Do You Want to Be Well?
Like any good Christian...I grew up watching Criminal Minds, CSI, Bones, Monk…all the good, albeit sometimes disturbing, crime shows. These shows often operate with a pretty stock plot-line: there is a crime, good guys look for clues and interview witnesses, and because of how clever the good guys are they solve the case in the nick of time. Justice is served and the bad guys are caught. All in 30-60 minutes!
The more complicated shows are full of plot twists, character development, and cases that go unsolved. But in general, good guys win and bad guys get what they deserve.
Who knew that watching these crime shows would eventually serve as a baseboard for a theological exploration of this interaction between Jesus and the paralyzed man!
Before we dive in to Jesus guest starring alongside Reid from Criminal Minds, let’s first talk about the context that this story lives in, then we can start exploring the ways in which this story resembles a crime-show parody.
To put it in context, this story occurs right after Jesus heals the son of a royal official. Hearing that Jesus was in town, this regal man runs to Jesus and begs him to come and heal his dying son. Jesus ends the interaction by saying, “Go, your son will live.”
Then, and this is important, the text says that the man believed Jesus’ words and left to go back home. When he learned that his son had started to recover the very hour Jesus said his son will live, then he, along with his entire household, believed.
This story mentions “belief” three times. So, keep in mind, that is the story right before our story today. After the story about Jesus healing the paralyzed man, Jesus gives a long monologue. For a long time. Sandwiched in between the healing of the official’s son and Jesus’ monologue is the strange text that we read today.
1. Jesus heals the son of an official who begs for his help.
2. Jesus heals the paralyzed man by the pool.
3. Jesus monologues about how him and God are connected.
The story we heard read today begins with Jesus going to Jerusalem because there was the festival of the Jews going on. Jesus is on his way to the temple when he encounters a man lying by the pool. Now, this pool is not like the type of pool where you might spend your summer vacation basking in the sun.
This pool has a legendary, mystical reputation for healing those who enter the pool. Apparently an angel would appear and stir the waters and the first person to enter the pool after it has been disturbed would be healed.
The pool is North of the temple near the “sheep gate” where sheep would be led and sacrificed. Remember how we talked about Psalm 23 two Sunday’s ago and how the ending talks about the sheep spending the rest of its days at the temple? This is where they were talking about. Some commentators say that the pool was tinged red by the blood of the sheep killed. Touching, I know.
The pool was gigantic, as big as a football field and more than twenty feet deep. It was practically a lake. There were massive archways that covered the walkways surrounding the water. Like an ancient boardwalk. All of this to say, the pool was huge and it must have been quite the sight to see hundreds,maybe even thousands of people surrounding it, all of them sick, or paralyzed, or blind—all of them suffering.
This makes it all the more interesting that Jesus picked this particular man out of the crowd. It was incredibly intentional. Jesus must have waded through countless suffering humans in order to get to this man. This is the first of the many ironies about this story, especially when you compare it to the story preceding it.
In most other cases, people approached Jesus, usually begging for asking Jesus to heal a loved one. This man didn’t approach Jesus nor asked to be healed, let alone beg for it. No, Jesus sought out this man. We will never know for sure, in this lifetime, why Jesus chose this man out of all the others. It could have been because this man had been suffering his entire life. 38 years signifies a generation. This man has been suffering longer than most people lived.
Either way, when Jesus approached this man, he asked a question that has haunted Jesus-followers for thousands of years: “Do you want to be made well?”
This question is curious in many ways. It is beyond obvious that this man needs to be well.
Jesus knew about the pool and what service it provided. Jesus may have even known that it had associations with pagan healing practices and the gods Ascleppius and Serapis.
Plus this man was surely lying down, unable to move on his own. It would not have been unwarranted for the man to stare blankly at Jesus and answer his question with, “Duh”. But Jesus asks the question anyway.
The man must have assumed that Jesus was critiquing him and blaming him for his impaired state. He didn’t answer the question directly, but instead offered up excuses and rationalization for why he wasn’t healed. He basically tells Jesus, “It’s not my fault. When the water stirs and bubbles up, others who are able to move rush into the water.
‘I have no one to help me get to the water so I have no chance of getting there in time.”
You might notice that the man never actually answers Jesus’ question. He never says, “Yes I want to be healed,” or “No thanks I am fine as I am.” He instead offers an excuse, or an explanation. You can’t really blame him especially when you take into account the kind of society in which he lived. I understand how it might be a touchy subject for him, a place of great pain and shame. However Jesus doesn’t respond to what the man says. He doesn’t wait for a direct answer or address the man’s explanation.
He just heals him.
He tells the man to get up, take his mat and go home. And the man does.
Let’s pause here and reflect on all the weird parts of the story we have encountered so far:
1. Jesus approaches this particular man from among a huge crowd of people in need.
2. The man doesn’t ask for help.
3. Jesus doesn’t offer help, he simply asks the man if he wants to be well.
4. The man doesn’t answer the question asked, instead he avoids the question with an explanation for his situation.
5. Jesus doesn’t respond to his explanation, but tells him to get up and walk.
6. Without another word this man gets up and leaves.
These last bits are really weird. In almost all of the other healing stories, people express some sort of faith in Jesus, and because of their faithfulness Jesus heals them or their loved ones. After the healing they are overcome with joy, relief, and belief in this man named Jesus. But this man nonchalantly gets up and leaves. If this seems anti-climactic to you, you are not alone.
Anyone who appreciates a good story knows that stories build suspension and tension until it reaches a breaking point, a dramatic climax followed by a resolution. All the mysteries are solved, the puzzle pieces fall into place and we feel satisfied with the outcome. The climax of this story makes the reader say, “That’s it??”
What is interesting, is the healing of the man is not the climax of this story. John, the author of this gospel, pulls a false summit on us and then drops the big reveal. After the man walks away John tells us that this story occurs on
*pause for dramatic effect* the Sabbath. (Dun, dun, dun!!!)
This is the climax of the story.
This is the crime, the incident that starts off this episode of CSI. And, plot twist, Jesus is not the hero of the story. Jesus is the criminal, the villan. The end of the story is really the beginning of the story.
Our text today ends with the man walking away, just before the climax where John reveals that it was on the Sabbath, the true story continues on for many more verses. The mystery continues. The plot thickens. After the man walks away Jewish leaders approach him and tell him that it is unlawful for him to hold his mat on the Sabbath. It’s like Jesus framed this man. He set him up, he practically pushed him towards the Jewish leaders, knowing he would be caught and accused of breaking the Sabbath. Yet again this man points away from himself and says that he is only doing what the man who healed him told him to do. He has a way out, a way to avoid the question and the blame.
Hearing that someone healed this man catches the Jewish leader’s attention (picture a detective or a cop getting a whiff of a clue…a clue that might crack the whole case open). They have been on Jesus’ trail, trying to catch him in the act so they can turn him in and stop his reckless healing, his bold miracles, and blasphemous declarations of divinity.
“Who is this man?” the leaders ask. (Notice the complete disregard for the miraculous healing of a man who was paralyzed for an entire lifetime.)All they care about at this point is trapping Jesus. They need a witness to testify that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath law. This man could be one of their two key witnesses needed to convict Jesus of his crime. Conveniently the man either didn’t know Jesus’ name, or he chooses not to tell the Jewish leaders’ his name. And he can’t find Jesus for he has slipped away, without a trace, among the crowd of people.
Here is where Hollywood would insert a chase scene, with Jesus walking quickly through a crowd of people, dodging the FBI left and right, trying to disappear among the masses, while a group of men with ear-pieces and dark sunglasses chase behind him. It’s like a dramatic game of Jesus hide-and-seek. Oddly enough, Jesus doesn’t hide for too long, he reappears right in the midst of the crowd and tells the man (of all things) to stop sinning unless something worse happens to him.
I like to think that this is a special code or something. Jesus has gone into full James Bond mode and is speaking in vague, cryptic code-language. After this, the man then goes back up and taps the head cop, I mean Jewish leader, on the shoulder and tells them that it was Jesus who healed him and told him to get up, take his mat, and go.
This is the point of the crime show when the detectives have been playing good cop/bad cop, grilling the witness for hours, trying to get them to crack and remember some key information that would solve their case…and then the witness finally puts together the last piece of the puzzle. They have a lead! They corner Jesus and begin to interrogate him.
Then Jesus lays out an epic, 30-verse-long monologue defending his actions.
And that’s it. That’s the end of the story.
The Jewish leaders are left speechless, finding no cracks in Jesus’ defense, no way to convict him. The next thing that happens is Jesus feeding the 5,000. In the world of crime shows, this would be the weirdest end to any episode ever. Picture the cops finally capturing the bad guy, sure they have a solid case against him, and then the bad guy stands up on the table and talks for another half-an-hour, delivering an eloquent and through defense for why he committed the crime he did.
The cops are stunned into silence and have no choice but to let the criminal hop off the table and walk out of the room, throwing the hand cuffs to the floor as he leaves.
Boom, end scene, credits roll.
There are too many loose ends. SO many questions left unanswered. Why did Jesus pick that man? Why did he ask him that question? Why did he heal the man without hearing a whisper of belief in Jesus as messiah? Why did the healed man walk away so casually after this miracle? Why did Jesus slip away, only to return and tell the man to stop sinning lest anything worse happens to him? What exactly is the sin he was talking about? Not telling the Jews who he was? Telling the Jews who he was? Was the man betraying Jesus when he turned him in? Or was he expressing faith in Jesuswhen he was able to name the curious man who healed him? Did Jesus set all this up so he would be caught? Did he orchestrate the whole thing so he would have an audience to deliver his epic speech about being one with God? What in the world is this story about? How is it supposed to affect our lives?
I am honestly baffled. I have no idea.
I could guess and speculate, but I am not sure that would do much good. This story is truly a page-turner of a mystery. It is the weirdest episode of NCIS Miami that I have ever seen.
I don’t know what to do with it.
At the same time I am left haunted by Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be made well?” It tugs at my heart. It asks me to dive in.Do I? Do I want to be well? Do I want healing?
Do you? Do you want to be well? Do you want healing?
Maybe there is an invitation here encouraging us not to limit this question to healing of our bodies, of physical illness. I think there is more going on here.
What would it be like if we no longer had any excuses? If we were stripped of our metaphorical crutches and forced to stare our own weaknesses in the face? It would be incredibly humbling, vulnerable, and embarrassing, I know that much. It would be like splitting ourselves open and revealing all the dark, ugly parts within us. No defenses, no Band-Aids protecting the soft spots, the old wounds, the festering judgments blistering our skin.
We would stand exposed before our maker, our savior, our redeemer. Ready and waiting for condemnation, judgment. Open and tender. All our carefully crafted walls knocked down, quickly shrinking, regressing into the helpless infant we once were.
All the orchestrating we have done, bending and manipulating our lives, our identities into what we think looks like a life, into what we think a mother, sister, son, father, adult looks like…all of that rendered useless.
What if what we think keeps us safe actually keeps us broken?We stay, waiting by the miraculous pool. Eyes peeled for the moment it stirs. Every shift, every ripple we see sends a jolt of hope through us. Is this it? Is this the moment we have been waiting for? Now will we be healed? Complete? Whole?
But we are facing the wrong direction.
The healing, living water doesn’t come from the pool, from gimmicks and empty promises. It comes from the criminal, the strange man who speaks in code, the monologing villain bent on breaking the law, determined to disrupt the lives of all he meets.
Perhaps it comes from the one who stands up on the table, hand cuffed, trying desperately to explain how he is one with the Creator God. If God works on the Sabbath, then he too Jesus will work on the Sabbath.
God judges, Jesus judges. God gives life, Jesus gives life. This is Jesus. Our living water. He is mysterious. He acts in upside-down ways that defy logic. He judges us by giving us life. We are parched. Our tongues are dry and sticky. We sit there awkwardly, wide open, so completely human it hurts, and he stares us in the eye and gives us the gift of life,
the living water we are dying for.
The biggest plot twist of them all is that he judges us by giving us something to drink, He judges us by giving us access to a well that does not run dry. To water that is constantly moving, bubbling up, he judges by gives us water that sustains. He judges us by giving us new life. He judges with mercy. He judges with healing.
So it is up to us. Will we stammer excuses in the face of the Prince of Peace?
Or will we simply stand up, pick up our baggage, and walk?
I guess to find out we will just need to stay tuned for next week’s episode.
To be continued.
 The earliest manuscripts don’t include the part about the angel stirring the waters. It looks like this is a later gloss.
 John, Believers Church Bible Commentary, Willard M. Swartley, pg 146.
Paideia Commentaries on The New Testament, John, Jo-Ann A. Brant, pg 369.
 Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community
Craig R. Koester, pg 53.
 Paideia Commentaries on The New Testament, John, Jo-Ann A. Brant
Believers Church Bible Commentary
Willard M. Swartley
Commentary on John 5:1-9
Paideia Commentaries on The New Testament: John
Jo-Ann A. Brant
Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community
Craig R. Koester
The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel