Healing. It can mean 1. to make healthy, whole or sound; to restore to health or 2. to bring an end or conclusion, as conflicts between people or groups, to reconcile, or 3. to free from evil, cleanse, and purify. The apostle John reveals Jesus as Divine Healer, Son of God, uniquely empowered to do all three.
In chapter 5 of the Fourth Gospel, John brings the reader to another pool of water. This one was called Bethesda, an Aramaic word that can be translated “House of Mercy.” In Jerusalem, this was the hangout for the powerless and invalid; ones in need of a little mercy in a culture that afforded them none. We might call it Mercy Hospital today, your best hope when you get a dreaded diagnosis. Common consensus was that the waters had healing qualities, physical and mystical, even if the improvement was only short-lived. As a physical therapist, I’ve seen therapeutic water work wonders on spastic, paralyzed bodies. If you couldn’t walk for 38 years and had to sit and beg, why not camp out here? Worst case, you’re not alone in your infirmity; best case you might get a hand up or out, maybe even a cure. Either way, the man is helpless.
John points out that Jesus came here on a special day, a ritual day of rest and devotion, Sabbath. Jesus is about to make the rounds of the three big Jewish Festivals in Jerusalem, and Sabbath sets the tone for them all. To a Jew, these were the high holy days of devotion to God, and observing them perfectly was imperative. Good Jews had a valid reason; these observances were laid out to the letter in Scripture, and intensified by rabbinic interpretation. They were each a means to an end, the promised Messiah, but they became an end unto themselves. Jesus, in John, takes each Festival and deepens its meaning, revealing himself as the very object of their worshipful expectation.
At Bethesda, the Father of all Mercies is at work in the Sabbath. While His people rest, God is restores bodies and soul to health, physical and spiritual wholeness. Jesus makes his way to a place where the need of healing is great. He selects one man from among the masses, a soul who represents the deep disappointment and despair of mankind. When Jesus heals the paralyzed man on the Sabbath, he is uniquely claiming to be God, the Son, doing only what the Father is in fact doing on that special day. Jesus radically heals the man’s body, but more importantly exposes his heart’s desire, leading him to repentance and reconciliation. This supersedes any power of angelic water or even the letter of the law; Jesus is the only one who gives life.
John quotes Jesus’ defense of himself to the pious who condemned him. Jesus says, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father who sent him.” Glory. It is God’s alone and Jesus reveals it. He has the power to heal the body and the soul. He is the living water, all that needs to be stirred up for ultimate healing.
Where do you turn for healing? Do you trust the hospital or the Holy? Do you fear the one who can destroy the body more than you trust the one who can restore the soul? Do you pray for physical healing and neglect prayers for spiritual healing, reconciliation and purification for the sick and dying? James, Jesus’ brother and leader in the early church said it this way, “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:15-16) Healing and forgiveness are connected. Our prayers are powerful and effective for true healing, for reconciliation between ourselves and our fellow man with God, and for ultimate triumph over sin and death. Sabbath healing is ours to claim in Jesus Christ, life giving rest for the body and for the soul.