Christ healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

The Miracle of the Healing at the Pool

Of Aristotle's four causes, I give the formal cause my closest attention, because I think it is most overlooked and most fascinating. For me, the best way to think about this cause is to think of what the artist does when he begins to work. He first thinks of something to create. He studies the picture in his head and then he begins to draw, hammer out, paint or mold his creation. He may have to study and sketch, but eventually, his dream becomes reality. The formal cause is the dream.

Healing at the Pool
Material: Disabled man
Formal: Healed man
Efficient: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (obedience)
Final: Glory of God, compassion, salvation of the world
Aristotle's Four Causes

Jesus explains how the formal cause works in his miracles—how he does what he 'sees' his Father doing. But first let's read about the miracle of the healing at the pool near Bethesda that proceeds this explanation.

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

John 5:1-15

Once again we see supernatural laws in action. The most obvious is obedience. Jesus told the man to get up, pick up your mat and walk. The man obeyed and he was cured. I should note that in this miracle there is a follow through with the man's obedience. Later when Jesus found the man at the temple, he told the man to "stop sinning or else something worse may happen to you." True obedience to God is not just a one time event. "Let's see, I'll get what I want out of God, then I'll go about my own business." If you love God, you'll want to obey him all the time. But for us repentant sinners that will probably be a lifelong learning process, because our tendency is to disobey him.

I can imagine the paralytic man looking up at Jesus and realizing when Jesus asked, "Do you want to get well?" that in his answer of yes, his hope was going to be fulfilled. But we also see that the disabled man was at the end of his rope. He was on the edge of hopelessness, but not so far gone that he had quit coming to the pool. He still had hope. In the First letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." Hope is seeing dimly. In many ways, when we hope we are looking at the formal cause as best as we humans can.

Let's return to examining the formal cause of this miracle. Again, the formal cause is the 'picture' which preexisted the final result. When Jesus defended himself to the Jewish leaders after he was questioned about his authority to heal the man on the Sabbath, Jesus responded with an explanation of the formal cause of his miracles. In John 5:19-20, he explains, "The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed."

The formal cause to these miracles is Jesus seeing what the God is doing. It is Jesus' role to make the 'image' come to life here on earth. God shows Jesus what to do because God loves his son.

What does God show you that you need to do today? As Christians, God loves us and when we get to know him through his Spirit, he will show us things we must do as well. It may not be grand and eye-popping, but it is just as important. We must learn to act on the formal cause that God shows us even if it as dimly seen as hope can be. But that brings us to faith. Faith is hope in action and is the critical supernatural law that governs the 'efficient cause' of so many of Jesus' miracles.

But like Jesus we must act in humility which may well be another supernatural law at work here. Take note of what Jesus did after he healed the disabled man. He "slipped away into the crowd that was there." When we do what we see the Father doing, we must also act quietly and humbly so others do not know what we are doing. Jesus explains in Matthew 6: "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." We mustn't let our reward be our pride and our personal glory. If we let anyone know here and now what we do for God, then we are accepting the glory rather than giving it to God.

This leads us to the final cause of this miracle. Ultimately it is for the glory of God: "Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed." But Jesus also implies that the purpose was compassion. He said to the man, "Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." Jesus cared. He tracked him down to caution him because he loved the man. He didn't want something worse to happen to him. Beyond glory and love, there was another purpose for the miracle. It was because this miracle happened on the Sabbath that Jesus began teaching about his authority to the Jewish leaders, and because they cared more about their pride, they began plotting how to kill him. It was this miracle that spawned the jealousy that ultimately lead Jesus to the cross.

While Jesus walked on earth, he taught us how to listen to his Father. He taught us how to talk to God. He showed us how to see what the Father is doing, because he knew that after he went to the cross, it would became our job to "do only what [we see our] Father doing." We must ask God to show us what he wants us to do. Then when we are given an image, the formal cause, we must be obedient and do what he has shown us, even if it means that we will be persecuted by our church and by the world.

Tags: commentary, miracles