Jesus healed people.
This is the sort of no-brainer statement that ranks up there with “ice is cold” or “rocks are hard.” Even someone with the most superficial understanding of the Gospel knows that many of Jesus miracles in the Gospels involved healing (and a number of the miracles we still see today, particularly those which relate to canonizations) still involve healing.
When we look at many of Jesus’ miracles – like the subject of this week’s study, John 5:1-18 (Jesus healing the lame man), two questions come to mind.
- Why did Jesus perform all of these miracles?
- Why does God allow good people to suffer (and thus to require His healing)?
The first question is easier to answer than the second one. Jesus miracles brought credibility to what He said – about God, about Himself, and about the Kingdom of God. The first part of our study today, John 5:1-9, tells the story of an impressive miracle – impressive not only because of what Jesus did, but also impressive because of the faith of the man he healed. Verse 5 tells us that this man had been suffering for 38 years – that’s nearly my entire lifetime – and he still hoped for a miraculous healing. On the day of our story, He received that for which he had waited for so long.
But that moment of healing is just the beginning of this story. As he is walking away, the formerly lame man was confronted by some religious leaders who challenged his right to carry his bed (it was the Sabbath day, and all unnecessary work was forbidden). He had no answer to this, but ran into Jesus in verse 14, who gives him a rather stern greeting: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.”
Our first reaction to seeing “sin” is that somehow, this man was lame because he sinned. There was and is a commonly held belief that our suffering are a direct consequence for our sins. We see this particularly in the book of Job, where Job’s friends are convinced that his sufferings are a punishment from God for some sin he’d committed. This is also why in John 9, Jesus is asked whether it was the blind man or his parents who sinned to cause his disability. Jesus replies that “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him” (John 9:3). In other words, neither job, nor the blind man in John 9, nor the lame man in John 5, nor any of us suffers as a direct consequence of our sins. In the notes of my (Didache) Bible, it says:
…although some sins can take a toll on an individual’s health and well-being, it is not a necessary or exclusive cause of poor health or injury. In fact, Christ taught by word and example that offering our suffering in union with the Cross is a source of holiness (see CCC 1488, 1502, and 1505).
Here we start to find the answer to the second question. While we want to find some simple formula of A + B = suffering, we start to see that there’s something much larger going on. God allows good people to suffer for the same reason he allows anyone to suffer: to get our attention, to help us achieve something beyond ourselves, and to point us to Heaven. This is why Jesus talks about allowing the “works of God” being “made manifest” in one who suffers. And the fact is that for some answer, there will be no sufficient answer on this side of Heaven which is why, when Jesus comes to the tomb of his friend Lazarus, He doesn’t have a beatitude or parable to share: He simply weeps.
With those two questions answered, there is one other interesting question answered in this story: that of why Jesus was killed (not why He died for us – that was all about forgiving sin). We read that the man left Jesus and went right back to the religious leaders (John 5:15-16), letting them know that it was Jesus who had healed him. We aren’t sure exactly why he did so – was it to report Jesus and divert attention away from himself? Was it in thanksgiving? In either case, when Jesus is confronted by these same leaders, He gives a reply that certainly diverted the attention from the healed man: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (John 5:17). This would have been beyond scandalous to them. In biblical times, a son shared in the authority and prestige of his father – meaning that by claiming God as His own Father, Jesus was claiming equality with God (John 5:18). And though it would be a way off, this is ultimately the claim that led these same religious leaders to push for – and achieve – Jesus’ execution on the cross. The great irony here is, of course, that they would have Jesus killed as a consequence of the claims He made – but in ignoring the healings He performed for others, they missed the fact that He was proving to be much, much more than what anyone thought He could be.
(This is the fifth part of a Bible study I’m hosting with students at St. Peter the Apostle CHS in Spruce Grove during the 2017-18 school year.)