26 September 2022

The healing at the pool: 'Do you want to get well?'

Bible study by Captain Helen Froud

Captain Helen Froud invites us to consider how Jesus responds to those who seek healing.

Key text

How does this Bible passage make you feel?

For many people, the idea of being healed of an injury or illness through faith in Jesus is very real. Christian history and Scripture are full of evidence of people who have been healed in body and mind by the transforming power of Christ.

Over centuries of Christian belief, many people with disabilities have found damaging and unhelpful attitudes in the Church that stem from hurtful misinterpretations of these and other similar verses. People who are unwell have been wrongly portrayed as powerless, as passive recipients of care, as outcasts and, even, as ‘sinners’. Our study passage invites us to reflect on how Jesus hears the voice of those who seek or find healing.

Pause and reflect

  • How do we ensure that people with illnesses or disabilities are given full opportunity to participate in Christian life and are not harmed or limited by the attitudes of others?

The pools at Bethesda were the centre of a healing tradition that valued rest and a good diet. People went there to recover and water immersion was part of this. Although there is reference to supernatural healing forces inherently within the pool, this is thought to be a later addition to Scripture.

A old stone pillar and steps leading into water

John 5: 5 and 6

One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’

Read the passage

The people at Bethesda were not waiting helplessly – they were already participating in their own healing in a place of peace. Jesus enters into this place of recovery and finds the person there most in need of his help. He shows us that Christians are called to be respectfully alongside those who seek healing.

Pause and reflect

  • To what extent does the idea of Bethesda as a positive place of rest and recovery change our perspective of this account?

Care and recovery in the ancient Middle East were family matters. Family and friends would look after those who were unwell. The man who was healed had been at Bethesda for so long that he might have outlived his family carers. He explains to Jesus that there is nobody to assist him.

Jesus asks the man: ‘Do you want to be made well?’ (v6 New King James Version). Some writers have asserted that this is indicative of Jesus’ respectful understanding that not all people with disabilities or differences desire to be healed.

Having received assent, Jesus instructs the man pick to up his bed and walk. In this act of healing, Jesus reminds us that we are not alone, even in times of ill health.

Pause and reflect

  • Many Christians have disabilities. How do we ensure that we acknowledge these differences and do not see them as an issue to be overcome or cured?

This healing does not end with the man lifting his bed and walking away. He then immediately becomes enmeshed in the legalism of the Jewish establishment. The authorities demand that he tells them who healed him and told him to carry his bed on the Sabbath.

Unlike in the account of the man later healed by Peter in Acts 3, there is no evidence of rejoicing. This act of God’s love is reduced to a religious debating point.

Later, at the Temple, there is a curious exchange. Jesus warns the man not to sin further. It would be easy to infer that Jesus sees illness as a punishment for personal sin. Over the centuries, many people have drawn this conclusion.

However, God takes a compassionate view of sickness and inclusion (see Jeremiah 31:8). Jesus, through healing men, women and children, shows a profound understanding of the dignity of those who are limited by – and excluded from society through – ill health. Elsewhere in Scripture, where Jesus mentions ‘suffering’ and ‘sin’ in the same breath, it is to refute a causal link (see John 9:3).

We might conclude, therefore, that – following his healing – the man had unresolved issues that he had to address. We understand that humanity has a tendency towards sin but this is not to be linked to personal wellness.

Jesus’ admonition of the healed man demonstrates that neither sickness nor wellness turns a person into a saint. It also shows that we do not need to be ‘worthy’ to receive God’s grace. Jesus healed the man knowing that other things in his life were not right.

Pause and reflect

  • As we reflect on our own lives, how can we best support those who seek healing?

Bible study by

Helen Froud

Captain Helen Froud

Assistant Directory (Research), Research and Development Unit

Let's pray

Father, may we always remember that your grace is as strong as your power. Help us, always, to take your hand and find our resting place deep within your grace.


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