4th Week of Lent, Tuesday, Mar 16
Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12 / John 5:1-3, 5-16
Jesus cures a man; The man never gave up hope.
Two frogs accidentally tumbled into a bucket of cream. They thrashed about for an hour, trying to make it up the side of the metal bucket. Exhausted, one of the frogs gasped, "It's no use!"
With that, he gave up and drowned in the cream. The second frog, however, struggled on. He thrashed and thrashed and thrashed about. Then, suddenly, he found himself sitting safely on a lump of butter.
It was this kind of perseverance that the man in today's gospel showed. For 38 years he sought to be cured. He never gave up.
How persevering are we? "The heights by great men reached and kept Were not attained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, we’re toiling upward in the night." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked him. This seems an odd question when you consider that the man had been waiting for thirty-eight years to be healed! But of course, we often have compelling reasons for clinging to our sicknesses. You will no longer have people to take you around: do you want to be healed? You will no longer have sympathy from everyone: do you want to be healed? You will have to work, and you are not used to it: do you want to be healed?
He wanted to be healed. Then Jesus said, “Stand up!” This too seems odd at first sight. Jesus was asking him to do the very thing he could not do!
Then the miracle happened: the man made to stand up. He overcame the habits – physical and mental – of more than half a lifetime. His mind and will said, “Stand!” That was an amazing achievement. Then, when he made to stand up, he found that he could! The miracle was not worked ‘on’ him; it was worked ‘with’ him. This is not to say that it was just mind over matter. It was the presence of Jesus, but that presence in this case required the full conscious presence of the paralyzed man. What does it say to us? The very thing we can't do is sometimes the only thing worth doing.
Water flows from the Temple and turns the land into a fertile paradise, bringing health and life, says Ezekiel. But this living Temple is Christ, says John. Encountering him means forgiveness, health, and life. These readings on the symbolism of life-giving water and on Christ have been chosen in view of baptism, the Lenten-Easter sacrament: in its waters we encounter Christ.
Perhaps it was this biblical use of water as a symbol of blessings that moved the people of our Lord's day tribute curative powers to the pool of Bethesda. (As a of fact the gospel does not assert that the pool had power, but only that it was thought to have such.) Jesus took pity on the sick man, apparently a cripple, who clung to a faint hope that the water could restore him to health. Without recourse to any aid, not even that of the water, Jesus cured the man by his mere word, "Stand up! Pick up your mat and walk!"
When Jesus found the man later in the temple precincts, he said to him, "Give up your sins so that something worse may not overtake you." Jesus did not imply that the man's sickness had been a punishment for sin; rather, he wished to make it clear to the man that sin is worse than any physical ailment, for while his sickness had paralyzed him, sin would lead him to eternal death.
It is good for us to hear this lesson ourselves today. Physical debility and illness are very real and very close to us. If we ourselves are afflicted, or someone we love, the problem and the burden may seem almost overwhelming. But it is not a cliché to say that things could be worse. One serious sin is worse than all the physical suffering in the whole world. Whatever our problem, the words of Jesus are meant for us as well as for the sick man in today's gospel: "Give up your sins so that something worse may not overtake you.
Jesus took pity on the man who had been sick, apparently as a cripple, for thirty-eight years. It was a long time to be sick, but in a moment by the power of his word alone Jesus cured the man. In the confusion caused by the incredible objections of the Pharisees, the man disappeared in the crowd, and it was only later that Jesus found him and said, ('Give up your sins." Jesus wanted to make clear to the man that he was interested in his whole well-being both physical and spiritual. The order of events was different from Jesus' usual practice. Ordinarily he forgave sins before effecting a physical cure.
We can readily understand how Jesus would first be concerned about the sickness of sin. This particular miracle does help to make us realize, however, that indeed it is the whole person whom Jesus wishes to save. Maybe in the past we have put too much emphasis on "saving our souls," almost with the implication that what happens to our bodies does not really matter. As a matter of fact, we are God's creature in body as well as soul, and our bodies, if we dare think of them as something separate from our persons, are precious in the eyes of God. Jesus came to save us as whole human beings, not as disembodied souls, and today's miracle is a sign that Jesus' saving grace will bring our whole being to a state of health and happiness.
Lord our God, you have quenched our thirst for life with the water of baptism. Keep turning the desert of our arid lives into a paradise of joy and peace, that we may bear fruits of holiness, justice and love. Lord, hear our prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen