[New to our exegesis of John’s Gospel? Try starting at The Beginning — see top menu for John 1:1-2].
Now that day was a Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’ ” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
Ἦν δὲ σάββατον ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ. 10 ἔλεγον οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι τῷ τεθεραπευμένῳ· Σάββατόν ἐστιν, καὶ οὐκ ἔξεστίν σοι ἆραι τὸν κράβαττον. 11 ὃς δὲ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς· Ὁ ποιήσας με ὑγιῆ ἐκεῖνός μοι εἶπεν Ἆρον τὸν κράβαττόν σου καὶ περιπάτει. 12 ἠρώτησαν οὖν αὐτόν· Τίς ἐστιν ὁ ἄνθρωπος ὁ εἰπών σοι· Ἆρον καὶ περιπάτει; 13 ὁ δὲ ἰαθεὶς οὐκ ᾔδει τίς ἐστιν, ὁ γὰρ Ἰησοῦς ἐξένευσεν ὄχλου ὄντος ἐν τῷ τόπῳ. 14 μετὰ ταῦτα εὑρίσκει αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· Ἴδε ὑγιὴς γέγονας· μηκέτι ἁμάρτανε, ἵνα μὴ χεῖρόν σοί τι γένηται. 15 ἀπῆλθεν ὁ ἄνθρωπος καὶ ἀνήγγειλεν τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ ποιήσας αὐτὸν ὑγιῆ.
Dropping a Bomb
John does this now and then: drops a literary bomb.
The miracle was already quite impressive and further evidence that where Jesus goes there is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Jesus confronts the powers of sin and darkness, for sickness was believed to be from the devil. He heals, restores, and, in the process, sneers at the Evil One.
In old Eastern Orthodox theologies, during baptisms, the congregation turns to the West and spits three times at the ground as a way of saying, “We snatched these out of the hands of the devil!”
Jesus heals and brings us into the Light, out of the darkness.
Back to the literary bomb: Now that day was a Sabbath. John didn’t start with that but ties it to the end of the healing narrative. Oh, and by the way, did I mention he did this on the most sacred day of the week when no one was supposed to work and you got in trouble if you did?
It’s right there in your bedside Mishnaic tractate Sabbath (Chapters 7 and 10): carrying empty beds is forbidden on the Sabbath!
So, the healed man obeyed Jesus and started carrying his mat and “The Jews” caught him at it. “The Jews” were, of course, not all the Jewish people present since all present were Jews! “The Jews” in John’s Gospel refers to those in the religious establishment who were out to get him. Sometimes “Germans” and “Nazis” were interchangeable words during World II, but not all Germans were Nazis and not all Nazis were in the Gestapo (the really bad Nazis!). Even more so, we shouldn’t read these words as ethnic, except for historical purposes, but as human roles: “The Jews” refers to rigid, even cruel, religious leaders — a role you can find in many religious communities.
Today’s main point: the very religious leaders whose lives orbit around faith in God could not celebrate the man’s healing. They saw two problems: this man carrying his mat on the Sabbath and, as we shall see, Jesus healing on the Sabbath, both of which constitute work expressly forbidden on the Sabbath. And they could cite chapter and verse to prove it!
This leads us to consider: do we sometimes call something God is doing evil because it doesn’t fit our narrow definition of what God should be doing?? Do our religious rules put up a roadblock for God? Worse, do we hurt rather than heal people in the name of God?
Yeah, heavy. And necessarily so!