the temple later, Jesus warns him, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (v. 14b) which could refer to the prospect of eternal judgment or alternatively to judgment in this life. It is possible that Jesus means that there is in this case a direct link between the condition the man has suffered and a particular area of sin in his life and that he therefore needs to be aware of the infirmity that could result in the future as a result of specific sin. It should be noted that when dealing with the man born blind later in 9:1-3 that Jesus says his condition was not the result of any wrongdoing by him or his parents, so we need to be careful not automatically attribute our sickness to personal sin. Apart from the obvious physical healing, the outcome of the man’s encounter with Jesus is not reported as resulting in any saving faith.
Once again, let’s pray for those who are not well that they may be healed but also that they may now peace and assurance that they are loved by God.
Pray: Take a plaster and write on the name of someone you know who needs to be healed. As you write, pray for them, declare healing for them in the name of Jesus Christ, and ask Holy Spirit for his presence and peace for them. Stick the plaster on yourself somewhere discrete and each time you come across it today, pray for them again, trusting in the goodness and faithfulness of God to hear and answer our prayers. Pray for the blessing and peace of God for them.
Song: I believe