The two things I bring to this story are the Stages of Change Model used in psycho-educational counselling and an awareness of how this healing story maps to the politics of Jesus’ situation.
Stages of change model is used a lot in addictions work. Its all about the processes we go through in making a change in our lives. Built into the model is the need to practice (maintenance) the change and the potential for backsliding or returning to the previous ways of being.
Jesus’ words map onto the model quite well. Do you want to be healed? And then take up your mat and walk. And then later do not sin unless something worse happens.
But it seems strange to apply that model to a healing. Isn’t the healing an act of divine mercy? How responsible are we for our own disease dis-ease and disability?
That’s where the politics comes in. The people of Israel were ready to believe that the Roman occupation was a result of their sin. Reading the book of Deuteronomy would have taught them that interpretation. And it was out that expectation that ultra-purity folks like the Pharisees and the Essenes (and the preaching of John the Baptist) gained their social power.
Like his nation the disabled man is oppressed. His body has no freedom of movement just as occupied Judea has no freedom. He awaits the cleansing of the waters just John the Baptist and his followers do just as the Pharisees and Essenes and other sects rely on purification.
Jesus locates healing and change within him. Divine power empowers rather than imposes yet another oppressive order of power atop of the power structures already there. And in so doing he ires those who sought salvation in increasing the restrictions and burdens. The man was freed not only of his illness but of the Sabbath injunction. A threat to the power-base of the Pharisees who now seek to kill him.