Read an Excerpt
Unusual Healings Leader Guide
By Adam Thomas
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
"Get up and walk"
Noticing When Healing Happens to You (John 5:1-15)
PREPARE FOR THE SESSION
About the Bible Reading
Snapshot of the Lesson
Each one of us is being healed. Right here. Right now. We are broken, and God yearns to make us whole so we can more fully receive the gifts God showers upon us and participate in God's healing of the world. The trouble is our very brokenness often prevents us from noticing the work of healing God is doing in our lives. Many things distract us. We get stuck in ruts. We tend toward complacency. In our first session, the paralyzed man gives voice to this complacency. His rote response to Jesus' question has nothing to do with what Jesus asked, but seems instead to be a rehearsed and oft-repeated statement used whenever anyone asks him anything. Do you want to get well? The obvious answer is, "YES! Of course!" But that's not what the man says. The man is stuck: The paralysis of his body mirrors the paralysis of his situation.
The healing Jesus offers the man gets him "unstuck." The unusualness of this healing seems to me to be the fact that Jesus is less concerned about the man's need for physical healing and more concerned with his need for a swift kick in the pants. Jesus does not say: "Be healed!" He says, "Get up!" In between Jesus' command and the man obeying it, Jesus heals his body. But it is in the act of getting up—that is, being shaken out of his rut—that the deeper healing happens.
When we are stuck in ruts, when we get complacent, we have trouble noticing how God is moving in our lives. These ruts lead to paralysis of our hearts and minds. We might exist, but we don't live. For we who are so prone to this type of paralysis, this story is about noticing when healing happens to us, and then getting up and participating in it.
A Bit of Background
In the first three verses of the scene, John accurately describes the setting of the pool of Bethsaida (or Bethesda or Beth-zatha, depending on the source material). Archaeological digs uncovered the location of this pool in Jerusalem. Five "covered porches" lined the pool, one on each side and one running down the center.
You'll notice verse 4 has been relegated to a footnote in the CEB, as it has in most modern translations. It is a later addition to the Gospel and does not appear in the oldest editions of John, but it still provides some good background material about the tradition of the pool. The thinking went that whenever the water was stirred up, the first person to get in would be cured of sickness. Try to imagine such a scene: All of those people laying by a lake the size of a football field, waiting for the water to bubble. The paralyzed man reflects this tradition in his rehearsed speech to Jesus in 5:7.
Where We've Been and Where We're Going
Jesus is in the middle of his public ministry, which shuttles between Jerusalem and Galilee over a three-year period demarcated by three mentions of Passover (the most important Jewish festival of the year). We're closing in on the next Passover in Chapter 6. We're still fairly early on, so we don't quite yet feel the tension that mounts as the Gospel progresses and Jesus' opponents become more convinced of their course of action. In fact, our passage gives them some of their ammunition in the next set of verses (see 5:16-18).
The bulk of the previous chapter sees Jesus in Samaria speaking with the woman at the well. Note at the beginning of that chapter Jesus is tired and he sits down by the source of water, while in our passage Jesus approaches someone else in a similar state. The connection between these two scenes lies in the water, itself; or, more precisely, in Jesus' replacement of the water with his own words. Water was the source of life in those desert regions, so when Jesus tells the Samaritan woman to ask for his "living water" and basically tells the paralyzed man to ignore the pool, Jesus is making a theological claim about his word being the true, deep source of life, more refreshing than even water in the desert.
In the next scene of our chapter, Jesus claims the authority to do works of healing on the Sabbath, arguing that the work of creation (in his case seen in healing) does not end on the seventh day. He then responds at length to his opponents about the source of his authority. The tension I mentioned above ratchets up here: "For this reason the Jewish leaders wanted even more to kill him" (5:18).
Words Worth Mentioning
The word translated as "paralyzed" (5:3) in the CEB could spur some fruitful discussions. Its primary definition is "dry" or "dried up," which is ironic considering everyone is sitting around a huge reservoir of water. The notion of "dryness" in our lives adds an image to the main topic of being stuck in ruts and thus being unable to notice God's healing in our lives. If the notion of spiritual paralysis isn't jiving with your group, try the image of spiritual dryness.
What the Other Three Say
The analogous story in the synoptic accounts is the story of the paralyzed man being lowered through the roof by his friends to get to Jesus (well, in Mark and Luke; Matthew leaves out the roof bit). Both stories contain the paralysis and the "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk" command (Matthew 9:5; Mark 2:11; Luke 5:24). But the synoptic accounts are more concerned with Jesus' ability to forgive sins, while John does not address that topic. John's thrust is much more on Jesus' authority to do creative acts like his Father. One of these creative acts is giving new life and new purpose to a man who had been stuck in the paralysis of complacency for far too long. (See Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:18-26.)
BEFORE THE SESSION
Set Up the Learning Area.
__ Set up the equipment needed for viewing the DVD.
__ Arrange the chairs so that everyone will be able to see the DVD clip. Make sure to have enough chairs for everyone. Be sensitive to the needs of persons with physical challenges.
__ Set up a focal worship space. A pair of candles, a cross, and a Bible on a small table in the center of the room is just right.
Gather Needed Materials.
__ The Common English Bible, plus any other translations you'd like to use.
__ Bible dictionaries and commentaries.
__ A personal reflection guide for each participant in the group.
__ Paper, markers, pens and pencils, nametags, or other supplies.
__ Markerboard or large sheets of paper and markers.
DURING THE SESSION
Welcome the Participants.
__ Greet the participants when they arrive, and give a personal reflection guide to anyone who does not already have one. If you choose to use nametags, invite them to make one and to sit where they would like.
__ Invite two people to be readers for the session. Give each of them a Bible and the citation (John 5:1-15) so they can become familiar with the passage before reading aloud in a few minutes.
__ Pray the following prayer or one of your own.
Gracious God, you offer us healing and new life each day of our lives. Grant us the grace to notice your presence, hear your invitation to rise up out of complacency, and accept the healing that you offer to all people. As we study your Word, give us curious minds, open hearts, and welcoming spirits, that together we may share the wonder of your movement in this gathering; all this we ask in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who invites each of us to get up, pick up our mats, and walk. Amen.
Introduce Unusual Gospel for Unusual People.
__ If this is your first session of the entire Unusual Gospel for Unusual People Bible study, read aloud the instructions about using the personal reflection guide in the section entitled "Your Unusual Book—Use it Your Way." Tell participants to doodle about the words unusual, unique, uncommon, and extraordinary in space provided in the reflection guide. View the DVD clip "Introduction to Unusual Gospel for Unusual People. Invite participants to write, draw, or doodle responses in their personal reflection guides.
Discuss the Daily E-mails.
__ If this is the second or third module of an eight to twelve-week study, you will have daily content from the last session of the previous module to talk about. Do this activity instead of the introductory activity. Invite participants to share any insights, thoughts, or feelings they had about the e-mail content they received during the previous week. Notice around which topics the group's energy centers and ask yourself how you might use those topics to transition into today's session.
Read the Bible.
__ Invite the first reader to read John 5:1-15.
__ Ask for first impressions from the group, but there's no need for a full discussion here. Invite participants to share a thought or feeling; or a word or phrase that gave them comfort or rubbed them the wrong way; or a question the passage brings up. Participants can make notes about the reading in the personal reflection guide.
__ Invite the second reader to read John 5:1-15. This may seem extraneous, but I assure you, participants will hear the passage differently even after a few minutes of sharing. Hearing it twice will also help them retain the content.
View the DVD Clip.
__ Watch the DVD clip for Session 1. Invite participants to record insights gained from viewing the DVD in the personal reflection guide.
Reflect and Respond.
__ Depending on your group size, break into small teams of three to four people, or stay together for discussion. If you break into teams, be sure to leave enough time for them to report highlights of their discussions to the reassembled group. If people want to share what they have written in their personal reflection guides, allow time for them to do so. Do not pressure them to share, however.
__ Discuss the following questions, questions that emerged from your own preparation, and questions asked earlier by the group.
1. In the second reading of the passage, what words or phrases struck you differently than in the first reading? What words shimmered for you? Where is your energy in the passage? What inspires you, challenges you, or makes you curious?
2. If Jesus were to say to you, "Do you want to get well?" what would be the first words to come out of your mouth?
3. When Jesus approaches him, the man is focused on the singular possibility of the pool. When in your life have you been so focused on something that you missed the presence of Christ?
4. When you heard the phrase "paralysis of complacency" in the video, what was the first thing to come to your mind? Describe a time in your life when you have been paralyzed in this way.
5. What does it mean to exist rather than to live?
6. How do you feel when you notice Jesus healing you? When do you notice this healing? During? after?
__ Invite participants to imagine themselves as characters in the biblical passage. Address the following questions to the specific characters mentioned.
1. To the man by the pool: What was it like to have the use of your legs again?
2. To the man by the pool: When Jesus told you to "get up" what was the first thing to go through your mind? the second?
3. To Jesus: Why did you return to the temple and find the man again?
CLOSE THE SESSION
__ Pray the following prayer or one of your own to close the session. You may also choose to use the group circle prayer described in "A Plan for the Weekly Sessions."
Gracious God, you offer us healing and new life each day of our lives. Grant us the grace to notice your presence, hear your invitation to rise up out of complacency, and accept the healing that you offer to all people. Thank you for the opportunity to study your Word, share the wonder of your movement in this gathering, and be that movement as we depart into the world; all this we pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who invites each of us to get up, pick up our mats, and walk. Amen.CHAPTER 2
"Go and wash"
Noticing an Identity You've Always Had (John 9:1-12, 3538)
PREPARE FOR THE SESSION
About the Bible Reading
Snapshot of the Lesson
On first glance, you might think the healing story of Chapter 9 happens when Jesus gives sight to a blind man. If that were so, however, it would not be included in a Bible study about "unusual" stories. In all four accounts of the Gospel, Jesus grants sight to those who are blind (see "What the Other Three Say" below), but here in John's unusual Gospel, the fact that the man receives his sight is secondary to what's really going on.
The key here is hidden in the verses after Jesus exits. The man returns from the pool of Siloam able to see and people don't recognize him. Say what? He hasn't grown a beard or dyed his hair or lost weight! From a cosmetic standpoint, there is no viable reason for why his neighbors don't know who he is. Knowing the culture, he's probably lived near them his entire life. He's probably occupied the same street corner for years. But all his neighbors ever saw was his blindness. For them, his entire identity was wrapped up in his inability to see. And so when this man appears with full ocular capacity, his neighbors have no idea who he is.
As they are debating his identity among themselves, the man says a curious thing: "Yes, it's me!" (verse 9). Well, that doesn't look very curious, but I assure you, the original Greek has more punch. What he really says is "I am." Sound familiar? Jesus says the same two words over and over again throughout the Gospel. Each time, Jesus reveals a further piece of his divine identity (more on some of these in the Unusual Names module). The more we discover Jesus' identity, the more he teaches us about our own. So when the man echoes Jesus with his own "I am," I hear him saying, "I have had an encounter with Jesus in which Jesus helped me see myself for who I really am. He helped me take on the identity that is truly mine. I am because he is!"
Through the healing, Jesus invites the man to participate in Jesus' identity by living into his own identity. He has been pigeon-holed his whole life as the blind man, so much so that I bet he's convinced that his entire identity is wrapped up in his blindness. But Jesus heals him of this notion. By giving him sight, Jesus shows the man how much more there is of himself than his physical challenge. He was a whole person when he was blind, but others failed to see that. After his encounter with Jesus, the man finds the confidence to confirm his entire identity—his identity built on Jesus' identity --whether others acknowledged this claim or not. It is this confidence that Jesus grants him along with his sight that spurs the man to proclaim an identity built not on his blindness, by which others had imprisoned him, but on his whole personhood, of which his blindness was only a piece.
We all suffer from blindness when we incarcerate the people around us in prisons built by our own self-involvement. Each of us—from the cashier at the grocery store to the person in the next pew—is capable of saying "I am." Each of us is a whole person, and Jesus heals us in order to give us the ability to realize that overriding truth in others.
A Bit of Background
If you'd never read John's Gospel or heard anything about Jesus, and all someone gave you was John 9, you'd think the man born blind was the main character. If Chapter 9 were a TV drama, Jesus would appear in the teaser before the opening credits and then disappear until after the final commercial break. This is important because Chapter 9 gives us great insight into the world of the people who wrote the Gospel According to John, commonly referred to as the "Johannine community." Scholars tend to date John to the last two decades of the first century, after the seminal moment of the destruction of the Temple by the forces of Rome. In the intervening decades, Jews who thought Jesus was the Messiah (those who would come to be known as Christians) grew increasingly distant and distinct from those who thought the Messiah was yet to come.
The split between the two groups in the early church led to much pain and heartbreak, and we see both swimming just below the surface of the Gospel, especially here in Chapter 9 in the verses following the ones we are reading for this session. While some of the negative reception to Jesus' message is surely authentic to Jesus' own time, other negative responses are clearly anachronistic, including the man's parents' fear of being thrown out of the synagogue (verses 18-23). While the Gospel injects these struggles of the early church back into Jesus' time, they offer illustrations of a legitimate encounter with Jesus in a particular time and place. The only authentic way that we can encounter Christ is to do so within our own context, our own hopes and fears and dreams. By placing some of their own worries in the text, the Johannine community is inviting Jesus to enter into their situation and walk with them through it. We can do the same.
Excerpted from Unusual Healings Leader Guide by Adam Thomas. Copyright © 2014 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.