The Spiritual and Sacramental Dimension of the Mission of the Church
according to John 5, 1
-15

- Imperatives and Demands -

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Contents

 

Pag.

I. PreliminaryŅŅŅŅŅŅŅŅŅŅŅŅŅŅŅŅ3

 

II. The Exegesis of the Episode …………………………………………………….……………..6

 

1.      The Healing of the Paralytic – The Description of the Miracle ( 5,1-9a) ………………6

2.      The man that remains in the sin and the revelation of Jesus ( 5,9b -18) …………..…..10

 

III. The Spiritual Dimension of the Mission as a theological message for the Church, according to the Bethesda Episode ……………………………………………………………...12

 

1. The outwards Mission of the Church (Extra Muros Ecclesia) ………………….………13

a. Searching for the marginalised ones …………………………………………………13

b. The simplicity of the challenging mission …………………………………….……..14

c. Giving witness to Jesus – part of the mission ……………………………….………14

 

2. The inwards Mission of the Church (Intra Muros Ecclesia) ……………………….…..15

a. Looking for the cured ones …………………………………………….……….….…..15

b. Exhortations and warnings …………………………………………..…………..……15

 

IV. Conclusions ……………………………………………………………………..…………….16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spiritual and Sacramental Dimension of the Mission of the Church according to John 5, 1-15

- Imperatives and Demands -

 

Pr. Prof. Univ. Dr. Stelian Tofană

- Babeş-Bolyai University-

The Faculty of Orthodox Theology

Cluj-Napoca, Romania

 

 

I. Preliminary

 

Third section of the “Book of Signs”, containing chapters 5-10 (apart from chapter 6, which it is believed that is proceeded chapter 5)[1]  it describes the activity of Jesus in Jerusalem, or close to Jerusalem, as well as the opposition of the Jews [2] against the self-revelation of Jesus and which will end with the death penalty (11,45-53).

In the previous chapters the evangelist presents the beginning of the revelation of the Word and some of the confessions, or answers of faith, that people gave to His message.

Starting with chapter 5, the frame of the narration changes because of some disputes between Jesus and His adversary, confrontations that are on the field of the main Jewish celebrations, which, in reality, underlines the succession of the chapters:

1.      The Sabbath’s Celebration and Jesus` testimony of being equal with the Father (5,1-47)

2.      The Celebration of Easter and His proclamation as “The Bread of Life” (6, 1-71).

3.      The Feast of Tabernacles and His proclamation as “The Light” in opposition with the world (7, 1-10,21).

4.      The Feast of the Renewal of the Temple and the testimony about himself as the Shepherd of the Sheep (people) (10, 22-42).

 

            But the intention of the Evangelist is not to follow the chronology of the events from Jesus` life, but to lay out a teaching, which shows, in a progressive way, the stages of Jesus’ manifestation as God, through His revelation. Though, he does not develop a “holy fortress” theology like the Luke does. It seems that John is not preoccupied with the destiny of the fortress neither from a pure historical prospective, nor from the history of salvation.[3]

The characteristics of the sections may be resumed as follows:

a.       Jesus is the meeting place between human and God – a significant component of the mission message of the Christian Church. A new life, started with Jesus, goes beyond the frame of the Judaic traditional celebrations, through which, the Jews were trying to establish a frame of relations with God. The Truth consists only in Jesus’ word and in His deeds.

b.      In these chapters, which presents four out of  the seven  “signs”, characteristic to this gospel, there is here a profound connection between “sign” (miraculous act) and “word” (the revelation of Jesus), between miracle and speech, on one hand, and the reaction of the Jews, on the other hand.

c.       The personages that are on the scene change according to those from the first chapters (John the Baptist, The Disciples, Jesus` mother, few Jewish, the Samaritans and a pagan). Now, the main interlocutors of Jesus are “the Jews” who accuse him of breaking the Law and tricking the crowd.

d.      According to the word of Jesus there form two groups of people: those who follow Him in faith and those who refuse Him. The popularity of Jesus declines, part of His disciples leave Him, and Jesus is waiting for His “Hour” in order to glorify Himself.

e.       Jerusalem becomes the place of Jesus` disputes with the Jews, but also the scene of the unrolling of His work and messianic mission.[4]

But, in order to understand better the theological-spiritual message of the chapter 5, is important to make a reference at the structural and literal composition, which gives an unitary aspect to the whole text. The structure of the chapter is the following:

1.      The healing of the paralytic and the controversy regarding Sabbath (5, 1-18).

a.       The Healing of the Paralytic (5,1-9a)

b.      The man that remains in sin ( 5,9b-18)

2.      Jesus’ self defence regarding His work ( 5,19-47)

a.       The Son – equal in power with the Father – gives life, as source of life, and judge (5,19-30)

b.      The testimonies of the Son, the present and the past ones, countenance His divine mission (5,31-47)

Noticing the refusal of the Jews and their misunderstanding, Jesus does not turn to them or to their institutions anymore, but he focuses his activity toward man, but to a man that is privy by life understood in its plenitude. So, He wants to renew the humanity from within by means of the Spirit’s power and His Word that gives life. This aspect of Jesus` mission, focused on reestablishing the integrity and the beauty of internal humanity, becomes the main goal of the mission of the Contemporary Church. Within the framework of the liturgical services, made for the sick in the Orthodox Church there is a prayer that the priest reads and it says: “…You, who punish the man and heal him again. You give the punish not wickedly, but kindly and lovingly; not in order to waste the work of your hands, but really desiring to save what was left from that fall and to bring him toward the original beauty and to the specially primary status, that we have lost through our disobedience and sins ...”[5]

So, chapter 5, continuing to the previous, (chapter 2 – the Wedding from Cana with the message: the joy of the new life born from the new wine – the symbol of the Eucharistic; chapter 3 – the anticipation of the new life, purchased by a new birth from above, from the sacrament of the baptism; chapter 4 – with the guarantee of the new life, born from the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is to say the living water promised to the Samaritan woman, and with the healing of the Nobleman’s Son episode, only by word), develops the theme of the new life, released of suffering and weakness, born from the power of the word of Jesus, The One who is looking for the man in sufferings.

What is obvious in the story of this chapter, is the fact that Jesus is that who is looking for the sick one and not the other way around; He is the One, Who reaches out to the sick, living image of the Church mission’s configuration which it has to come toward the world, and not the world toward it.

 

 


II. The Exegesis of the Episode

 

1. The healing of the paralytic – the description of the Miracle ( 5, 1-9a  )

           

v. 1. The description of the healing of the paralytic from Bethesda, seems to be, at first sight, a simple narrative.[6] Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the second time, according to the gospel, the main place of His messianic activity, on the occasion of a Judaic feast, not specified in the gospel, probably, with intention.[7]  It is not excluded the fact the evangelist to want to transmit even a message by this, namely, that for the Johannine Church this was not a feast of the Christians, underlining, in this way too, the superiority of the new religious order of the New Covenant compared with the Old one.[8]

v. 2-4 The place where the miracle is realised is the „Sheep Gate,” where there was a pool, having five porches and called Bethesda (the mercy house).[9] The archaeological researches, that were done lately, localised this pool at Jerusalem.[10] It got, constantly, on the edges, in those porches, „a great number of disabled people, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed”, all waiting for the movement of the water, for „from time to time an angel came down into the pool and stirred up the water. The first to plunge in after this disturbance recovered from whatever disease had afflicted him” (Jn.5, 4). A popular tradition, left form a cult of the healing pagan divinities, that had developed around a water with heeling properties, made spread a rumour that the water stirred  when an angel passes by (at the origin: That who was in Asclepios-Serapis god’s ministry), posses the power to heal the first sick that entered in water.[11]

Many exegetes believe that verses 3b and 4 would be a gloss (subsequently explanation).[12] Even if this verse is real or not, it contains three statements, truly justified:

a.                           The sick were actually waiting for the movement of the water; verse 7 refers also to it, and its authenticity is not questioned.

b.                          There were healed only the ones who were entering the first into the stirred water, just as it is specified again in verse 7.

c.                           There is no neutral „powers of the nature”, but the phenomenon’s of the nature are caused by those who are sent by God (cf. Ps.104, 4; Hebr. 1,7; Revel. 16,5).

 

v. 5. „ One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” With this verse, the accent of the narrative is placed by the evangelist on one man: an invalid man for thirty-eight years. From verse 7 we can deduce that the sick man could not move, so we might conclude that he was one of the paralyzed that was there.[13] Specifying the number of the years the man has been sick for, gave rise to many interpretations from the exegetes. For some, number 38 has a symbolical value, reminding of the exodus of the chosen people, through the desert, a life orientated toward salvation, but lived under the Law.[14] Anyway, and this may be the best interpretation, this number only indicates a sickness with no cure, so with no hope. 38 years may mean a life. Can it still exist hope in this case?

            v. 6-7.  In this environment, with no hope for some, comes Jesus. And “when He saw him (vidw.n) - searching for (seems) - because He knew (gnou.j) that he had been sick for a long time - says the evangelist - Jesus ask him: „Do you want (qe,leij) to be healed (u`gih.j gene,sqai)?”  

            A first question is whether Jesus was there at random or not?  We believe that Jesus was not there accidental, because there were a lot of sick people, whose suffering, for most of them, left no place for hope. Can God miss from such a world? We believe that not!  The task of the mission of Messiah, according to the prophet was to heal the blind and cripple, to comfort those with broken heart, etc. (Is.35, 5 ff; 42,7; 61,1 ff.).

            There are three verbs in verse 6:  vidw.n - gnou.j -- qe,leij that define the characteristic of Jesus` attitude to the paralytic:

            - The verb  vidw.n shows that Jesus had an eye for the one in suffering, which means that when no one sees the helpless, God sees him.

            - The verb gnou.j shows a God that knows everything and because of all this knowledge, He comes to face the man left by all.

            - The question: Do you want (qe,leij) to be healed ( u`gih.j gene,sqai )?, seem to be at first look, having no logic and no sense. Which sick person does not want to get healed? Yet, it does have a sense. Marked by the verb qe,leij shows that Jesus does not act in healing without a conscious and responsible YES from the person. Actually, the question referred to the person’s freedom, which God respects, but also the fact that the healing is in our power too, in our will, in the conviction that we can get what we ask .[15] Yet, its profound sense, will be clarified at the end, at the meeting between the former sick and Jesus. The grace creates all the premises of the salvation, but without a conscious YES and determined by the will of the man, He does not operate for his salvation.

            The answer of the sick is as surprising as Jesus` question. Sir, - the invalid replied – I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me (5, 7). It seems like the invalid was not limited totally by his possibilities to move, but he was moving hard, so that every time he was overtaken by someone else. This thing shows, obviously, that he was paralyzed.

From the text, we do not know the reason he has no one around him, to help. First of all, it seems like he was also poor, because he had no servants. If the relatives or close ones (if he would have had family) died, or, simply, left him, again we do not know it. But, we can know one thing: The fact he does not give a quick positive answer, namely he wants to be healed, which was normally, it actually shows that, he had another suffering, harder than his physical infirmity: suffering from loneliness.  It looks like the loneliness, as the suffering of the soul, is harder than the physical suffering, the suffering of the body. Yet, the paralytic will be healed by the both sufferings: physically,  will be healed, he will stand up and be able to walk, and spiritually, will have with him from now on, forever a MAN – JESUS, who is also God. Together with God there is no loneliness and no sufferings.

The thing that is wonderful, is that the invalid, even he was in that situation, he remained at Bethesda and did not give up. It is true that there is nowhere specified he would have spent all 38 years of suffering at Bethesda. It is not excluded that he would come here only a few time ago. But one thing is certain: The evangelist will have to send a message also through this lack of information, namely, in spite of the physical infirmity and the loneliness, the sick did not loose the hope of being healed. Probably, he hoped that someone, someday, being impressed by his patience in waiting, to help him go first into the pool. Was this really a reason Jesus looked for him? Certainly, YES!

v. 8-9. In that context of waiting and hopes, Jesus said: Get up! Pick up your mat and walk! ( le,gei auvtw/| o` VIhsou/j\ e;geire a=ron to.n kra,batto,n sou kai. peripa,tei ). Jesus` command can be found ad litteram in the description of the healing of the paralytic from Capernaum  ( Mk.2, 9.11).  Both the way John says here and the words of Jesus, correspond perfectly well with synoptically reports (cf. Mt. 9, 2 ff). The verb e;geire shows that the invalid was laying on a bed, which was, probably, something like a mat. So, in this way, it could easily be rolled and carried. Just like that we can understand the words of Jesus a=ron to.n kra,batto,n sou kai. peripa,tei. The verb peripa,tei can be translated as: go! In this case, Jesus presented to all present people, the proof of the real healing: the one who was paralytic, was walking now.

But, Jesus` command: e;geire a=ron to.n kra,batto,n sou kai. peripa,tei ! has, in the evangelist’s view, a profound theological significance. The verb e;geire, translated with get up, can also be translated with resurrect. So, in getting the sick up, there is a symbolic sign of spiritual and physically resurrection to a new life. One thing that must be noticed here is that the healing takes place in strongly connection with obeying Jesus` command, or His words.[16] The paralytic gets up after he first listens and obeys Jesus command. So, the healing is a result of listening to the word of Jesus. Regarding this, the evangelist writes: At once the man was cured; he took up his bed and walked. The day on which this tool place was a Sabbath (5,9).

            The adverb of time euvqe,wj (at once) shows the promptitude the word of God becomes efficient; it almost exists a simultaneous between the saying and efficiency Of course, between the two events there is, almost always, the man’s  positive or negative answer, marked by faith or disbelief:

-         The words of Jesus –  “Do you believe that I am able to do this ?” 

-         The answer of the man – Yes, Lord!

-         The fulfillment of miracle – Then He touched their eyes…” ( Mt. 9, 28-29);

Another example, in the same pattern:

-         Jesus’ words – “Your brother will rise again”

-         The answer of the human – Martha said: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection…”

-         The fulfillment of miracle – Did I not tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God ?... Then he raised his voice in a great cry: “Lazarus, come forth!” (Jn. 11, 23-24.40.43)

The words from verse 9: “The day on which this tool place was a Sabbath”, are considered by many commentators as being an introduction to the next passage [17] and which includes the reaction of the Jews at the miracle accomplished by Jesus on a Sabbath day and seen as breaking the Sabbath.

 

2. The man who remains in sin and the revelation of Jesus (5, 9b -18)

 

v. 10-11. The reaction of the Jews to the healing fulfilled by Jesus, is immediate: “and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed: It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry the mat” (5,10). It is difficult to say who are these Jews that the text refers to. Probably, they were teachers, Jewish scholars in Law. The Jews law regarding the Sabbath was very clear: the rest was a command given by God Himself. “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whosever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people”. (Exodus 31, 14).

This precept was based on the “rest of God”, which is mentioned at the end of the event of creation. (cf. Exodus 20, 8-11; Duet. 5, 12-15; Num. 15,32-36).

So, this was the reason why breaking the law of Sabbath was considered to be a grave mistake, breaking the will of God, defiling the alliance between Yahweh and His people. (Exodus 31,13-17).  According to the Mishna, namely of the rigid Judaic tradition, transporting something from one place to another was one of the 39 things that were forbidden on Sabbath day.[18] The Prophet Jeremiah also says: “Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath.” (17, 21). This is the reason why,  the healed man, was reproached for carrying  the mat.

But the matter of healings being possible on Sabbath day was discussed in Judaism as well and, generally, the answer was affirmative. So, in Talmud it is written: On Sabbath day, water is warmed up for the sick, in order to give him to drink or to cool him down…and do not say any more we will wait with that, maybe he will get healed, but to have water warmed immediately, because the possibility of a danger of death puts Sabbath on a side… Our teachers have taught us: On the day of Sabbath, the man must be preoccupied with saving life, namely, the more devotion, the more worthy of praise he is”.[19] So, if Jesus was healing on Sabbath day, he remained within the Judaic legal - religious framework. His words: “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” ( Mk. 2,28 ), did not cancel the Sabbath, but they gave it a different dimension in regard with Jesus.[20] Just as the Father is superior to Sabbath and can work on this day, Jesus, equal with the Father in being, is also the Master of the Sabbath and can say: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working, too.”[21] (5,1 7).

The man’s answer to the Jews’ reproach, tries to find an excuse in order to escape any accusation: “But he replied: The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat, too and walk” (5,11). In reality, his answer reflects the human superficial character, incapable of understanding the miracle fulfilled by Jesus. But, this answer shows something of the divine authority of the One who healed him: The ex-paralytic obeys His order, although as a Jew, he knew that he was not allowed to carry the mat on the Sabbath day.

v. 12-14. Gradually, the scene changes into an interrogation: “So they asked him: Who is the Man who told you, Take up your bed and walk?” (5, 12)

The question was put in order to know Jesus (cf. Lk.19, 3), but not put to have an open heart to accept Him. “The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there” (5, 13).  It seems like we deal with a case where healing took place in the absence of faith. We do not know the reason Jesus broke away from that place: Did he not want to gain popularity, by means of which it could have been created an atmosphere of popular enthusiasm, which then it could have negatively impacted His mission, or did was he merely aim at something else?

The meeting with the paralytic again later, after the event, would rather confirm the second assumption. Jesus wanted to have a private meeting with him, in order to be able to transmit to him, undisturbed, what the cured might not have understood then and there, namely that the reason for his sufferings was within him, in his sins, and not on the outside. Actually, the evangelist writes this detail: “Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him: See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (5, 14).

Verse 14 seems to contain a message in almost every word. As such it is necessary to discuss some of the expressions into more detail:

- Jesus found him in the temple – We do not know if the healed man was in the temple because he was taking part into the “repast” or because he had come to bring sacrifice particularly for his healing (cf. Lev. 3,1 ff, 7,11ff. 28 ff ). Anyway, what it is important is that after the healing, the meeting of the man with Jesus takes place in the temple. Is it possible that Jesus was looking for this man even in this place? It is very likely so, because the evangelist states that it was Jesus who found the man in the temple, and not the other way around. If that is the case, then it means that God is searching for the man is both situations: in sufferings and in good health. The theological message of God’s search for the man is the fact that the man is permanently in God’s care and preoccupation. In this case he is never alone.  He feels the loneliness only when he breaks away from God through sin.

            - See, you got healthy – it means that God allowed for you to regain health. Comparing this expression with Jesus` question from before fulfilling the miracle - Do you want to get well? – it shows that the healing also existed in the man’s own power.  That is why there is the expression: “you got healthy” and not “I made you healthy.” So, we understand that the miracles take place in a collaboration of man with God. The restoration and restoring him in the status of primary beauty, lost by sin, is accomplished by the power and desire of God, but in collaboration with the will and the freedom of the man.

            - Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you – shows clearly that at the base of his suffering, there was a sin. It is not specified what this “worse” ( cei/ro,n – comp. de la kakÒj) consists, if he sins again, but worse than 38 years of sufferings, there can only be the eternal damnation.[22]

            v. 15. The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

            We do not know the reason the healed man went to tell to the Jews that Jesus is the author of his healing. The former paralytic must have had only one purpose: To give witness to Jesus and not to denounce Him.[23] Otherwise, the warning given to him in the temple, not to sin again, would have not reached its goal.[24]  If the healed man now knows Jesus` name, it becomes clearly that the discussion mentioned in verse 14, must have been longer than what the evangelist said.[25]

 

 

          III. The Spiritual Dimension of the Mission as a theological message for the Church, according to the Bethesda Episode

 

According to the Johannine analysis concerning a sacramental theological perspective, the Bethesda Episode takes ecclesiological connotations, referring first of all, to the mission of the Christian Church. The step by step description of the miracle’s becomes above all a missionary pattern. According to the Bethesda Episode the mission of the Church has to be unfolded in two sections: extra and intra muros.

 

1.  The Mission of the Church outside its walls (Extra Muros Ecclesia)

 

a. Searching for the marginalised ones

 

Reconstituting the Bethesda Episode focusing on the kerigmatical meaning of Ecclesia, John describes the event in order to give, in its symbolism, a profound theological meaning.

The crowd of those suffering from different illness laying at the entry of the Bethesda pool represents a part of humanity. This is a crowd physically and morally ruined by the suffering and by the gloomy perspective of death, a crowd expecting the redemption through miraculous elements, in this case, the water.

The five porches under which the sick and those who accompanied them were gathered, represent for some exegetes[26] the symbol of Moses’ law, the five books of Torah, inefficient in saving the human being, but which if disregarded, become incriminatory in front of God the Father (Jn.5, 45).[27]

From another perspective, the five porches can represent in the Johannine ecclesiological symbolism the Church of Jesus Christ, in which all the human categories are found. It is this very crowd of suffering people that Jesus is heading to, placing Himself in the middle of it, taking the initiative, choosing only one in the crowd, symbol of the most poor and marginalised ones, close to the salvation and yet so far from it. The paralytic was so close to the healing water and yet he could not touch it: he did not have a person to help him. Jesus, knowing his physical and moral slavery, reveals Himself to him, without disregarding his freedom. Jesus said:  Do you want to be healed?

So, there is, in this episode and also in the action of Jesus, the image of an ideal model of the mission of the Church. We can understand from this attitude of Jesus, that the Church must head towards people, to get closer to the place of the sufferance, wherever it would be, in the world of the poor or of the rich, of the young or of the old, of the cultured or of the uncultured and from there to locate, first and foremost, the most suffering, poor and marginalised ones.

The ideal missionary Church is only the one who is heading towards the world provoking it through its questions, like Jesus, and then offering to it the beginning of redemption and incorporation within, by means of the healing water of the Sacrament of the Holy Baptism (Gal. 3, 27). A Church, that expects the world to come to it, is not a missionary one.

 

b – The simplicity of the challenging mission

 

The Church’s mission must be undertaken with the simplicity of Jesus’ behaviour. The question addressed to the ill one: Do you want to be healed ? - was provocative, because in the mind of Jesus, it had no other purpose than to help the sufferer overcome his desperation, but mainly to recognize and confess his absolute helpless condition and his total dependency of a person who could face him helping. We can deduce from this analysis the communitarian dimension of redemption: we are saved only “with” and “through” others.[28]

The question addressed by Jesus to the paralytic is a crucial one, addressed also nowadays to every man, through the mission of His Church, in order to test his faith and make him recognize and confess his sin. The experience of Jesus is the only one that can transform the sick into a healthy, free man, capable of dominating what used to make him weak. Through the power of His word, Jesus opens a path full of hope for those who experience the liberation of the evil, the happiness of life lived in the power of the Spirit, which is activity and a fruitful existence. This gesture of unconditioned love from the part of the Church towards the suffering person, gives a spiritual dimension to this mission.

So, the mission of the Church, manifested in the world, may be characterised as an act working through love. This kind of mission can be undertaken by everybody.

 

c – Giving witness to Jesus– part of the mission

 

The image of the departure and of the presence of the cured person in front of the Jews in order to affirm that Jesus is the One who cured him, may be considered as a scene with defining elements for the Church’s Mission that has the task to build a framework for giving witness to Jesus, a framework that the Church has to share with the modern world. Any meeting with Jesus must imply for every Christian a moment to give witness to Him, especially because Jesus trained, commissioned and equipped His followers for His mission with a vision of the church, the community of His followers, which may, as a team, carry on his work of salvation in the world. The Church should have a vision to see the available opportunity now to gather the fruit of the joint-labour of the Father and of the Son.

In other words, the community of Jesus should bear witness by preaching, teaching, writing, counselling, and offering social involvement with the aim of gathering people to receive life in Christ. However, such attempts will be ineffective, if they are not accompanied by a life of love, unity and serving after the model of Jesus’ love. The enabling power for the life of the Church and witness comes from the Holy Spirit whom Jesus gives.

 Another detail cannot be missed in the discussion: the Wonder of Jesus is done in Bethesda under the auspices of a feast. But, the mission of Jesus is permanently unfolded under the auspices of the eternal feast – Christ the Sacrificed One, on the altar of the Church. The power of this sacrifice always accompanies the missioners and cures the one to whom the word is preached.

 

2. The inwards Mission of the Church (Intra Muros Ecclesia)

 

 a. Looking for the cured ones

 

What it appears as a special characteristic of the mission of Jesus, in the episode of Bethesda, in its second part, is the fact that Jesus also searches for the healthy man – task and imperative of the mission of the Church from the very beginning.

It is true that Jesus uttered: I did not come to call the just persons, but the sinners to atonement (Mt 9, 13), but His words do not mean that his action of salvation does not aim towards the former, but they only want to emphasize that the main aim of His Incarnation was the redemption of the fallen. The righteous person is saved by helping the other and the sinner is saved being helped by the former.

But what is extremely important is the fact that the dialogue between Jesus and the cured one takes place inside the Temple and not outside – in intra muros Temple not extra muros. This means that the relationship between the one helped by Jesus and His Saviour is now different from what it used to be. The help that he gets now does not aim to the recovery of health, but to its retention.

As such, this is the way in that the Church has to direct its mission, namely towards its intra members, in order to maintain the health of their soul and their true faith. But, this scene does not want to say that the ones healthy in spirit are only in the Church – intra Ecclesia. There are also extra Ecclesia, but those who do not cultivate the health of their soul in the space filled of grace of the church are only half healthy (Tit 1, 9; 2,1). The mission of the Church for that category remains a distinct one, specially an extra muros one. Actually, the mission aimed at those that have already experienced Jesus is both intra and extra one.

 

b. – Exhortations and warnings

 

The meeting between Jesus and the healed, in the Temple, is focused on an exhortation – warning given by Jesus to the one who was once paralytic: “From now on do not sin lest happen something worst to you” (5, 14). But these words are also an assurance that from that moment, the sins of the healed are deeply forgiven by God and something bad could happen to him only if he sins again. This is what Jesus had in mind when He said: “My Father has been working until now so I am working, too” (5, 17). The hidden work of the Father of forgiving the sins compels also the Son to an obvious public activity of healing the world. Therefore, it is not only a bodily healing, but also the spiritual one.[29] In these words it is concentrated the core of the mission of Jesus, realised in the House of God.  So, an important part of the priest’s intra mission is to permanently remind the Christians that the sin is the base of the world sufferance, but also to assure them that Jesus together with his Father are permanently active in the continuous work of healing the world.

The Holy Scripture records some of such examples in which sufferance and sudden death have come as a result of sins, known or unknown: the death of the Galileans murdered by Irod, death of the 18 people over whom the Siloam Tower had fallen (Lk 13, 1-5); death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts, 5, 1-11); sufferance and death of those who despise The Body and The Blood of Lord (I Cor. 11, 30) etc.

The Apostle Paul, defining this truth, affirmed in his Epistle, sent to the Christians in Roma: “there will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil […], but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good” (Rom.2, 9-10).

Regarded from this point of view, Jesus’ exhortation – warning, was also kind and understood as the essence of the mission in temple, may be considered as a working act of word, element that defines an essential part of the mission of the Church.

 

            IV. Conclusions

 

               - The spiritual theological significance of the Bethesda episode is linked to previous episodes (Cana, Nicodim, Samaritan woman) through the symbolism of water, which is specific Johannine literature. We have previously had the water of Jewish purifications, and the water of Jacob's well, as symbols of the ineffective ordinances of religion on the level of mere s£rx as opposed to religion ™n pneÚmati kaˆ ¢lhqe…a. In the Bethesda narrative we have, once again, water which offers healing (or newness of life), but has not been effective to heal a cripple of thirty-eight years' standing.[30] It becomes efficient only when it is touched by an angel, the symbol of God’s grace, which fills it with power. The paralytic did not heal in it because he did not have a person to help him to enter it, but the others did. From this perspective it becomes the symbol or the prefiguration of the Christian Baptism.[31] In the orthodox Iconography the Bethesda episode is represented as symbolising the basin of the Christian Baptism.

               - Bethesda, signifying the Church, becomes the place which reveals the mercy of God who quests the alone one and the one without help and heals the sick and the helpless one.

               - Bethesda becomes also the efficient and dynamic place of mission and Jesus the exponent of mission through excellence. The phased way in which the miracle is accomplished, becomes a pattern, a model of mission for the Church in the contemporary world.

               - The exponent of the mission of the Church, according to the Bethesda episode, is not only the priest as a direct follower of Jesus, but every Christian. At Bethesda, there are people who really realised a mission helping the helpless and ministering them. The words of the paralytic: “I do not have man to throw me in the bath when the water stirs, that until to come, the other one (probably the ones who were helped by others) gets down before me” are illustrating in this sense. So, a part of the mission of Church must be undertaken by the universal priestly of all Christians.

               - The healing from Bethesda becomes also a prophetic sign because in the new creation of God, received through the Incarnation of Jesus, and permanently renewed in the Sacraments of the Church, sufferance and illness will be vanquished. This truth becomes a part of the result of the mission of the Church, and of every Christian’s hope.

               - The “Bethesda” episode pointed out also the kerigmatical element of the mission of the Church, the miracle of the healing of the paralytic underlining, first of all, the power and the authority of the word of Jesus: the healing comes after the word of Jesus is listened to. So, the healing mission of the Church is closely connected with the urgent necessity of preaching and listening to the word of Jesus. This kind of Church’s activity, healing and kerigmatik, becomes in the contemporary world, in the same time a live witnessing of Jesus and his presence in the Sacraments and spiritual activity of the Church.

- Bearing witness” is one of the predominant themes in John’s Gospel and John develops this theme by using the terms marture‹n and martur…a, but often by allowing it to be implied. A special feature in John is that the witness motif is coupled with words and expressions that have mission concerns and thus given missiological significance.

John felt the need to prove and defend this truth by presenting many witnesses, in conformity with the Jewish law, so that he might better address the ongoing conflict between the church and the synagogue.

            - Jesus came into the world to bear witness to the truth as well. That is, the missionary agenda of Jesus, according to John, is that he should bear witness to himself as the genuine revelation of God who, in his love and truthfulness, delivers people from sin, sickness, and death.

            - The church today may therefore learn from Jesus, as John portrays in 5,1-15, some of the methods of his mission:

a - Jesus had concern for the physical, spiritual and social needs of the sick and the suffering, and thus cared for the Óloj ¥nqrwpoj. Therefore his mission was holistic in nature;

b - In his soteriological mission, Jesus gave importance to the context in which he was ministering and made his message of truth relevant to that context;

c - Jesus had concern for the whole world and therefore his mission crossed the boundary of his own people and culture to embrace the people who were despised and marginalized. He totally identified himself with them by being with them and offering them the salvation of God without partiality. Thus, Jesus’ mission had universal significance;

 d - Jesus bore witness to the heavenly truth by dialogue with individuals and groups, and made them his witnesses before the world. The church is called to bear witness to the life-giving power of Jesus by involving herself in the daily affairs of the world, whether political, social or religious.[32]



[1] . See R. Schnackenburg, Das Johannesevangelium, II Teil,  Herder, Freiburg-Basel-Wien, 1971, cap., Das Problem der Reihenfolge von chapter 5 und 6”, p. 6-11.

[2] . The term „Jew” in the fourth Gospel has different meanings according to the context. The word is used to express the Jewish people as both ethnic-religious group ( 4,12; 8,31; 10,19; 11,45; 12,11) and as an ensemble of those, in Judaism do not accept Jesus from Nazareth and who persecute and try to loose Him  (5,16; 6,41; 7,1-30; 8,44.55-59 and, especially, chapter. 18-19). These texts put in light the existing disagreement that was between Jew and Johannine Church, just as it can be seen, especially in chapter 9, from the description of the miracle of the man born blind: those who accepted Jesus and believed in Him were excluded from the synagogue. Apart from this second meaning, very important in this gospel, is underlined how for the evangelist, these Jews, hostile to Jesus, represent the symbol of the man with no faith from all times, who does not listen to the word of Jesus rejecting Him. (See, George Zevini, Commentaire spirituel de l’Evangile de Jean, Paris 1995, p. 125 ).

[3] . Cf. R. Schnackenburg, op.cit. p. 115.

[4] . See details, regarding this, G. Zevini, op. cit. p. 126.

[5] .  Molitfelnic, Bucureşti, 1976, p.306.

[6] . By certain elements, the event has as origin a rich tradition of miracle events related by synoptic ( Mk. 2,1-12; Mt.9,1-8; Lk. 17-26). Yet, in his gospel, John keeps a certain independence compared with the Synoptics, either by mentioning a different place where the miracle took place or by a different orientation of the theme and the theological message that he has in view For the Synoptics, the accents is put on the power of healing the sins, for John the accent is put on the gift of life and salvation, which Jesus only can offer (  See G. Zevini, op. cit. p. 128) .

[7] . It is hard to establish what event the evangelist refers to. According to the information from Exodus 23,14 ff; 34,18 ff; Lev. 23,4 ff and Deut. 16,1 ff  might be made a determination of the feast. According to these rules of the Law, every Israelite adult had to go three times a year to Jerusalem: The Easter Feast, the Pentecost, and the Tabernacles. Jesus respected these prescriptions of the Law, otherwise it would have not been confirmed his faultless to the Law (Mt. 22, 16; In.3, 2; 8, 46). Considering that John 2, 13 makes already a remark to the Easter Feast, for John 5,1 would enter into in discussion, only the Pentecost Feast and Tabernacles. Part of the exegetes refer to the Feast of Tabernacles.( See Gerhard Maier, Johannes-Evangelium,1 Teil, Edition C: Bibelkommentare, B 6 und B 7, quoted after the Romanian translation, The Book of John, Ed. Lumina lumii, Korntal, Germany, 1999, p. 189), others to the Feast of  Pentecost ( Sf. Ioan Hrisostom, P.G. 59, 203, after R. Schnackenburg, op. cit. p. 118); St. Cyril of Alexandria also says that, again, it is the Feast of Pentecost ( P.G. 73, 337, after Comentariu la Evanghelia Sf. Ioan, Col. „Părinţi şi Scriitori Bisericeşti ( PSB), 41, Bucharest 2000, p. 240 ); others merely do not affirm anything regarding this. ( See G. Zevini, op. cit p. 128; R. Schnackenburg, op.cit., p. 118-119; D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge U.K., 1991, p. 240-241).

[8] . See Gerhard Maier, op. cit. p. 189.

[9] . Cf. G. Zevini, op. cit. p. 128.

[10] . See details, J. Jeremias, The Rediscovery on Bethesda, Louisville 1966; John Wilkinson, The Jerusalem Jesus Knew: An Archaeological Guide to the Gospels, Thames and Hudson, 1978, pp. 95-104. It is interesting that after the demolition of Jerusalem, the Romans have built on the same place, where, after the findings the pool was localised, a temple dedicated to Asclepios, the god of doctors and medicine. Therefore, also the roman constructions prove that there were expected healings. ( See G. Maier, op.cit p. 191 and New Bible Dictionary, p. 132.  ).

[11] . Eusebius himself describes this in „Onomasticon” 59, 25-27: „Bethesda, the pool, was named in Jerusalem „ probaton pool” which can also be said as the „pool of sheep”. It had five colonnades and two pools could be seen and usually, only one was filled with water that cams from rain… True, it is said that the priests used it to wash the sick there, and there comes its name from ”( Cf. G. Zevini, op. cit. p. 128 ).

[12] . There is no manuscript from before year 400 after Christ to contain these verses. ( Cf. Comentariu al Noului Testament, editors, John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, Ed. Multimedia, Arad, 2005, p. 284 ); R. Schnackenburg, op. cit. p. 120; D.A. Carson, op.cit. p. 242.

[13] . See D.A. Carson, op. cit. p. 242.

[14]. Cf. R. Schnackenburg, op.cit. p. 120; G. Zevini, op. cit. p. 129; D.A. Carson, op. cit. p. 242. See St. Cyril of Alexandriei, op. cit. p. 240 .

[15]. St. Cyril of Alexandriei, op. cit. p. 241.

[16] . See G. Maier, op. cit. p. 196.

[17] . See R. Schnackenburg, op. cit. p. 117-118.

[18] . Cf. Mishna Shab, 7,2, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neun Testament, Band VII, Stuttgart 19...,p. ; See also D.A.Carson, op.cit, p. 244; R. Schnackenburg, op.cit. p. 122. 

[19] . Cf.. B Ioma 84b, apud G. Maier, op. cit. p. 198.

[20] . The synoptics as well talk about the controversies between Jesus and the Jews regarding the Sabbath and always bring two arguments for Jesus` self-defence. 1. The Salvation of the human is superior to the Law ( Mc. 2,23-28; 3,1-6; Mt. 12, 3-4, Lc. 6, 1-11, 13, 16-17; 14, 3-6); 2. Jesus is above Sabbath ( Mt.12, 8). John refers to the first argument in 7, 23.

[21] . It is important to note that the verb evrga,zomai\- to work, is used at Present Tense, in the absolute sense, for both The Father and the Son and it expresses the equality and the unity of will in work.

[22] . Also see G. Maier, op. cit. p. 202; R. Schnackenburg, op.cit. p. 123.

[23] .  St. Cyril of Alexandria expresses this point of view: „… he preached Jesus to the Jews not to make an evil to him, or to demonstrate himself unbeliever, but, if they want to be healed themselves, they know to Physician who is laudable.” (op. cit. p. 245);

[24] . There are exegetes who choose the viewpoint of denouncing Jesus to the Jews by the healed man. For instance, it is written: “„Pouvant décider entre confesser sa foi ou ne pas adhérer à la personne de Jésus, il opte pour ce dernier choix, préférant à la vrai Vie le chemin de la mort: il va communiquer aux „Juifs” le nom de celui qui l’a guéri. N’apportant aucun témoignage sur Jésus, l’obligé se fait son accusateur et attire sur lui la haine des chefs qui „commencèrent à persécuter Jésus, parce qu’il faisait ces choses le Sabbat” ( 5,16)  ( cf. op. cit. p. 132 ); Vezi şi D.A. Carson: „...in the present context, the motive can hardly be a desire to assign appropriate praise to Jesus...” ( op. cit. p. 246).

[25] . Ibidem, p. 203.

[26].  See C.H.Dodd, The Interpretation of the fourth Gospel, Cambridge, 1953, p. 318

[27] . The same interpretation at G. Zevini, op.cit. p. 129.

[28] . See more details in this respect, Dumitru Staniloae, Invatatura ortodoxa despre mantuire si concluziile ce rezulta din ea pentru slujirea crestina din lume, in „Ortodoxia”, an.XXIV, 1972, nr.2, p. 195-212.

[29] . See R. Schnackenburg, op.cit. p. 123.

[30] . Cf.  C.H.Dodd, The Interpretation of the fourth Gospel, Cambridge, 1953, p. 318.

 

[31] . The Type: The Pool of Bethesda                                               The Fulfillment: Jesus Christ

      A place of miracles                                                                    A Person of miracles

      For one person at one time                                                        For everyone at any time

      Through angelic mediation                                                        Without angelic mediation

   For physical and temporal well-being                                  For spiritual and eternal well-being wich begins with  baptism

( See The Orthodox Study Bible. New Testament and Psalms, Nashville, Tennessee, 1997, p.224 ).

[32]. See details, Jey J. Kanagaraj,  Missiological Significance of Bearing Witness in John’s Gospel: Witnesses of Jesus and the Church, Paper presented within the Seminar “The Mission of the Church: Exegesis and Hermeneutics” by the 60th SNTS General Meeting in Halle, 2005 ( quoted according to the manuscript).