As we begin week four of our journey through the Bible, we encounter Jesus by a pool called Bethesda (which means "House of Mercy"). The pool of Bethesda was located within the city of Jerusalem and it was believed that this pool was a source of physical healing. On this particular day, Jesus addresses a man who has been an invalid for 38 years and has been lying near the pool for "a long time" in the hope of receiving healing. Jesus simply says to the man, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk" and the man immediately complies with Jesus' directive. The fallout following this healing miracle illustrates the two main controversies surrounding the ministry of Jesus, namely his authority and divinity.
The Authority of Jesus
The tension between the authority of Jesus and that of the Law of Moses is found in all four canonical gospels, because the religious are seeking a way to bring charges against Jesus. In today's reading, Jesus is accused of violating the prohibition against working on the Sabbath. By instructing the man by the pool to "take up his bed and walk" Jesus was encouraging the man to violate the Torah (the Law). However, there is nothing in the Old Testament that prohibits such an innocent activity as carrying one's bedroll on the Sabbath. This "law" was a later tradition that had been developed by the religious leaders, specifically the Pharisees. Jesus claims that he is working, just as his Father (God) is still working. Therefore, Jesus is claiming, as he does in the gospel of Matthew, to be the "Lord of the Sabbath." The wisdom and authority that Jesus demonstrates in his ministry is inspiring to some (his followers) and threatening to others (the religious leaders). Moreover, Jesus claims that his authority is given to him by God, his Father, which brings us to the second controversy surrounding the ministry of Jesus - his divinity.
The Divinity of Jesus
The other gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) contain mostly indirect claims to the divinity of Jesus; however, the gospel of John very explicitly claims that Jesus is the fully divine Son of God. This claim is found at the very beginning of John's gospel (the prologue), which we read last week. We also heard this claim in Sunday's gospel reading from John 10, in which Jesus says, "The Father and I are one." In today's reading, Jesus clearly identifies himself as equal with God, his Father. Jesus claims that whatever the Father is doing, that is what the Son must also do. Consequently, in John's gospel, we see Jesus doing the work of the Father - he forgives sins, he heals, he raises the dead, he offers eternal life to all who believe in him. These are all divine attributes that are being demonstrated by Jesus during his earthly ministry. Later Christian theologians will draw heavily upon John's gospel for the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.