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Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent. The reading is from the Gospel of John 5:1-18.

Healing at the Pool of Bethesda by Carl H. Bloch

Cure on a Sabbath – John 5:1-18

After this, there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.

A pool called Bethesda in Hebrew

In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.

One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?”

The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”

Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

Now that day was a sabbath.

So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”

He answered them, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’”

They asked him, “Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”

The man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.

After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.”

The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well.

Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath.

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.”

For this reason the Jews tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.

About verse 4 in John 5

I use the New American Bible, Revised Edition which like the New International Version (NIV) does not have verse four.

Toward the end of the second century in the West and among the fourth-century Greek Fathers, an additional verse (#4) was known:

“For [from time to time] an angel of the Lord used to come down into the pool; and the water was stirred up, so the first one to get in [after the stirring of the water] was healed of whatever disease afflicted him.”

King James Bible has verse four which is rendered as follows:

“For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”

The angel was a popular explanation for the turbulence in the pool and the healing powers attributed to it. This verse is missing from all early Greek manuscripts and the earliest versions, including the original Vulgate. Its vocabulary is markedly non-Johannine. This is considered to be the result of an early margin note giving the explanation to a local myth that had later been incorporated into the text.

Jewish Shabbat

The Hebrew word Shabbat means “rest” or “cessation.” In English Shabbat is known as Sabbath.

For the Jews Shabbat is a day of rest. It is a festive day when Jews are freed from the regular labors of everyday life.

Exodus 20:8-11 states:

8 Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy.
9 Six days you may labor and do all your work,
10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God.f You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates.
11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

And in Deuteronomy 5:12-15, we read:

12 Observe the sabbath day—keep it holy, as the LORD, your God, commanded you.
13 Six days you may labor and do all your work,
14 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or donkey or any work animal, or the resident alien within your gates, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do.
15 Remember that you too were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the LORD, your God, brought you out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

In the Torah, the purpose of Shabbat observance is to remind the Jewish people of two very important events in history: the creation of the world in which God creates the Heavens and the Earth in six days and rests on the seventh (Exodus 20:11), and the deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). So, this day offers an opportunity to contemplate the spiritual aspects of life and spend time with one’s family.

In Judaism, a day is not from midnight to midnight but from sunset to sunset. Thus Shabbat, which is Saturday, begins a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night.

Shabbat is ushered in by lighting candles and reciting a blessing. Traditionally, three festive meals are eaten: on Friday night, Saturday morning, and late Saturday afternoon. Friday night dinner begins with kiddush and a blessing recited over two loaves of challah.

In Hebrew the word “melakhah” is commonly translated into Engish as “work” and a better definition is “deliberate activity” or “skill and craftmanship”. Jewish law (halakha) prohibits doing any form of melakhah (plural melakhot) on Shabbat, with some exceptions.

The 39 principal categories of prohibited activities (melakhot) are:

ploughing earth, sowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, washing wool, beating wool, dyeing wool, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying, untying, sewing stitches, tearing, trapping, slaughtering, flaying, tanning, scraping hide, marking hides, cutting hide to shape, writing two or more letters, erasing two or more letters, building, demolishing, extinguishing a fire, kindling a fire, putting the finishing touch on an object and transporting an object between the private domain and the public domain, or for a distance of 4 cubits within the public domain.

The rabbis also added several other activities that could lead to violating the Shabbat – for instance, one should not climb a tree on the Shabbat to avoid breaking a twig and violating the rule not to cut.

So, now we can understand the verse:

  • So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat” (John 5:10)

and why the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he should have observed the dictum “Strictly no healing on Shabbat” ((I doubt whether there was one as such) and should have refrained from healing the cripple on a Shabbat.

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