John 5:9-15 – A Healing on the Sabbath

Since the man is carrying his mat on the Sabbath, some Jewish officials point out that he is breaking the Sabbath. This healing takes place during a feast of the Jews, on a Sabbath day. That Jesus would heal on the Sabbath is well known from synoptic. On the few occasions when Jesus takes the initiative in a healing, it is generally on the Sabbath (see also Mark 3: 1-6; Luke 13: 10-17; 14: 1-6).

Jesus heals at Bethesda

Jesus could have easily have waited to heal the man after the Sabbath was over – the fact that He does not suggests strongly that Jesus is making some sort of a declaration by healing on the Sabbath. One of the reasons John tells us the man was an invalid for 38 years is that Jesus could have waited a few hours until sundown and then healed the man.

We have no way of knowing where the man went, but since the Pool is in the on the  north end of the Temple Mount he likely came into the city where some of the Jews told him he was violating the Sabbath by carrying the mat.

The man does not know who Jesus was, but “blames” him for his breach of the Sabbath. The man may have assumed that Jesus was a religious authority since he healed him. There are other rabbis who were reputed to have been healers although nothing on the scale of Jesus. The man does not believe in Jesus as the official did in John 4. If he believed at all it was a very superficial and thin belief. He only knows that he has been healed and does not care how or why

The Jews, on the other hand, encounter a miraculous healing and are more interesting in the implications of what Jesus’ actions and words mean. Jesus is claiming to be far more than a healer in this action!

There were a number of things which were exempt from work on the Sabbath. In m.Sabb 18.3 and 19:2-3 there is a brief discussion of things various rabbis allowed as exceptions to the “no work” rule. In fact, most rabbis tried to make Sabbath rules which could be kept and permit the enjoyment of the day.

m.Sabb. 18:3 They do not deliver the young of cattle on the festival, but they help out. And they do deliver the young of a woman on the Sabbath. They call a midwife for her from a distant place, and they violate the Sabbath on her [the woman in childbirth’s] account. And they tie the umbilical cord. R. Yose says “Also: They cut it.” And all things required for circumcision do they perform on the Sabbath.

m.Sabb 19:2-3 They do prepare all that is needed for circumcision on the Sabbath: they (1) cut [the mark of circumcision], (2) tear, (3) suck [out of the wound]. And they put on it a poultice and cummin. If one did not pound it on the eve of the Sabbath, he chews it in his teeth and puts it on. If one did not mix wine and oil on the eve of the Sabbath, let this be put on by itself and that by itself. And they do not make a bandage in the first instance. But they wrap a rag around [the wound of the circumcision]. If one did not prepare [the necessary rag] on the eve of the Sabbath, he wraps [the rag] around his finger and brings it, and even from a different courtyard. 19:3 They wash off the infant, both before the circumcision and after the circumcision, and they sprinkle him, by hand but not with a utensil. R. Eleazar B. Azaraiah says, “They wash the infant on the third day after circumcision [even if it] coincides with the Sabbath, “since it says, And it came to pass on the third day when they were sore (Gen. 34:25).” [If the sexual traits of the infant are a matter of] doubt, of [if the infant] bears the sexual traits of both sexes, they do not violate the Sabbath on his account. And R. Judah permits in the care of an infant bearing the traits of both sexes.

It is possible the Jews who see the man carrying the mat think that Jesus has “made an exception” for him, in which case Jesus is setting himself up as an authority who can give rulings on how the Law ought to be kept.

Should we think of the healed man’s attitude is as strange? Rather than give credit to Jesus for healing him, he does not even know Jesus’ name and seems to shift the blame for breaking the Sabbath to Jesus. Is this man an example of “faith that is going nowhere” (Köstenberger, John, 182)? Or is the man afraid of what might happen to him if he opening breaks the Sabbath by carrying his mat? On the other hand, this is less about the faith of the healed man than Jesus’s relationship with the Pharisees and their traditions concerning the Sabbath.

10 thoughts on “John 5:9-15 – A Healing on the Sabbath

  1. It seems that the man’s actions to his healing on the Sabbath reflect that he is more scared of what the Pharisees might do rather than what Jesus did. With Jesus being an unknown man to him and the Pharisees are known as those who hold the law, the man would rather have Jesus take the blame for him carrying his mat rather than face possible punishment. However, Jesus is making a point when he heals the lame man. As God incarnate, he has authority over the Pharisees and what they say about the law of the Sabbath. Kostenbeger puts it like this, “The one who created the Sabbath has authority over it; he determines its purpose, its use, and its limitations.” (Kostenbeger, 81). As mentioned in this post, if there were a few things that the Jews allowed to overrule the law of the Sabbath, then the healing of the lame man was Jesus’s unspoken statement of “I am the lawmaker”. In his healing of the lame man, he never sinned as stated in passages like 1 Peter 2:21-22 and Hebrews 4:15, but was redefining the core of the law that the Pharisees had set in place. Luke 6:9 raises the question of doing good or keeping the Sabbath and shows that a good action that will bring others closer to God is better than an action that may be harmful but keeps to the Sabbath.

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  2. I don’t think the healed man’s attitude was strange at all because as discussed in class high ranked Jewish leaders could make exemptions on how the law is to be obeyed (P.Long). The man could of been under the impression that Jesus was an authority figure in the church. That being said the man could of believed he was actually following one of the exemptions created by a Jewish authoritative figure. According to Kostenberger Jews had made exceptions to what they deemed justified in the eyes of God and circumcision was one of them (Kostenberger, 97). It was Jewish tradition that a boy be circumcised on the eighth day and if that day landed on the Sabbath it was justified to follow through with traditions. So when the man got questioned he gave the Jewish authorities an expression that someone from the inside told him it was OK to walk around with his mat. His behavior demonstrated a sense of knowledge towards the oral commands of Jewish leaders and uses Jesus as leverage to back up his actions. However, his faith was completely detached from the miracle Jesus performed on him. The man did not acknowledge Jesus’s miracle but instead was focused on proving his case to the Jewish authorities.

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  3. The man’s attitude throughout the whole process is very queer. First, he seems to have never heard of Jesus (John 5:13). He was too focused on his own problems that he did not even stop to ask who it was that was helping him. Other examples of Jesus healing show people coming to Jesus with great faith. He seems to not follow this general description. Second, the man had given up hope and was frustrated that no one would help him when the pool would stir. The consensus was that when the pool is stirred, the first person in the pool would be healed (ESV commentary). When Jesus comes over, he seems to be in a not so pleasant state. Then it is not strange that after Jesus heals him, that he would blame Jesus for not following sabbath laws. What is definitely strange is that he is not overjoyed to have finally gotten his miracle.
    Later on, when Jesus meets with him again, He tells the man that he is well and should sin no more because something worse could happen to him (John 5:14). Jesus seems to be saying that his illness was due to sin, and he must repent. Here, the man finds out who it was that healed him and took that information to the Jews who used it to persecute Jesus further (John 5:16). When we look at it this way, it makes us wonder why Jesus, knowing what would happen, would have healed a man who would not glorify him but instead put blame on him.
    The man does not seem to have a very positive relationship with the religious teachers since he does not respond nicely to Jesus even though he believed that Jesus was just one of them. It is entirely possible that the man is scared of the consequences of disobeying the law as he is finally able to join society and partake in everyday activities as a normal man.
    However, he was most likely already marginalized for most of his life due to his inability, so it is hard to know exactly what he is afraid of. It is possible that now he wants to get back to society and in order to do so, he must impress those who make and enforce the laws.
    I believe that Jesus was mostly trying to make a point and used this man to do so. He knew that the Jews had added a lot of other burdensome rules “about what kind of ‘work’ was prohibited, including a code that forbade carrying an object ‘from one domain into another’ (Mishnah, Shabbat 7.2)” (ESV Commentary, p. 2031). Jesus does not dispute whether or not he broke the sabbath or if he worked. He agrees with them and explains that he did. He explains that His father is still working and so He is too. This statement is made to show that Jesus is Lord over the sabbath which is a claim that He is God (ESV Commentary).

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  4. I thought that it was interesting that the phrase “Jesus takes the initiative” is used to introduce this healing here. I think that this concept is something that we do not first think about when we look at this story. Jesus lived a life of example for us to be able to follow. The fact that the religious leaders of the day were not ones to set examples, but rather wanted to be praised for their good works, really shows the different mindset that God wants us to have. The world has a lot of views and beliefs that go against what the Bible says, but we are called to be the ones to make the change, or make a difference, even when others who would not agree are watching. Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind so that you may prove that the will of God is good, and pleasing, and perfect.”
    Another thing that has always bothered me about this story was that the man who was healed does not seem to have any interest in who Jesus is or how he was healed. Granted I am sure it would be an incredible experience, but would he really have no questions? I would have so many questions, and to think that he just walked away and into town, which is what he was told to do, but why did he not even ask Jesus for His name? It is the Jews who know the law and think that there has been an exception that start to ask the questions. Jesus is breaking the barrier between the law and the grace that He has to offer.

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  5. The healing on the Sabbath was a huge point of tension between Jesus and the Jewish officials. The Jewish leaders strict following of the Law and the statutes set around it blinded them to what Jesus was doing. Any work on the Sabbath was strictly prohibited, with very few exceptions to what did not count as work. Jesus says that “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). Kostenberger says this statement “defends himself against the following two charges: he is a sabbath-breaker, and he is blaspheming” (Kostenberger, 81). Jesus does what the Father does, because he has seen the Father do it. This invokes the idea of apprenticeship and working under a father to learn a trade. God is the creator of the Sabbath and “the one who created the Sabbath has authority over it; he determines its purpose, its use, and its limitations” (Kostenberger 81). Because God created the Sabbath, he decides what can be done, and Jesus does as the Father wishes. And since he only does as the Father wants, he is able to do these things because the Father wants it. So Jesus’ defense is that he is equal to God, and as such, he can heal on the Sabbath.

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  6. Now that I think about it, I find it strange that the man did not even bother to ask his healer who he was. It seems that the man was not thankful for the healing. He simply got up and walked away from Jesus. You would think you would at least say thank you if you were the man. It is strange because the man seems a little desperate to be healed considering he has been an invalid for 38 years, but once he is healed, he just leaves and does not care that someone had healed him and goes on to live his life. It is also interesting that the Jewish people and leaders only care that the man who had not been able to walk for 38 years (!!) was carrying his mat on the Sabbath, never mind the fact that this man is walking somehow. The leaders are so focused on making sure all people follow sabbath rules that they completely miss the sign/miracle that Jesus had performed. They simply grill Jesus about why he was doing work on the sabbath and making this man carry his mat on the sabbath. However, Jesus has the ultimate comeback and says that he has authority over them when it comes to the Sabbath because he has come from the father and “The one who created the Sabbath has authority over it”. (Köstenberger, 81) This makes the pharisees mad because he is claiming to have a direct relationship with God or to be God.

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  7. I think the man’s attitude is very strange, because he not only was healed by a man he didn’t know but also ‘blamed’ Him for the breach of the Sabbath. I don’t know about anyone else but for one I’d never take healing from someone I didn’t know or if I didn’t know what kind of power they were using to heal me. It is weird he just went along with what Jesus said, though he did not even know him; the man was thankful in the moment and didn’t know how to react so Jesus gave him commands. After a while longer when the man is caught by religious leaders carrying his mat on the sabbath he blames Jesus for what was done. Which is also weird, a man who has been a complete invalid for 38 years, they didn’t bother to ask how he was healed, or what he must have felt, the only thing they cared about was why he was disobeying the law and who told him to do such an act. I feel as though like P. Long may have a point in being correct when he said this might have been a man who was scared to admit he was openly breaking the Sabbath; there were unimaginable things done to people for breaking the laws so out of fear the man starts blaming Christ. But, if he fully understood the healing powers of God, and what Christ intended by his healing I don’t think he would have any problem with admitting that he was openly braking the Sabbath. Like Kostenberger said in Encountering John ” The one who created the Sabbath has authority over it.” (81), if the man had faith above all of this he would know that Jesus would have full reign over the situation.

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  8. We shouldn’t focus on the mans attitude too much. Clearly he was responding as anyone who would fear the power of the officials. The healed man knows the law, and the law speaks as to what can clearly be done on the Sabbath. i feel as if the man is only acting out what he knows. I think he is very afraid of what would happen to him if people found out he was healed on the Sabbath. Just knowing the story, and knowing that the officials went to his parents due to their unbelief, were questioning them. Obviously we know that the officials were very much interested in taking someone down. I don’t think we need to even think of this man and his faith, I think the reason Jesus did this was to put Glory to God (Kostenberger, 103). “Neither this man, nor his parents sinned”, when referring to his blindness, God caused this to bring about future glory through this man. Now although the officials were very upset with the working on the Sabbath, they had to believe in the sign that had just been done through Jesus. The man picked up his mat, and left. I honestly believe he was acting out fear for the officials, instead of fear for the one who just healed him. You’d think, if he has the power to cure you of blindness, wouldn’t he be able to just do something bad as well? This man acts in a weird manner, because I would be much more afraid of someone I didn’t know, healing people and having such power.

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  9. Wow it is crazy to me the rules about the Sabbath that one had to follow. I never knew about that people were not allowed to help a woman give birth on the Sabbath, but they had to call a midwife. This is so crazy to think about today how serious they were about keeping the Sabbath. Today, we do not see that much honor, but rather our rest is focused mostly on ourselves- watching TV, taking naps, eating food and so on, instead of our rest being about the Lord. While these things are not bad and are good for us to take part in, it is also a treasure to truly rest with the Lord.
    When we see in the story about the man picking up his mat and walking, we see how the Jews- God’s chosen people, cursed the man for doing so. How often do we curse others for picking up their mats in ways that we would not. How often do we look down upon people for obeying God, but we see it as disrespectful?

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  10. First of all, I love how Jesus knows that He is head over all, and He is the one that has written thees laws, and He knows that He has written these rules so that people will remember the sabbath, and keep it holy to remember God and all that He has done for them. God did not create the sabbath so people could un around telling people who broke the sabbath that they were sinning. we need to remember that man was not created for the sabbath, but rather the Sabbath was created by man. when I read stories like this I think of old tv show Little House on the Prarie, and I think of the episode where the paw was working three jobs. the sawmill, the farm, and he got a job stacking wheat. he was so tired by the end of the week that he could not get up to go to church, so the mom and the three daughters went without him. on the way home from church the mom and the girls saw that dad out in the field, the mom then goes out to the field to greet the dad who is dripping in sweat from working so hard. The mom the procides to ell at the father, because he was working on the sabbath, just like the Pharisees, did to Jesus. the dad then interrupts and says I know God wants me to rest on the sabbath, and im sorry but I think God understands the sabbath, and God understands me, and God also understands farmers. this was such a cool moment, and it reminds me very much of this story where everyone is mad at Jesus but in reality, Jesus is helping the man.

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