Thinking Toward Sunday – May 1 – Part 1

Sunday, May 1, 2016 is the Sixth Sunday in the season of Easter; this is year C

You can find the texts for this Sunday by clicking here

The focus this Sunday will be on John, 5:1-9, in which Jesus cures a paralytic. It’s a short narrative, so I give the full text here.
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

5:2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.5:3 In these lay many invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5:5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
5:6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
5:7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
5:8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.


A healing of a paralytic is recorded at Mark 2:1-12. Parallels are at Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26. In all three cases, the focus is not on healing but on forgiveness and controversy. Mark’s version has a paralytic lowered through the roof because of the crowd and Jesus is moved by the faith of those who are helping the paralytic (“moved by their faith”). He says, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Opponents there question his ability to forgive sins; he asks which is easier, to heal or to forgive, heals the man, and everyone glorifies God. Luke generally follows Mark. Matthew doesn’t have the detail about the roof but generally follows Mark in other respects. The Jesus Seminar suggests the source of the story is Mark but that the John version may have a separate healing behind it as well.


This story is part of group of stories about signs. Immediately before it, Jesus returns to Galilee and reforms a healing connected the conversion of water into wine. This story finds him back in Jerusalem at the time of a “feast”. There’s some disagreement whether this is the festival of Tabernacles or Passover while still other commentators identify it with Pentecost. All three were occasions for going up to Jerusalem. John only describes it as a sabbath.

Beyond the reading, in Verses 10-15, the focus becomes the violation of sabbath. It is against the rules to move a mattress from one place to another. Jesus, we’re told, slips away and the man can’t identify him. Later, Jesus returns secretly to the man and connects the healing to a remission of sin, telling him to sin no more. This suggests some connection to the Synoptic tradition, where the focus of the healing is forgiveness of sins.


      Verses 1-3 Setting of story: Jerusalem, in the district of Bethsaida, near the sheep gate, at a pool thought to provide healing, on a sabbath and feast day.
      Verses 4-9 Healing of the Paralytic
      Verse 4a-6 Situation of the Paralytic: sick 38 years, Jesus knows he has been sick a long time
      Verse 6-8 Dialogue
      Verse 6b Jesus: Do you want to be cured?
      Verse 7 Anser: Sir, I haven’t anybody to plug me into the pool once the water has been stirred up….
      Verse 8: Jesus: Stand up / pick up your mat / walk around
      Verse 9 Situation of the paralytic: immediately cured, picks up his mat, begins to walk

Passage Notes

      Sheep Pool There is some textual confusion about whether this pool is named for the sheep gate near the temple while others identify it with the Pool of Bethesda. Either way, it’s in the northeast part of the temple where sheep are brought for sacrificeThe pool described has been discovered and excavated in Jerusalem. It was trapezoidal, 165-220 feet wide by 315 feet long, divided by a central partition. There were colonnades can four sides and on the partition. Stairways in the corners permitted descent into the pool.[per Anchor Bible Gospel of John/Brown, pp. 206-07]
      Early manuscripts and writers believed an angel occasionally came and stirred the waters, leading to healing.

Questions and Thoughts

  1. What jumps out at me is that on his day off—it’s the sabbath of a festival after all!-Jesus is visiting a pool where a bunch of sick people gather.What would that look like? Smell like? Feel like?
  2. Why pick out this particular guy?
  3. When Jesus asks if he wants to be healed, the man doesn’t answer directly yes or no. Instead, he offers an excuse about why he hasn’t been healed.
  4. If John is telling a story from an existing tradition linked to the idea of forgiving sins, why has he changed it?
  5. Why is the sabbath part important?
  6. Why does Jesus slip away and return secretly?