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“Get up and walk” (John 5:1-13)

From this injunction, “Get up and walk”, Henri Persoz shows us where it is liberating, the basis for a new life. A life in which we shall (should) in reality be players…

Henri Persoz
Translation Canon Tony Dickinson

This man whom Jesus sees lying at the edge of the pool of Bethzatha, paralysed for 38 years, is locked in tradition and in a particular superstition. He can only be healed, he tells Jesus, if the water is stirred up, someone takes him and immerses him in the water, and if he is the first to get there. But what, then, is this whole setting, a survival of paganism? Does he really want to be healed? Hasn’t he become resigned to his state in the 38 years that he has been paralysed?
Numbers in the Bible are never random. 38 is the number of years that the Hebrew people, during the exodus, remained at Kadesh-Barnea, at the southern gateway to the land of Canaan, because they lacked faith and were afraid to face the Canaanites. After crossing the Sinai desert in two years, according to the books of the Pentateuch, the people stayed at the gateway to the Promised Land for 38 years, marking time, after several fruitless attempts to enter Canaan. At the end of that time, the people could finally settle in Canaan and experience liberty in this land flowing with milk and honey.
This glance at the lack of faith of the Hebrew people supports the thesis according to which the sick man was marking time at the gateway, not of Canaan, but of the pool, through lack of faith and courage and perhaps because he was not really paralysed. That is certainly what Jesus suspected, because he asks him: do you really want to be healed? And the man does not answer but takes refuge in defeatism and superstition: “Nobody puts me in the water at the right moment.” Isn’t this whole story about water which has to be stirred up a good reason to remain lying there? As the Sabbath could be a good reason on some days not to leave home and not to be attentive to the appeal of human beings? While the invalid bases his behaviour on practices inherited to some degree from paganism, Jesus actually asks the real question: do you really want to be healed? Beyond all the arguments which make you want to stay lying beside the pool. Do you want to be healed? Since the paralysed man does not reply, Jesus replies positively in his place ands conveys to him the faith which he lacks: Get up, take your mattress and walk.
Fittingly on the Sabbath people do not have the right to carry their mattress. Fittingly “get up” is in Greek egeire, the same word for resurrection. “Be resurrected, take your mattress and walk” might be one translation. The healing is not a matter of magic, or of waiting indefinitely at the edge of the water until someone comes to take you, but of will, of faith, of confidence. As the children of Israel got up from Egypt and, at the end of forty years, 38 of them spent in waiting, finally found their liberation. Resurrection happens now, when we no longer wait for the magic of the miracle. It is in this “get up and walk” repeated five times in the text and there in the other accounts of healings, too. The previously paralysed man has become free to move about, free to walk, to go where he wants. He can at last live. Freedom is what you take up, when you no longer seek to follow religious tradition without question, when you decide to get up and walk, whatever day it may be and whatever the state of the water. Jesus shows the people who were lying down that they have to want to walk and that it isn’t enough just to wait.
Let us not take this encounter literally and, obviously, let us not believe that every healing is a matter of the will. We know that only too well. But the gospel here speaks about these healings in the mind, healings of the soul, these weaknesses which result from our mediocrity and which leave us on the ground, paralysed, incapable of getting up and just waiting for the miracle.
Today is the day of celebration, get up and walk.


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À propos Gilles

a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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