Thursday, September 13, 2007

John 5

John 5:1-18:
On the heels of the first healing story in John comes the second. Here we find Jesus back in Jerusalem. Some other details in the story are a little confusing. Verse 3b-4 are not found in the earlier manuscripts, but they help explain why it seems important for the man to get to the pool while the waters are stirred up. Jesus question to the man who had been ill for 38 years seems like a no-brainer, of course he would want to be made well. But the question goes deeper than a wish. The Greek implies a desire that one is willing to act upon. The man initially refuses that kind of step, instead he complains that he has not gotten the help he needs. Jesus offers a different kind of help, a healing word from God. This will require that the man acquire a whole new sense of himself, not an easy task after 38 years. But the man responds by taking up his mat and walking. The healing stories in the gospels, including this healing story, often work at many levels. But then a controversy familiar to us who have been reading the gospels arises. The healing occurred on a Sabbath day. We have already discussed how important the question of appropriately observing the Sabbath was in Jesus day and time and mentioned that it was a part of a debate within Judaism. The controversy begins not with Jesus, but with the man who was healed. Some Jews noticed that he was carrying his mat on the Sabbath, and warned him against such activity. Jesus, too, offers the man some advice – go and sin no more. This is pretty cryptic here. Some assert that the man’s behavior in identifying Jesus to his opponents may indicate that the man needed deeper healing still. Others have Jesus encouraging the man to find inner as well as outer healing. The controversy turns to Jesus. Jesus’ reply to those Jews who criticized his healing is different from the reply in the earlier gospels. He argues that God has not quit working on the Sabbath – obviously the man was healed, and because God is working, Jesus will work. A conspiracy to kill Jesus begins at this point, though John’s language about it coming from “the Jews” is indiscriminate. The conspiracy arises not only because Jesus questions the authority of others over the Sabbath, but because he asserts a special relationship with God. For John, Jesus is one who embodies the very presence of God in the world.

John 5:19-47: As is the pattern in John, an event is followed by a long discourse. Here Jesus asserts his special relationship with God. The early Christians shared the monotheism of Judaism (the view that there is one God), but also shared the view that Jesus was related to God in a very special way, and, in fact, brought God’s kingdom in touch with the world, or even Godself in touch with the world. Each gospel writer sought unique ways, using images, stories and metaphors that had come to them through the developing Christian, to share this good news with others. John’s method is to have Jesus engage in long discourses which assert aspects of the special relationship between God and Jesus. Here the image of a father and son are used to talk about who Jesus is and his authority for healing on the Sabbath. Even greater things will be in store. To trust that in Jesus God was up to something very special is to have this new quality of life – “eternal life.” “Death” in verse 25 is used metaphorically, but seems to be used more “literally” in verses 28-29 where a future time of judgment seems anticipated. The remainder of the chapter builds on two important principles in Judaism for evaluating witnesses and testimony – the truth cannot be based solely on the word of one witness, and the truth about a person cannot be established based solely on that person’s testimony. John the Baptist witnessed to Jesus. Jesus’ own works bear testimony to him. Finally, God also bears witness to Jesus. Searching the Scriptures is important, but only as one finds the person to whom the Scriptures testify. These are powerful words for our own day and time when the temptation among some is to give our Biblical texts a status that exceeds their true status. They testify to the living God. I guess the temptation has been around for a long time, to substitute words for a living relationship with the God to whom the words point. Christian faith is not finally in the Bible, but in the God of the Bible. Believing the Bible can be an idolatrous barrier to faith in God. (People’s New Testament Commentary) Those are powerful words worth mulling over.

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