Bible Reading Plan – September 17-23
Bible Project Reading Plan (September 17-23):
John 5-21; Psalms 105-111
The lame-man healed in John 5 is something of a mystery. We get few details about his life, and his interactions with Jesus and the other authorities leave us with many more questions than answers. In fact, as we compare him to the man born blind in John 9, we find that this fellow has very little personality at all! The man in John 9 is much more lively and vivid, especially as the story progresses. At first, he gives very straightforward factual responses (see vv. 11 and 12). Yet, as the narration unfolds, we find him to answer authorities somewhat cheekily, then incredulously, then even in a manner that stands in authority over the ones questioning him (see vv. 27, 30, 33 respectively). The personality of the formerly blind man grows and is strengthened, as though the narrator himself is infusing him with life. In literary circles, he is known as a somewhat “round” character, meaning that he has an identifiable personality filled with wants and desires.
All of this stands in stark contrast to the man in John 5. He is a rather “flat” character. While the ESV calls him an “invalid” in v. 5, truly the word just means sick. It implies someone who is out of sorts, below or beneath the health or the freedom that they should have. It was a widely used term, and was general enough to be applied to faith, economics, or health. It could mean that he simply had a cough, was suffering through stage IV cancer, was poor, or had deficient faith.
Jesus asks him a rather straight “yes or no” question in v. 6 – a question with only one good answer (“do you want to be healed?”). Instead of giving his opinion, his desire, his wants, he instead simply responds with a brief history of his life. No desire to drive a sense of personality. When asked to act, he simply does as he is told. He doesn’t respond to the healing by saying “thanks” to Jesus – for thankfulness is something of an identifiable character trait. This man is nothing. He is robotic. Things happen, more things happen. We get no sense of how he feels, what he thinks, or what else he might do. He is, as much as he can be, a blank slate.
This leads many to think quite negatively about the man. D.A. Carson writes:
A very charitable reading of the invalid’s response might take it as a direct response to Jesus’ question: the depth of his desire for healing can be measured by his persistent presence at the pool when the waters are stirred . . . But John’s deft (!) portrait of the invalid throughout this chapter paints him in far more dour hues. He tries to avoid difficulties with the authorities by blaming the one who has healed him (v. 11); he is so dull he has not even discovered his benefactor’s name (v. 13); once he finds out he reports Jesus to the authorities (v. 15). In this light, v. 7 reads less as an apt and subtle response to Jesus’ question than as the crotchety grumblings of an old and not very perceptive man who thinks he is answering a stupid question. . . . In terms of initiative, quick-wittedness, eager faith, and a questing mind, this invalid is the painful opposite of everything that characterizes the wonderful character in John 9.
Tell us how you really feel! But I think that the minimal portrayal of this man is not done because John is trying to get us to see his slow faith, dimness, or bring to light his crotchety grumblings. Rather, John is going to great lengths to give us nothing at all – a man who was sick, healed, and went his way. A man with no personality. A man who can be both everything and nothing at all.
This man is us.
We are all “sick” in some way. We all have needs and wants, problems and difficulties. Some of these are great and oppressive, some are mere flighty annoyances. This man was hobbled, and given the time and place of his life, that meant a constant reliance upon others, mixed with a good deal of going without. And Jesus heals him. He doesn’t ask for it, doesn’t request it, doesn’t even tell Jesus that he wants it when Jesus flat out asks him! But Jesus does so anyway. And the grace of Jesus to make us well is not given reluctantly. Jesus seems, dare I say, giddy when he sees the man again (v. 14). He is kind to us before we think to ask, and our slowness is not a cause of annoyance for Jesus. He is happy to heal and to help.
And, please, don’t think that the “brokenness” of this man means that Jesus’ healing has nothing to do with sin. “Sin no more” he tells the man, “that nothing worse may happen to you.” I imagine that the man has little in his imagination that would be worse than his already 38 years of living as an invalid. Hell comes to mind, though. The grace Jesus gives is free, and is continually an invitation to obedience, even when what he has healed us from is not directly due to our sin.
So, friends, take time today to think about what Jesus has done for you. He has healed you before you knew you needed it, he has made you well before you knew to ask. You were sick and he fixed you, and has instructed you on how to live. Now, go, and sin no more.