Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12
Water floods through the readings for today. The first reading from Ezekiel 47 is the famous vision that Ezekiel has about water flowing from the Jerusalem Temple and transforming the desert into abundant life. Anyone familiar with the terrain of Jerusalem and the nearby Judean desert can follow exactly this dream sequence which an angel shows to the prophet. Water starts to flow from underneath the great temple and as it surges forward begins to course down the Kidron valley to the east and then down the Wadi Qelt, the deep canyon that runs down to the floor of the rift valley and the Dead Sea-the lowest point on earth-and beyond that through the long stretch of dry land between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, a section of land still called the Arava, or "dry land." Wherever this new river flows, life bursts into bloom-trees and fruit and fish and great abundance! The point of the dream could not be clearer: God is the source of life and can transform the most arid and abject terrain into a landscape of lush new life.
Water plays a role in the gospel for today, too-John’s intriguing account in chapter 5 of his Gospel about the sick man who has tried to get down to wash in the healing pools of Bethesda for thirty-eight years but always misses out at the last minute when someone gets to the waters ahead of him! You can still visit these pools at St. Anne’s shrine in Jerusalem. They were apparently part of a healing shrine dedicated to the healer God Asclepius, a popular cult at the time of Jesus (what is amazing is that this pagan shrine was only a stone’s throw from the site of the Jerusalem temple!). I have visited here many times with groups of people with disabilities and they always laugh when they hear this story and they understand Jesus’ question to the sick man: "Do you want to be cured?" They recognize what John’s story seems to imply-that this man was passive about his need to be healed and made only a half-hearted attempt to change his way of life. Later this same man reports Jesus to the authorities who begin to hound Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.
What can these two Scripture readings suggest to us in this Lenten season? God’s grace and healing waters are lavish and available to us-more than we can imagine. And God’s redeeming love can transform what seems like a dry and lifeless desert into a river of new life-this is the fundamental Easter message. But it is also important that we open our hearts to receive this abundant mercy and trust that we can be transformed.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P., is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.