John 5 – Pride in the Name of Law

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Today’s PassageJohn 5

You know Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken?” Sometimes I open up the day’s passage and find it could not be more “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” if it tried. Here, on the one hand, is the healing at the pool in Bethesda, and on the other, there is Jesus’ lengthy exposition of the relationship between the Son and the Father, defending his ministry as backed by the authority of God. But unlike Robert Frost’s existentially-minded traveler, I’m faced with two roads that countless expositors and theologians have trod before me; there is no “road less traveled by” here. Moreover, while the traveler doubts he may ever return to that fork in the road, I may find that I have time to cover both sections of John 5 today. But I have to pick one to begin with, so travel with me down the road to the Bethesda healing, or alternately, close the tab and leave the entry unread–for you as well have two roads before you.

Oh, good, you’re still here! And if any chose to leave us, they have already left. So, Jesus heals a man who’s been debilitated by illness for thirty-eight. According to tradition, an angel would sometimes agitate the waters at the pool of Bethesda, and the first person into the pool would be healed. This man was so sick that he couldn’t beat anyone into the pool without help, and he had no one to help him. To sum up, here’s a guy so sick he can barely move, left by friends and family to camp out on a pallet among his fellow invalids, and for nearly forty years he’s been chasing this one shred of hope to no avail. And with all those clouds hanging over the man’s head, if Jesus had to pick a single person at the pool to heal, I expect he’d be hard-pressed to find a more grateful recipient.

But Jesus gets in trouble when word gets out that he healed the guy on the Sabbath. I’m reminded of another Sabbath when Jesus healed a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6). Mark records that he surveys his opponents “looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5) before healing the man’s hand. John doesn’t tell us what emotions Jesus feels when his countrymen start giving him flack for the Sabbath healing at Bethesda, but I imagine it must be something similar.

In Jesus’ world and ours, there are these people who place barriers in the way of doing good, all in the name of law. In the first-century Jewish world, these people took the form of the Sabbath Police, so obsessed with keeping the Torah, or maintaining their power as Torah-keepers, that they refused to do anything on the Sabbath, even good things, in the name of “not doing work.” And I try to keep Chocolate Book evergreen, but in the context of this passage, how can I not bring up those who would separate children from their families and put them in cages, even while spuriously claiming both the Bible and the law of the land are on their side? These are human beings, created in the image of God. How can we believe for a second that God wants us not to help them, but to harm them?

In his day, Jesus looked with sorrow and anger on those who stood in the way of goodness. I can only believe that he looks on the injustice, sociopathy, and inhumanity of our own world in much the same way.

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2 thoughts on “John 5 – Pride in the Name of Law

  1. I’m glad you addressed this topic. It’s extra painful to me because of the work that I do. I’ll be praying for these kids although I think other actions need to be taken as well.

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    1. I know what you mean. I watched Stephen Colbert’s segment on the Late Show where he commented on the border situation, and the part where he says that if we let this slide, it reflects on us all as citizens of the United States? Where he calls on us to celebrate Father’s Day by calling our elected representatives and demanding that they take action against this? That got to me. I dunno if I’m gonna end up going through with it, but something should be done, and as of this writing, I don’t have any better ideas.

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