January 27, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
The Story Of The Sickness Named Sin
1. The first half of the section of the gospel reading for today is the story of when a person who had suffered for thirty-eight years with a sickness was miraculously healed by Jesus. However, when we read the second half, it just doesn't seem to be a story of "Your sickness is gone, you'll be fine now." I say that because the scripture deliberately informs us there that "That day was the Sabbath," and consequently it turns into a story of the healed man and Jesus, who did the healing, both winding up in trouble.
2. The Jews caught sight of the healed man carrying his bed roll and walking. The healed man was healthy, filled with happiness, carrying his bed roll and walking, but nobody was happy with him. The Jews said, "Today is the Sabbath. Therefore, carrying a bed roll is not permitted by law." Having said that, they upbraided him. And furthermore, when they confirmed that Jesus was the one who had given the command, "Carry your bed roll and walk," then they began to persecute Jesus. Thus, both the Sabbath and the Sabbath law not only did not lead to helping this man who was suffering from a sickness, but rather [they] lead to hurting the man and Jesus.
3. And another thing. There is a statement from Jesus very much on [my] mind. Jesus did not only heal this man, but after he had healed him he had met him again, and he spoke to him as follows. "You have become well. You must not sin any more. Otherwise, something worse may happen," (verse fourteen).
4. When we see that he does not answer back with the question, "You said, I must not sin any more, but what in the world do you mean by that?," it's probably that he had it figured out. We don't understand [what he meant for sure]. But at least [in this instance] the man and Jesus had an understanding of things. In short, [the fact] is that Jesus did not just heal the man's physical illness, but he had been concerned with the problem of sin which lied in the background, and he had set the man free, and had gotten him back on his feet again.
5. Naturally then, we'll need to pay close attention to these words. We must avoid simply combining sickness and sin as together, as if every kind of sickness were always the effect of some kind of sin. For example, in chapter nine of this gospel there is the story of when the disciples had asked Jesus about the man blind from birth, "Is the reason the man was blind from birth because somebody had sinned? Was it him? Or was it his parents?" At that time the Lord said, "It was neither because he himself had sinned, nor because his parents had sinned. It was so that the works of God would be revealed in the man," (9:3). Thus then, we must not explain sickness and various sufferings simply as cause and effect payback.
6. But on the other hand, nor is it realistic to argue that human sickness and suffering are "completely unrelated" to human sin. I say that because there are actually times when, obviously, as a result of one's own sins, one invites much suffering, not limited to disease, upon oneself, and because, what's more, there are times one continues suffering for a long time. Indeed, if I go further on this, rather than saying we become sick from sin, sin in and of itself is but the fundamental root sickness that causes huge suffering for humans. The sickness called sin is a dreadful one that obstructs a person from standing up strong and moving forward fresh and new, and then ultimately ends up destroying people. Therefore, we could also make the case that the figure of the person coming to the forefront here expresses symbolically the figure of humankind afflicted by the most basic sickness of "sin," which involves every single person. If it were a mere story of the healing of a sick person, it would have nothing to do with anyone not sick. However, if it is a story of the healing of the sickness called sin, it must be a story with a deep connection to all of us here in this place.
The Pool At Bethesda Does Not Bring Deliverance
7. We are reading from the beginning, from verses one to three. "After that, since it was a festival of the Jews, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, beside the gate of the sheep, there was a pool that was called 'Bethesda' in Hebrew, and it had five porticoes there. In these porticoes the sick, the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed used to lie around in great numbers," (verses one through three).
8. That man used to lie around in the portico of the pool called Bethesda that was beside the gate of the sheep in Jerusalem. The scripture says that besides him [other] sick, blind, lame and paralyzed persons were lying around there. Why were they ever in such a place I wonder? No reason is given in the text. However, when you look carefully, verse four is omitted in [our] New Interconfessional Version. This verse was added at the very latest as a note in The Gospel According To John. It is written as follows. "They waited for the water to stir. For, a messenger of the Lord would come down sometimes to the pool, there were times when the water stirred, and when the water stirred, the first person to enter the water was healed, regardless of what sickness ailed the person," (the second half of verse three to verse four).
9. This is an explanatory text added to The Gospel According To John at a later era. The point being that, it was a superstition back in that time. Because of the superstition that the first person to enter the water would be healed, everybody was at the pool's porticoes wanting to be the very first to jump in. That man also, who had been suffering with an illness for those thirty-eight long years, was more than likely there with the intention of being cured. But the reality was that the pool of Bethesda did not turn into deliverance for him at all
10. Well, the text has it that the pool had "five porticoes" [around it]. It might mean that there were four covered walks with columns surrounding squarely around the pool, and it had a fifth portico which cut across in dead center. It has been understood since olden times, that the reason the written record deliberately has that there were five porticoes is that it symbolizes the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, the law of Moses. As I touched upon earlier, I think that that is a correct understanding because discussion on the Sabbath law will continue after this.
11. The pool of Bethesda with its five porticoes symbolizing the law were not a help to the man who had suffered for thirty-eight years. You might say this expresses symbolically the powerlessness of the law. Surely so, this thing called the law on its own was good for instruction in what was right. But the law which teaches and commands what is right cannot heal or give life to anyone suffering miserably from sin and its effects. Even though the law itself is a good thing, it does not become the deliverance or the salvation for the sinner.
12. Someone wrote this, that "You will only make a person, who is bedridden with an illness, kept on an IV drip to supply his or her nourishment, and barely managing to live, all that much more miserable if you keep telling him or her, 'Have a good balanced diet, train your body with sports, then you will be healthy.'" I would agree with that all the way. Similarly, it is certain that lawful entities that teach and command what is right are not any help or deliverance from anything.
The Word Of Christ Brings Deliverance And Salvation
13. But, Christ did come into this miserable world of humanity. The narrative continues on as follows. "So, there was a man who had been suffering with a sickness for thirty-eight years. Jesus saw that he was lying [there], and he knew that he had been sick for a long time already, and so he had said to him, 'Do you want to become well?' The sick man replied, 'Oh Lord, when the water stirs, there is no one to put me into the pool. While I am going, other people fall in before me.' Whereupon, he immediately became well, carried his bed roll and began to walk. That day was the Sabbath," (verses five through nine).
14. The Lord had seen the man lying down. That was his present condition. But, the Lord did not just focus in on his current condition at the time. The scripture says, "He knew that he had been sick for a long time already." He had remembered the long suffering that lied behind his current situation. The Lord knew that he had been suffering for years and years. Based on that, the Lord said, "Do you want to become well?" Jesus is also saying to us here in this place, "Do you want to become well?"
15. [We] will decide [we] want to become well. However, please listen to the words from this man. He does not say, "I want to become well." What he said was "Oh Lord, when the water stirs, there is no one to put me into the pool. While I am going, other people fall in before me," (verse seven). When you think about it, it doesn't seem illogical; because for thirty-eight years it was hopeless, because it was continuous despair for him.
16. Of course, I would say he gave it his best shot still and all the way he was. But, try as he did, his efforts were still futile. And nobody helped him. And nobody gave any serious thoughts or anything to "my [situation]." Because, as [you could easily figure], everybody only had their own [business] in their heads. So, he had plenty enough reasons why [he never got into the pool]. He had plenty enough reasons about why he had given up.
17. We can easily see into his feelings because we often times do the same thing. It's not that we haven't given it a good try. When we know what is right and we can control ourselves properly, we will probably have a healthful life. But, like the sick man did not move his body like he wanted it to move, we don't [always] move our bodies the way we want them to. Even though we have an understanding of what is right, our bodies don't move. So, we fall into despair. We become discouraged. We have a pity party thinking I'm a person and that's just how people are. We give up. We justify ourselves being like that with various excuses and reasons. We can even make the case that the reason I got that way in the first place is the fault of the people around me. We can even lay the blame on the coldness of the people around us, saying that nobody ever gives any serious thoughts of any kind to "my [situation]." Though we give such excuses, and even though we fully understand it a thousand times over that it doesn't do any good [to make excuses], we're addicted to excuse-making. While we're making [our] excuses we stay stuck in our present selves.
18. Let's turn our attention back on the voice of Jesus. Jesus doesn't ask for [his] reasons for [his] situation such as it was. He asks him, "Do you want to become well?" You already know that we will make excuses and explanations. Jesus understands it all. Nevertheless though, the Lord does not say, "You gotta point. It just can't be help." Jesus does not want us to quit while upon our sick beds of sin. Jesus wants us to get well. Therefore, he wants us to want to become well. The Lord wants us to have a strong desire to be healed and delivered.
19. Therefore, as if deleting the man's words of excuses, Jesus gave him the following proclamation. "Get up! Carry your bed roll and walk!" What he did not need to do was to make excuses for his present self. That's not [what he needed], but rather he ought to believe on Jesus who was right in front of his eyes. He ought to believe in the One who said to him, "Do you want to become well?" Of course, he probably could have refused Jesus words here even though he was told to "Get up!," because he had always been lying down till that time precisely because of the fact that he could not get up. But, he didn't make excuses any more. He accepted the words of Christ. He believed. He believed that this very One indeed could get him back to his feet. He believed that he could be made to walk to the One in front of him. When he believed and tried to stand up, he was able to stand up. He was able to take a step and walk.
20. For this man who had been sick, the pool of Bethesda where he had kept staying was completely ineffective and powerless. But what the pool of Bethesda could not do God did to the sick man through Christ. This event reminds [us] of the following words from Paul. "What the law could not do because of the weakness of the flesh God did do for us," (Romans 8:3). Jesus is also directing his voice to us who are here in this place. "Do you want to become well?" Let's believe Jesus as he speaks that way to us. Jesus does make us get back on our feet. Jesus does cause us to walk.