We might assume that Jesus was universally popular; after all, what can be criticised about healing someone who had been paralysed for 38 years? John shows us, however, that the healings Jesus did often aroused criticism and ultimately persecution from religious leaders, largely because they so often happened on the Sabbath day and were construed by them as unnecessary work. They could not see beyond the letter of the law and failed to understand Jesus’s actions.
In John 5, Jesus went on to describe what is truly important (“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” John 5:17) and taught about His relationship with the Father. This enraged the Pharisees even further (‘For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.’ John 5:18) All of this discussion came about because of what Jesus did in healing a man on the Sabbath.
We might ask why Jesus chose to heal so frequently on the Sabbath, knowing how it would antagonise the religious leaders. I think the answer lies in the fact that Jesus always responded to the needs around Him, and those needs would not fit into a Monday to Friday schedule! He used every opportunity He had for God, just as we are called to do, and then He used every opportunity He had to teach. The healing was not only an opportunity to help a man who had suffered for thirty-eight years. It was an opportunity to teach about the Father’s heart, about the Son’s relationship with the Father, and about the nature of God’s work on earth. Jesus took these opportunities and taught that life was ultimately found in Him. (John 5:39-40) He used every opportunity wisely and well; we are called to do the same. (Col 4:5)