After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 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?” 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.” 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. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there.
Later 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.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved (http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations)
In this Gospel, the man Jesus cures has no one to put him in the pool called Bethesda. The man is alone; he has no family or friends to help him. At Jesus’ time, illness was thought to be caused by sin, and people believed that the man at the Sheep Gate was ill because he had sinned. One effect of sin is separation and isolation from one’s community (family, friends, religious group, etc.). When Jesus heals people, they are restored to physical health and to their community. In this story, the man is healed physically and he is restored to his religious group (i.e., he is able to go into the temple area).
Some of the religious people at Jesus’ time were upset that Jesus broke a religious law by healing someone on the Sabbath. They did not care that Jesus was helping to bring about the Kingdom of God by healing a person and restoring him to his religious community. These people followed the letter of the law (no work on the Sabbath) and not the spirit of the law (giving praise and reverence to God on the Sabbath). The Gospel states, “Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this [healing] on the Sabbath.” It is surprising that people can witness God’s power working in the world and still consider it a sin.
How has sin or “following the letter of the law” isolated me from my community (family, friends, co-workers, church members)?
—Br. John Moriconi, S.J., Provincial’s Secretary, Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits.
Life-giving God, you called St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier as Jesuit companions. You sent them into the world with gifts of heart, mind, and spirit to live and preach the gospel of Jesus. Give us in our day their energy and commitment. May our lives be poured out in service for our world and for your people – especially those closest to us and those most in need. Great God, bless our world!
—The Jesuit Prayer Team