Our first reading from Ezekiel echoes the theme of healing waters rising from beneath the threshold of the temple, flowing freely, making everything fresh, causing abundant growth and life.
In the Gospel, we are invited to make the connection with life-giving water but this time it flows abundantly from Jesus—the new temple—the living temple—the loving temple.
Jesus poses the question, “Do you want to be well?” to the man who had been ill for thirty-eight years. It sounds as if Jesus may be wondering if he wants to be well? The man does not give a straight answer and one wonders, does he want to be well? He is certainly stuck there waiting with not much hope. Yet, Jesus desire to heal this man is not in doubt and this “sign” sets him in conflict with the “Jews.”
Missing from this text is v.4, seen in the footnotes, this verse explains that the Bethesda pool would periodically be stirred up (possibly caused by an angel) and the first one to enter the water would be cured. There is a deeper message here—the healing water is stirring in the person of Jesus.
Isn’t it unusual that after his encounter and healing this man misses who Jesus is and rather than being grateful for healing after almost 40 years, he seeks out the Jews to tell them about Jesus? Is this a foreshadow of the ultimate act of betrayal of Jesus? While he acknowledges that Jesus is the one who made him well; it seems that he is still spiritually blind! Unlike the Samaritan woman who ran back to her village to share her experience with everyone, Jesus’ touch seems to stop with this man.
There are times when circumstances in our lives may leave us stuck, feeling that there is no hope. We can lose our sense of joy and totally miss Jesus and his healing touch. In today’s Gospel, Jesus seeks out this man for a second time and warns him not to sin anymore. This message seems particular to this man and not a general statement about sin connected to illness. Sin is alienation from God, and can take effect in our lives in small and seemingly insignificant ways which ultimately can lead to spiritual blindness.
Lent is a time to review our spiritual health. Even good and holy people can find themselves spiritually stuck. What I hear in this text is that Jesus’ desire is to heal regardless. We may deeply desire healing or be unaware that we are in need healing. Jesus clearly demonstrates his love for us—all of us—period.
So, let that be my desire today as I go about my day, whether I meet crabby, unhappy people or joyful people. Let me be reminded that Jesus knows every heart and gave his life—recklessly, for love of them, and me. All of us are worth it, the message of the cross is love in action. This is our gift, our healing, our hope and our joy.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.