Jesus knows what it is to be human in this hurt and broken world, and he is very proactive in initiating acts of grace in our lives. Sadly, just like the man in John 5, we are also often slow to respond.
At first glance, John 5:1-18 looks like any other healing narrative in the Gospels. Someone gets healed by Jesus, it’s a miracle, and the authorities aren’t happy. But in John’s Gospel the writer is more sparing in his choice of healing stories – one child, one invalid, one blind man, and one dead man. So maybe the story in John 5 is intended to highlight more for us readers than “just another healing”.
John chapter 5 is a strategically placed narrative in the flow of the book as a whole. But then comes chapter 5 and an incident that seems to spark tensions that will rumble through the next chapters, and the next twelve months, right up to the Passion Week when Jesus died.
In other healing stories we see desperate people crying out to get Jesus’ attention, or going to great lengths to get close to him. But in John 5 we see Jesus making all the moves. He initiates a healing with someone who doesn’t know who he is. And from a human perspective, the response he gets is not great. This wasn’t a situation where Jesus chose a person he knew would respond well to him!
Notice the three moves that Jesus makes in this story, because he still makes those moves today:
1. Jesus initiates meeting the need of a hurting and broken man.
In verses 6-8 Jesus approaches the man and asks if he would like to be healed. As soon as the man has given his excuses for not being healed, Jesus simply tells him to get up, take up his bed, and walk.
2. Jesus initiates confronting the man over his deeper issue.
The man is accused of breaking the Sabbath in verses 9-13, but he doesn’t know who it was that healed him. (Don’t miss the delight of the authorities at the blessing of the miracle that had taken place! Actually, we are so used to their reaction that it doesn’t register with us anymore, but it should!) Then, in verse 14, Jesus finds the man and confronts him over his sin. We don’t know whether this is referring to lifelong sin, general sin, specific sin, or even the sin he was contemplating, but nevertheless, Jesus knows that he needs more than functioning legs.