“And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” John 5:16-19
The Son came forth from the Father with a mission and that mission was fulfilled in his Incarnation. His mission involved creating of a state of being that did not exist before his Incarnation and that state of being is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The Beloved Disciple’s original audience o knew that because they had the Prologue that announces that the Interior Word of God the Father has and is always proceeding from the Father. The Word of the Father is not a creature, but he, the Son of the Father, is in fact the Creator. The Interior Word of the Father has entered into the Creation as a creature, has become flesh through his Mother Mary. The Interior Word whose natural abode is the bosom, the heart of God the Father has become the Son of Mary — Jesus Christ our Lord.
John 5: 16-29 is the first recorded hostility between Jesus and the big shots, the rulers and teachers of Israel, and these are the very issues: “Who is Jesus’ Father?” “Where is he from?” “What is he doing?” Jesus has already spoken to a member of this hostile crowd’s inner circle — Nicodemus — and in that conversation Jesus, in no uncertain terms, made it clear that God is his Father by nature and the place where he is from is the bosom of the Father, what we call Heaven. Furthermore Jesus told Nicodemus that he is the Savior of the World and that belief in him, Jesus, effects salvation, while unbelief toward him, Jesus, is a sign of condemnation. He also declared to Nicodemus that he and his associates were guilty of unbelief in him. This account of Jesus healing the crippled man expands and deepens the conversation with Nicodemus.
But why does Jesus simple statement, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” provoke the Temple authorities to attempt to kill him? It begins with the Sabbath restriction on work. Jesus’ contemporaries were not the first to believe that the death penalty was appropriate for Sabbath breakers. Recall that the Sabbath was the day God rested from the creation of the universe and thus the Sabbath was to be a day of rest for Israel. Sabbath breaking could lead to the death penalty and in this case, where Jesus commands the man to pick up his bed and leave, he is also encouraging another person to break the Sabbath. But then to top it off Jesus made the provocative statement:
“My Father worketh hitherto, and I work…”
This is what unfolded: Jesus spoke a word to the man and it was immediately effective and the man was healed. The paralyzed man precisely obeyed Jesus’ command to get up, pick up his bed and leave and in doing so he proclaimed in his very flesh, for all to see, that Jesus had healed him completely. The crippled man’s obedience also proclaimed that Jesus understood himself perfectly. From Jesus’ point-of-view it is more important to be loyal to him than it is to be loyal to anything else in the world, including the Sabbath. The cripple man’s obedience also proclaimed the absence of charity among the Jewish authorities whose first response was to warn the man that what he was doing was a direct violation of the law. From there the narrative moves quickly to Jesus as the center of attention as a Sabbath breaker, a man encouraging others to break the Sabbath, as well as a man claiming to be equal to God Almighty. The temple authorities unmistakably began to behave in a way that indicated they were about to kill him. All of that comes to a head with Jesus’ statement:
“My Father worketh hitherto, and I work…”
Why? Here’s why: Over the years Jewish teachers had uniformly concluded that God did not rest on the Sabbath from all his work. The nature of God’s Sabbath rest in no way circumscribes two of his divine activities: giving life and passing judgement on the dead. Why was that the case? Simply because it was an observable fact of life that people were born and people died on the Sabbath. The Pharisees understood mostly what Jesus was saying and the Beloved Disciples explains:
“This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
Then Jesus said to them:
“You boys don’t understand a thing about the Trinity do you?”
Okay. Not exactly, but what he says in his sermon in Chapter 5 is exactly what the doctrine of the Trinity declares about the relation between the Father and the son. To paraphrase Jesus’ sermon, he says:
“I never said I was equal to the Father. It is true I am God, but I would never say I am equal to the Father because I am not the Father. I am the Son. I have always been the Son. I aways will be the Son. God the Father has always been God the Father because I have always been his Son. There was never a time — ever — when we were not Father and Son. So you are very wrong if you think I am claiming to be equivalent to God the Father.”
“For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel…”
And what are these works that the Father has shown the Son? Jesus’ sermon tracts perfectly with the received rabbinic teaching of his day: The works are the very works that the teachers of Israel had already concluded God performed on the Sabbath. The Father gives life whenever he wishes including the Sabbath and the Father passes final judgment when he pleases including the Sabbath as well. And so does the Son:
“For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will… Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.”
Jesus and everyone else understood that he had healed a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years and that action was equivalent to giving life. Furthermore the healing of the lame man was a sign to the Jews that they were confronting the Last Day as Isaiah had declared:
“Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you.Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart…” Isaiah 35: 4-6
Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob made flesh come to save his people and he, not the Father, will pass the final judgment and bestow life everlasting to those who believe in him:
“For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
This is what so provoked the Temple authorities that day when Jesus said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” And Jesus went on in his sermon to spell out in detail what the Temple authorities thought he was saying because they were mostly right in what they thought Jesus’ was saying. Like his Father, he is the Lord of the Sabbath, and he gives life and he passes judgment. And just because of that you as well as the Temple authorities owe Jesus your exclusive worship and loyalty as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:
“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.”
Jesus is deserving of the very same honor that we give to God the Father. Furthermore if we do not give Jesus the same honor, the same worship, the same fidelity, the same loyalty we most certainly are not giving it to God the Father. It is not true that you or anyone else can choose to worship God the Father while rejecting God the Son. Your loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is made visible in your worship of Jesus as the true Son of God made flesh. Everything for the Jews, for the Greeks, for the Samaritans for all people is summed up in Jesus the Son of God made flesh. If anyone denies that God has come in the flesh that person is an antiChrist. Jesus is the whole matter. Israel is confronted with the end of all things in Jesus (just like everyone else in the world) and the place of Israel’s judgement is the flesh of Jesus. The flesh of Jesus is the place of judgement for the whole world. It is impossible to give too much loyalty, love, and worship to Jesus because the Father loves the Son and the loyalty and worship you give the Son passes on to his Father as well.
One thing I want you to see is that Jesus is not in anyway veiling his identity as the God of Israel. He is not speaking in a sly or tricky manner to the big shots in Jerusalem. He is the very opposite of allusive or enigmatic. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob standing in his own Temple on his own two feet, loving one of his own creatures of broken flesh and loving him with his flesh and his divine Spirit.
The mission of the Word of the Father made flesh involved bringing Light and Life into the world and the Light that lighten every man also magnifies sinister behavior and so men hate the Light and they will do all they can to extinguish it. Jesus is the Light and those who come to him will never die. The most sinister of all sinister behavior is not believing that Jesus is the Son of God made flesh. And the most righteous of all righteous work that we can do is to believe Jesus and to believe in Jesus.