Jesus was not averse to either doing signs and wonders or provoking the pious. In this situation he did both. We have to be careful here — because if and when the spirit moves and things happen often our usual assumptions get challenged along the way. Now Jesus annoyed the rulers by telling the man to pick up his mat and walk…. and from there comes an alleged offence of healing on the Sabbath.
This does not make much sense. The Jews see healing others as a priority…. as Rabbi Boteach says.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach stated “From the beginning the story was curious. What prohibition could there possibly be in allowing someone else to use one’s phone on the Sabbath?” He cited Eli Beer, chief coordinator of Israel’s volunteer ambulance service, who “oversees 1,100 medical volunteers, approximately 60 percent of whom are Orthodox,” as stating: If someone would say we won’t save a non-Jewish life on the Sabbath, he is a liar. If he is Jewish, Christian, or Muslim we save everyone’s life on any day of the year, including the Sabbath and Yom Kippur, and I have done so myself. Indeed, as an orthodox Jew it is my greatest honor to save the life of a non-Jew, and I would violate any of the Jewish holy days to do so.
Anyway, the reading today clearly shows Jesus being offensive.
1After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4, 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When 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?” 7The 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.” 8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath. 10So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” 12They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” 13Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. 14Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. 17But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” 18For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
I could deviate for a minute into why Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed.
We could also deviate into the fact that Jesus was claiming to be God, and was clearly not mad. (Many people claim to be God: it is a common grandiose delusion. But they are clearly unwell, and from ancient times they have been protected. If there was a chance he was mad he would it would have been said (in fact, it was said — ‘he has a demon’). But he was seen as responsible for his words.
I want to instead look at something else. Jesus was balancing the competing demands of society, and being flexible. He was not breaking any rule — it has always, always been lawful to heal on the Sabbath, both spiritually (do not tell me that the sacrifices on the high holy days happened without some human holding down the animal. I’ve worked in the freezing works (meat packer if you are a Yank) and butchery is physically hard work) and by extension physically.
However, to ignore all Sabbath restrictions would be to destroy the Sabbath. This is the error we fall into: that I fall into. It is very easy to leave the Groceries and supply trips until Sunday: getting the groceries and the washing done fills up most of Saturday — and for those of us who work there is very little you can do during the week. But Sunday is no longer special, and we have lost the reverence that the Jews have for the day.
The other error is being over rigid. And this is where the Pharisees found themselves. It is like the virtues — they are in balance. On one side are sins, and on the other side is rigidity and a lack of care, of love, of appreciation.
Let us take work. Now, sloth is the besetting sin of our age. The virtues of prudence and fortitude are a point of balance, with overwork as a form of rigidity on the other side. Or Lust, where chastity is the virtue and frigidity — the inability to love — again, to be avoided. But sloth is indeed dangerous. As Spengler noted:
Lust, contrary to Dante, is the least of today’s problems: if only the late France Telecom manager had devoted himself to concupiscence to take his mind off his problems, he would still be alive today. Even the crassest and cheapest sort of sexual relations require a modicum of human intimacy.
The modern world, in fact, has found a cure for lust, the she-wolf that Dante considered impassable. It is the desire for nothing, which, after all, is what suicides desire. A favorite theme of post-feminist authors in the United States is the sexless marriage. Japan, in fact, holds the world championship in this league, with more than a third of Japanese couples reporting no sexual relations at all in the past year, and three-quarters reporting frequency of relations of a month or more.
I do not propose to demean Dante, in many respects the greatest of all European poets, perhaps the greatest poet of all time. But he wrote for a world in which certain things, such as the desire for life, were taken for granted.
Now, this may take us back to the text. Because by making him take up his mat and walk Jesus was demanding that the cripple change. he could no longer do nothing. Instead, he had to embrace life. Our atomized, individuated life makes us all cripples. In front of Christ, we all need to walk.