Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 4 2020 - John 5:1-24 – Do you want to be whole?

I began to learn New Testament Greek some 40 years ago. One of the first verbs I learnt was λυω (luo). This was the 'pattern verb' which was used to learn the various forms of the Greek verb (tense, voice, mood, person, number etc.).

The verb λυω has a wide range of meanings, but its basic meaning is to loose or untie (see, for instance, the words of John the Baptist in Mark 1:7). This verb is used in the passage that we have read this morning – in the account of Jesus healing the man who had, for 38 years, spent his days lying beside the pool in Bethsaida. Jesus told the man to pick up his mat and walk away, and the man had done so. But the Jewish leaders who saw the man carrying his mat were angry, first with him, then with Jesus, because he had been healed on the Sabbath. John records that they sought to kill Jesus because "he loosed the Sabbath" (John 5:18).

Does John use the verb in this context with deliberate ambiguity? Here, it means to 'break', in the sense of undoing the integrity of the Sabbath legislation. This was the charge brought against Jesus; he was a Sabbath breaker. But perhaps John intends us to read the accusation in another sense. Jesus is the one who sets the Sabbath free. He is the one who unties and releases people from the entangling burden of Jewish Sabbath regulations and gives Sabbath in all its liberating fullness. He is the one who gives freedom, rest and Shalom to those he touches and enables them to enter the rest of God.

But let me backtrack a little. Jesus’ question to the man at the poolside is fascinating. He asks him, “Do you want to be whole/well?” What a question to ask a man who had suffered for 38 years! Yet the man’s answer is very revealing: he does not say, “Yes. That’s my dearest wish, my greatest longing.” Instead he gives excuses as to why he remains in his present condition. He claims that he has no one to help him get better. His expectations have shrunk to the limits of his diminished life; he could no longer imagine anything different.

Jesus does not respond to his excuses but simply tells him to get up and get on with life – life as it was meant to be lived. All his excuses are swept away, for Jesus stands before him as one able to help him. Jesus is able to give him life in all its fullness; his words, “Get up … and walk”, are words of power.

Jesus has come to set the captives free – free to follow him into life in all its fullness. He has come to untie those things that restrict and disable us. He has come to break our habitual acceptance of a life that is no life. And he invites us also, even commands us, to enter into life – and supplies the power for us to do so.

So the question remains, “Do you want to be whole?” or will you continue with the same old excuses as why you should not live life to the full?

Thank you Lord Jesus for setting captives free and giving life in all its fullness. Thank you that those who trust in you have crossed over from death to life – eternal life. Help me to get up and walk in the path of life that you have opened up for me, not letting anything hold me back or tie me down. Help me to bring something of your healing and wholeness to a broken world that many might find their Sabbath rest in you.

Peter Misselbrook