After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda (which means “The House of Loving-Kindness”), having five porticoes (corresponding to the five books of the Torah, the Law). In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.
A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.
Now it was the Sabbath on that day. So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk’?” But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.
Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.
With the exception of the statements in parentheses, this is quoted out of the NASB. I’m currently reading this passage in a translation under development – The Passion Translation (TPT). When I read “the Jews” objection about doing work on the sabbath, and the healed man’s response, that the one who healed him told him to “pick up your pallet and walk”, I literally laughed out loud.
This story has long held a bit of intrigue for me in the fact that the lame man had no idea who it was who was healing him. This man did not have faith to precede his healing – the faith came after. This doesn’t ‘fit the mold’ of popular Christianity so to speak, so of course it’s a story I enjoy.
But reading it this time in the TPT, something different has struck me (a good reason to read in different translations). These religious leaders were so dead-set on law that they’ve completely overlooked this man’s healing. “Oh, so your healed, that’s nice. WTF ARE YOU DOING CARRYING YOUR PALLET ON THE SABBATH !?!?”
Ok, so I get this. This is man-made religion at its best. A focus on the law and doing everything ‘by the book’ in order to attain some kind of righteous platitude. But, the healed man’s response is what made me laugh out loud. “The man who healed me told me to pick up my pallet.” The man doesn’t know it’s Jesus yet, but we do. Jesus, God’s own son, told him to break the sabbath law that the religious leaders were so focused on. Breaking that law was a primary part of this man’s healing experience.
Does God tell us to break His law?
Well, something fascinating in this translation is the footnote that all the sick and lame hung out under the five porticoes that represented the five books of the Torah, the Law. The sick and lame were under the law. When Jesus told this man to pick up his pallet, he was telling him to get out from under the law, figuratively and literally. When he picked up his pallet, he broke the sabbath law and walked out from under the portico that symbolized the law.
In response, the religious ne’er-do-wells objected to his ‘blatant sin’ – but he was following Jesus’ instruction! Then after hearing that Jesus was responsible for this man’s healing and sabbath breaking command, these same religious rogues began persecuting Jesus.
So, does God tell us to break His law? Well, I think we very quickly misunderstand and misapply His law. I’m no scholar, but I am aware that Old Testament is pretty clear about doing ‘work’ on the sabbath.
Thus says the Lord, “Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem.”
But why shouldn’t we? That’s the question that is so readily missed by man-made religion. Is it so we can earn God’s favor? Is it so that we can be ‘holier than thou’? What is the reason for this sabbath law?
Jesus said it best when he was confronted because his disciples were picking grain to eat on the sabbath – “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”. What does this mean? Well, it means that the sabbath is a gift for man. It is a recognition that mankind is most healthy when we regularly take time to rest, reflect and be at peace. A constant striving will only lead to exhaustion, failure, pain… Sounds a lot like striving to keep the law, doesn’t it?
So, would God tell us to do something that goes against what is written in the law and the prophets? Apparently so, He just did with this guy. But, while the letter of the law was broken here, what about the spirit of the law? Do you think this dude was more at rest, or less at rest while carrying his pallet for the first time in thirty-eight years?
By telling this man to pick up his pallet, Jesus is freeing him from that striving. Striving to keep the law. Striving to be the first in the pool so he can be healed. Striving to be acceptable in the sight of God – something that we often think is confirmed or denied by the judgments of those who are the ‘religious elite’. But, Jesus allowed this man to enter into rest while he carried his pallet on the sabbath.
So, two questions:
What would it mean for you to pick up your pallet and walk?
Are you sitting in judgment of someone who is carrying their pallet on the sabbath, the day of their long awaited healing and rest?