In 2010 thousands of people a day made their way to a dried-up and polluted lake in eastern India about 70 kilimetres south of Kolkata. There people immersed themselves in the sludge at the bottom of the lake, ‘miracle mud.’ People also drank water from the lake and took mud away with them. This followed a rumour that a man had been cured of liver cancer by dipping himself in this lake. Another man claims that his wife was cured of throat cancer after smearing her body with the mud of the lake (Independent, May 28, 2010).
Each year during the Kumbh Mela festival in northern India, tens of millions of people bathe in the filthy Ganges river, with many believing that the waters of this holy river can cure diseases as well as wash away sins.
In John 5 we read about a Jewish man who positioned himself near a pool believed to possess magical healing properties. Jesus asked that man, “Do you want to get well?” It’s a question that might well be asked of those who go to that east Indian lake or who bathe in the Ganges. Indeed, it’s a question that can be asked of all who, in their desperation, resort to all manner of stratagems that seek to tap into mysterious power-forces.
Jesus’ question to the man by the pool of Bethesda really amounted to this: “Do you really want to get well, because if so, what are you doing here? Why are you depending on magic to make you well instead of going to the One who alone has the power to heal you?”
The issue is subtle, because as John goes on to show, Jesus’ opponents had a view of divine power that was as perverted as that of the paralytic who lay near the pool. For in their hostility to Jesus they fully accepted that he had indeed healed the paralytic by God’s power. However, they were infuriated because Jesus did this on the Sabbath, which, according to their rules, was an absolute no-no. But in adopting this position they showed that they too ultimately treated God’s power as though it was an impersonal magical force distinct from God’s personal will. That is, they believed Jesus had appropriated God’s power in a manner contrary to God’s will.
In Chapter 9 John tells the story of how Jesus healed a blind man and he does it in such a way as to invite us to compare and contrast these two accounts. The blind man, having been healed, proceeds to teach the religious leaders, telling them that (1) it is undeniable that Jesus had healed him by God’s power, and that (2) this necessarily meant his power was appropriated in accordance with God’s will. It was absurd to think otherwise. The dislocation of God’s power from God’s will is a monstrous error.
John’s Gospel is full of symbolism and what matters far more to John than being made physically well is being completely whole, experiencing fullness of life in Jesus, eternal life. This comes only from truly believing in him, utterly depending on Jesus alone (John 20:31).
“Do you really want to get well?” When we put our trust in him then we can be assured that, by his power, he will make us the complete human beings we were created to be.