Jesus: Healing at Bethesda
The Sabbath healing at Bethesda is related only in John 5. Jesus had gone to Jerusalem for one of the pilgrim festivals, probably Passover, in obedience to the command in Deu. 16:16. While there, he encounters a man by the pool of Bethesda who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. Jesus heals by speaking, and tells him to pick up his mat and walk.
It was the Sabbath on which the healing took place. Since Jesus was a Galilean rabbi, some of the Judean teachers must have felt the urge to be critical. They claimed that the Torah forbade the man from carrying his mat. The scriptures do speak against carrying heavy loads on the Sabbath (Neh. 13:19; Jer. 17:21-22), but the context points to doing work for profit. These teachers had arbitrarily decided how heavy a load might be lawfully carried, and this man's mat exceeded that. Therefore, he was "breaking the Sabbath".
Jesus, on the other hand, focussed on necessary work as opposed to unnecessary work. This man likely had no home; he would spend the night wherever he chose to put down his mat. His only alternative to carrying his mat would be abandoning it. Jesus, having recognized on another occasion that the Sabbath is to be the servant of mankind, not the master, allows the man to carry it. Jesus uses the same reasoning when he explains to the Judeans that "My Father is always at his work to this very day" (5:17). God's work in maintaining the universe, as necessary work, continues day in and day out.
Jesus emphasizes the fact that he is Torah-observant when he next meets the man in the temple. He tells him to stop sinning. Jesus, like John (I John 3:4) thought of sin in terms of breaking Torah (as God intended it, not as some teachers misinterpreted it). Here he is affirming Torah by telling the man to stop sinning.
Six months later the people in Judea are still talking about this healing. When Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, again in obedience to Deu. 16:16, the people were looking for him (John 7:11). Eventually he appears and gives a fuller explanation of his healing on the Sabbath.
Jesus begins by accusing people of not keeping the Torah (7:19). This is similar to Stephen's accusation in Acts 7:53 and indicates that Jesus was more rigorous in obeying Torah than they were. Then he brings up a conundrum that was well-known in the Torah.
The rabbis had decided that cutting was one of the things that shouldn't be done on the Sabbath. Yet Moses (Gen. 17:12) commanded that all baby boys should be circumcised on the eighth day of birth. If this day coincided with the Sabbath, there were conflicting laws. The rabbis had decided that the law of circumcision took priority, and that circumcision could be done on the Sabbath. Jesus alludes to exceptions like these to explain his healing on the Sabbath. Since healing was obviously a good thing, it should be done on the Sabbath, despite faulty logic to the contrary.
Jesus sums up his argument by appealing to the people to "stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment" (7:24). He is again affirming that what he did was consistent with Torah, properly understood. This is in harmony with the statement which Paul made to Timothy that "the law is good if one uses it properly" (I Tim. 1:8). Paul and Jesus both knew that it was possible to abuse the Torah through wrong understanding, and that is what Jesus cautions against.
Healing a Man Born Blind