A Commentary on the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda

A Commentary on the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda

“1 After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the gate a sheep pool, which is surnamed in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.
3 In these was lying a great multitude of the infirm, blind, lame, withered, awaiting the moving of the water.
4 For an angel used to come down from time to time into the pool and trouble the water; then after the troubling of the water, the one who first entered became well of whatsoever disease he was held by. [Jn. 5:1-4]

“’Not for nothing does the blessed Evangelist straightway connect with what has been said the Saviour’s return thence to Jerusalem : but his aim probably was to show how superior in obedience were the aliens to the Jews, how great a difference of habit and manners is seen between them.

For thus and in no other way could we learn, that by the just judgment of God Who ruleth all and knoweth not to accept the person of man, Israel with reason falleth from the hope, and the fulness of the Gentiles is brought in in his place. It is not hard by looking at the contrast of the (present and the preceding) chapters (of the Gospel of St. John) to test what has been said. St. John showed therefore that Christ had by one miracle saved the city of the Samaritans, by one likewise the nobleman, and by it had profited all surely (I believe) and exceeding much those who were therein. Having by these things testified the extreme readiness of the aliens to obedience, St. John brings the Miracle-worker back to Jerusalem, and shows Him accomplishing a God-befitting act. For Christ wondrously frees the paralytic from a most inveterate disease even as He had the noble man’s son just dying. But the one believed with his whole house, and confessed that Jesus is God, while the others, who ought to have been astonished, straightway desire to kill, and persecute, as though blasphemously transgressing, their Benefactor, themselves against themselves pronouncing more shameful condemnation in that they are found to fall short of the understanding of the aliens, and their piety towards Christ.   And this it was which was spoken of them in the Psalms, as to our Lord Jesus, Thou shalt make them the back [Ps. 11:12 LXX]. For they having been set in the first rank because of the election of the fathers, will come last and after the calling of the Gentiles. For when the fulness of the Gentiles is come in, then shall all Israel be saved [Rom. 11:25-26].

This line of thought the well-arranged order of the compilation of chapters brings forth to us. But we will make accurate inquiry part by part of the meaning of single verses.

5 And a certain man was there, who had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity.
6 Jesus saw this one lying there, and knew that he had already been much time in that condition, … [Jn. 5:5-6]

The Jews having celebrated their feast of unleavened bread, in which it is their custom to kill the sheep, to wit, at the time of the Passover, Christ departeth from Jerusalem, and mingleth with the Samaritans and aliens, and teacheth among them, being grieved at the stubbornness of the Jews. And having barely returned at the holy Pentecost (for this was the next solemnity in Jerusalem and at no great interval), He heals at the waters of the pool the paralytic, who had passed much time in sickness (for it was even his thirty-eighth year): but who had not yet attained unto the perfect number of the Law, I speak of four times ten or forty.

Here then will end the course of the history; but we must transform again the typical letter unto its spiritual interpretation. That Jesus grieved departs from Jerusalem after the killing of the sheep, goes to the Samaritans and Galileans, and preaches among them the word of salvation, what else will this mean, save His actual withdrawal from the Jews, after His sacrifice and Death at Jerusalem upon the Precious Cross, when He at length began to freely give Himself to them of the Gentiles and aliens, bidding it to be shown to His Disciples after His Resurrection, that He goeth before them all into Galilee (Matt. 28:7)? But His return again at the fulfilment of the weeks of holy Pentecost to Jerusalem, signifies as it were in types and darkly, that there will be of His Loving Kindness a return of our Saviour to the Jews in the last ages of the present world, wherein those of them who have been saved through faith in Him, shall celebrate the all-holy feasts of the saving Passion. But that the paralytic is healed before the full time of the law, signifies again by a corresponding type, that Israel, having blasphemously raged against Christ, will be infirm and paralytic and will spend a long time in doing nothing; yet will not depart to complete punishment, but will have some visitation from the Saviour, and will himself too be healed at the pool by obedience and faith. But that the number forty is perfect according to the Divine Law, will be by no means hard to learn by them who have once read the Divine Scriptures.

6 …and He said to him, “Dost thou wish to become well?”
7 The sick man answered Him,… [Jn. 5:6-7]

An evident proof of the extreme goodness of Christ, that He doth not wait for entreaties from the sick, but forecometh their request by His Loving Kindness. For He runneth, as you see, to him as he lieth, and (out of love) inwardly suffereth together with him that was sick without comfort. But the enquiry whether he would like to be relieved from his infirmity was not that of one asking out of ignorance a thing manifest and evident to all, but of one stirring up to more earnest desire, and inciting to most diligent entreaty. The question whether he willed to obtain what he longed for is immense with a kind of force and expression, that He has the power to give, and is even now ready thereto, and only waits for the request of him who receiveth the grace.

7 …”Sir, I have no man in order that whenever the water is troubled he may put me into the pool; but while I am coming, another goeth down before me.”
8 Jesus saith to him, “Rise… [Jn. 5:7,8]

About the day of the holy Pentecost, Angels coming down from heaven used to trouble the water of the pool, then they would make the movement and sound therefrom the herald of their presence. And the water would be sanctified by the holy spirits, and whoever was beforehand of the multitude of sick people in getting down, he would come up again unburdened of the suffering that troubled him, yet to one alone, him who first seized it, was the might of healing meted out. But this too was a sign of the benefit of the law by the hands of Angels, which extended to the one race of the Jews alone, and healed none other save they. For from Dan so called even unto Beer-sheba, the commandments given by Moses were spoken, ministered by Angels in Mount Sinai in the days afterwards marked out as the holy Pentecost. For this reason, the water too of the pool used not to be troubled at any other time, signifying there through the descent of the holy Angels thereon. The paralytic then not having anyone to thrust him into the water, with the disease that holds him, was bewailing the want, of healers, saying, I have no man in order that whenever the water is troubled he may put me into the pool. For he fully expected that Jesus would tell and advise him this.

8 …take up thy bed and be walking.”
9 And straightway the man became well, and took up his bed, and went on walking. And on that day it was a sabbath. [Jn. 5:8,9]

God-befitting is the injunction, and possessing clearest evidence of power and authority above man. For He prays not for the loosing of his sickness for the patient, lest He too should seem to be as one of the holy Prophets, but as the Lord of Powers He commandeth with authority that it be so, telling him to go home rejoicing, to take his bed on big shoulders, to be a memento to the beholders of the might of Him that had healed him. Forthwith the sick man does as is bidden him, and by obedience and faith he gaineth to himself the thrice longed for grace. But since in the foregoing we introduced him as the -image and type of the multitude of the Jews, who should be healed in the last times: come let us think of something again harmonizing with the thoughts hereto pertaining, analagous to those before examined.

On the Sabbath day doth Christ heal the man, when healed He immediately enjoins him to break through the custom of the law, inducing him to walls on the Sabbath and this laden with his bed, although God clearly cries aloud by one of the holy Prophets, Neither carry forth a burden out of your house on the Sabbath day (Jer. 17:22). And no one I suppose who is sober-minded would say that the man was rendered a despiser or unruly to the Divine commands, but that as in a type Christ was making known to the Jews, that they should be healed by obedience and faith in the last times of the world (for this I think the Sabbath signifies, being the last day of the week): but that having once received the healing through faith, and having been re-modelled unto newness of life, it was necessary that the oldness of the letter of the law should become of no effect, and that the typical worship as it a were in shadows and the vain observance of Jewish custom should be rejected. Hence (I think) the blessed Paul too taking occasion of speech writes to them who after the faith were returning again to the Law, Behold, I Paul say to you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing [Gal. 5:2]; and again, Ye are deprived of all effect from the Christ, ye who are trying to be justified in the law; ye fell from grace [Gal. 5:4].

10 The Jews therefore were saying to him who had been healed, “It is a sabbath; it is not lawful for thee to take up the bed.” [Jn. 5:10]

Most seasonably (I think) doth He cry over them, Hear Ye now this, O foolish people and heartless, which have eyes and see not [Jer. 5:21]. For what can be more uninstructed than such people, or what greater in senselessness ?   For they do not even admit into their mind that they ought to wonder at the Power of the Healer: but being bitter reprovers, and skilled in this alone, they lay the charge of breaking the law about him who had just and with difficulty recovered from a long disease, and foolishly bid him lie down again, as though the honor due to the Sabbath were paid by having to be ill.

11 He answered them, “The One Who made me well, the same said to me, ‘Take up thy bed and be walking.’”
12 Then they asked him,… [Jn. 5:11,12]

The sentence is replete with wisest meaning and repulsive of the stubbornness of the Jews. For in that they say that it is not lawful on the sabbath day to take up his bed and go home, devising an accusation of breaking the law against him that was healed, needs does he bring against them a more resolved defence, saying that he had been ordered to walk by Him, Who was manifested to him as the Giver of health, all but saying something of this sort, ‘Most worthy of honour (sirs) do I say that He is, even though He bid me violate the honour of the sabbath, Who hath so great power and grace, as to drive away my disease. For if excellence in these things belongeth not to every chance man, but will befit rather God-befitting Power and Might, how (saith he) shall the worker of these things do wrong? or how shall not He Who is possessed of God-befitting Power surely counsel what is well-pleasing to God?’ The speech then has within itself some pungent meaning.

12 “Who is the Man Who said to thee, ‘Take up thy bed and be walking?'”
13 But the one who was healed knew not Who it was, for Jesus turned aside, because a crowd was in the place.
14 After these things Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said to him,… [Jn. 5:12-14]

Insatiable unto bloodshed is the mind of the Jews. For they search out who it was who had commanded this, with design to involve Him together with the miraculously healed (for he alone, it seems, was like to be vexing them in respect of the Sabbath, who had but now escaped impassable toils and snares, and had been drawn away from the very gates of death) but he could not tell his Physician, although they make diligent enquiries, Christ having well and economically concealed Himself, that He might escape the present heat of their anger.   And not as though He could suffer anything of necessity, unless He willed to suffer, doth He practise flight: but making Himself an Example to us in this also.

Being hid at first economically, He appears again economically, observing the time fit for each. For it was no possible that ought should be done by Him Who knew no sin, which should not really have its fit reason. The reason then of His speaking to him He made a message for his soul’s health, saying that it behoved him to transgress no more, lest he be tormented by worse evils than those past. Herein He teaches that not only does God treasure up man’s transgressions unto the judgment to come, but manifoldly scourgeth those yet living in their bodies, even before the great and notable day of Him That shall judge all. But that we are oftentimes smitten when we stumble and grieve God, the most wise Paul will testify, crying, For this reason, many are weak and sick among you, and a considerable number are falling asleep. For if we were discerning ourselves, we should not be judged; but when we are judged, we are being chastised by the Lord, in order that we should not be condemned with the world [1 Cor. 11:30-32].

15 The man went away, and told the Jews that Jesus was the One Who made him well. [Jn. 5:15]

He makes Jesus known to the Jews, not that they by daring to do anything against Him should be found to be blasphemers, but in order that, if they too should be willing to be healed by Him, they might know the wondrous Physician. For observe how this was his aim. For he does not come like one of the faultfinders, and say that it was Jesus Who had bidden him walk on the Sabbath day, but Who had made him well. But this was the part of one doing nought save only making known his Physician.

16 And on this account the Jews were persecuting Jesus and were seeking to kill Him, because He was doing these things on a sabbath.
17 But Jesus answered them,… [Jn. 5:16,17]

The narrative does not herein contain the simple relation of the madness of the Jews: for the Evangelist does not shew only that they persecute Him, but why they blush not to do this, saying most emphatically, Because He was doing these things on the sabbath day. For they persecute Him foolishly and blasphemously, as though the law had forbidden to do good on the sabbath day, as though it were not lawful to pity and suffer together with the sick, as though it behoved to put off the law of love, the praise of brotherly kindness, the grace of gentleness: and what of good things may one not show that the Jews did in manifold ways spurn, not knowing the aim of the Lawgiver respecting the Sabbath, and making the observance of it most empty? For as Christ Himself somewhere said, ”…doth not each of you on the sabbath loose his ox or ass from the manger, and lead it away and give it drink?” [Lk. 13:15], and a man [doth] receive circumcision on a sabbath, in order that the law of Moses should not be broken [Jn. 7:23]: and then they are “…bilious because [He] made a whole man sound on a sabbath [Jn. 7:23], by reason of the exceeding stubbornness alike and undisciplinedness of their habits, not even to brutes preferring him that is made in the Divine Image, but thinking that one ought to pity a sheep on the sabbath day, and unblamed to free it from famine and thirst, yet that they are open to the charge of transgressing the law to the last degree, who are gentle and good to their neighbor on the sabbath?

But that we may see that they were beyond measure senseless, and therefore with justice deserve to hear, ”Ye are led astray, are ye not, on this account, not knowing the Scriptures” [Mk. 12:24]; come let us taking some what from the Divine Scriptures to show clearly, that Jesus was long ago foredepicted as in a type taking no account of the sabbath. The all-wise Moses then, having at a great age (as it is written) departed from things of men and been removed to the mansions above, by the judgment and decree of God that ruleth all, Jesus the son of Nave obtained and inherited the command over Israel. When he therefore, having set in array heavy armed soldiers ten thousand strong round about Jericho, was devising to take at length and overthrow it, he arranged with the Levites to take the ark round about for six whole days, but on the seventh day, that is, the Sabbath, he commanded the innumerable multitude of the host to shout along with the trumpets, and thus the wall was thrown down, and they rushing in, took the city, not observing the unseasonable rest of the Sabbath, nor refusing their victory thereon (cf. Jes. [Jos.] 6); by reason of the law restraining them, nor yet did they then withstand the generalship of Jesus, but wholly free from reproach did they keep the command of the man. And herein is the type: but when the Truth came, that is Christ, Who destroyed and overcame the corruption set up against man’s nature by the devil, and is seen doing this on the Sabbath, as in preface and commencement of action, in the case of the paralytic, they foolishly take it ill, and condemn the obedience of their fathers, not suffering nature to conquer on the sabbath day the despite done it by sickness, to such extent as to be zealous in persecuting Jesus Who was working good on the Sabbath day.

17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father worketh until now, and I work.” [Jn. 5:17]

Christ is speaking, as it were, on the Sabbath day (for this the word hitherto must necessarily signify, that the force of the idea may receive its own fitting meaning) but the Jews, who were untutored, and knew not Who the Only-Begotten is by Nature, but attributed to God the Father alone the appointing of the Law through Moses, and asserted that we ought to obey Him Alone; these He attempts to clearly convince, that He works all things together with the Father, and that, having the Nature of Him Who begat Him in Himself, by reason of His not being Other than He, as far as pertains to Sameness of Essence, He will never think ought else than as seemeth good to Him Who begat Him. But, as being of the Same Essence, He will also will the same things, yea rather being Himself the Living Will and Power of the Father, He worketh all things in all with the Father.

In order then that He might repel the vain murmuring of the Jews and might shame them who were persecuting Him on those grounds whereon they thought good to be angry, as though the honour due to the sabbath were despised, He says, “My Father worketh until now, and I work” [Jn. 5:17]. For He all but wisheth to signify some such thing as this, ‘If thou believest, O man, that God, having created and compacted all things by His Command and Will ordereth the creation on the sabbath day also, so that the sun riseth, rain-giving fountains are let loose, and fruits spring from the earth, not refusing their increase by reason of the Sabbath, the fire works its own work, ministering to the necessities of man unforbidden: confess and know of a surety that the Father worketh God-befittiug operations on the sabbath also.’ ‘Why then (saith He) dost thou uninstructedly accuse Him through Whom He works all things? For God the Father will work in no other way, save through His Power and Wisdom, the Son.’

Therefore says He, ”And I work.” He shames the unbridled mind of His persecutors with arguments showing the absurd conclusion that they will reach (that God is a violater of the Law), showing that they do not so much oppose Himself, as speak against the Father, to Whom Alone they were zealous to ascribe the honor of the Law, not yet knowing the Son Who is of Him and through Him by Nature. For this reason does He call God specially His Own Father, leading them most skilfully to this most excellent and precious lesson.

18 On this account therefore the Jews were seeking the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God His own Father, making Himself equal to God. [Jn. 5:18]

The mind of the Jews is wound up unto cruelty, and whereby they ought to have been healed, they are the more sick, that they may justly hear, How say ye, ‘We are wise’? [Jer. 8:8] For when they ought to have been softened in disposition, transformed by suitable reasoning unto piety; they even devise slaughter against Him Who proves by His deeds, that He hath not in the least transgressed the Divine Law by healing a man on the sabbath. They weave in with their wrath on account of the sabbath, the truth as a ov. charge of blasphemy, snaring themselves in the meshes of their own transgressions unto wrath indissoluble [cf. Prov. 5:22]. For they seemed to be pious in their distress that He being a Man, should say that God was His Father. For they knew not yet that He Who was for our sakes made in the form of a servant, is God the Word, the Life gushing forth from God the Father, that is, the Only-Begotten, to Whom Alone God is rightly and truly inscribed and is Father, but to us by no means so: for we are adopted, mounting up to excellency above nature through the will of Him that honoured us, and gaining the title of gods and sons because of Christ that dwelleth in us through the Holy Spirit. Looking therefore to the flesh alone, and not acknowledging God Who dwelleth in the flesh, they endure not His springing up to measure beyond the nature of man, through saying that God was His Father (for in saying, ”My Father…”, He would with reason introduce this idea) but they deem that He Whose Father God properly is, must be by Nature Equal with Him, in this alone conceiving rightly: for so it is, and no otherwise. Since then the word introduces with it this meaning, they perverting the upright word of truth are more angry.”


S. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, LFC 43, 48 (1874/1885).