Today’s scriptures reintroduce us to a couple of prophets, a man who needs to be healed, and a whole lot of water.
I’ve always thought that there must be something not quite right about this story of the man at the sheep pool. If he had been there for thirty-eight years did he seriously want to be healed? If a person was convinced the water was going to heal them, wouldn’t they do everything in their power to get in it? Personally, I would be pushing people around, formulating a plan, or at least making alliances. So when Jesus asks him, “do you want to be healed,” this is a highly accurate question. Thirty-eight years just seems a little too passive. Notice the man’s response to Jesus. He says there is no one to put him in the water once it begins to stir. He certainly doesn’t take any responsibility for himself and he is quick to blame. I’ve often wondered if perhaps he actually got to the edge, and in that moment of looking down into the water he realized he might drown if he were to hop in. It is highly likely that one of his friends or acquaintances did drown in the sheep pool. If this is the case and he gets his body to the edge of the water, I suspect as he looked down, his fear of dying overcame his desire to be healed and he began to back away.
This lent, I have listened to many people choosing to back away from opportunities of grace. I’ve watched people respond out of fear to situations that ultimately are good and healing. I’ve witnessed people choosing death over life. And the people who have been holding on to grudges from thirty-eight years ago are still making excuses.
I’ve also seen the opposite case. I’ve witnessed people praying to be washed in the river of grace. It is the prophet Ezekiel in the first reading who measures off spans by which the water keeps getting deeper and deeper. This water is flowing, pouring out of the temple, into the Kidron Valley, and out to the sea. Ezekiel’s description is an immense river of grace that overflows with abundance, and everything it engages gets transformed into bountiful life. Son-of-man, have you ever seen this before? Seen what before? Trees that give fruit every month with leaves and roots for medicine, or rivers of grace so abundant one can’t even swim to the other side?
Ezekiel’s description is so vivid that you can easily imagine yourself there. Can you see the beauty? Can you appreciate the moment and even smell the fragrance? The vitality of the colors is so healing and peaceful. Sitting in such splendor holds a timelessness. There’s no need to check the time or the appointment calendar. And we certainly wouldn’t need interruptions on our cell phones. We can enter these places of immense beauty and it is as though time has stopped. For a brief instant, we can taste eternity.
Several years ago when I was in retreat ministry, I went out for a hike and I discovered two beautiful waterfalls which merged into a pool. I sat by the pool watching the water sparkling and shimmering in the morning sun in this dynamic dance of movement, momentum, gravity, and creation. Not a single person passed by me in the hour and a half I sat there. And sadly, I found myself naming reasons I wouldn’t be coming back tomorrow morning. They were similar in content and tone to people who decline to make a weekend retreat, or are too busy to volunteer for a service organization, or are unwilling to fast for a good cause, or are incapable of sitting in a quiet chapel for a mere fifteen minutes.
As we are now in the fourth week of Lent, help us Lord to remove the excuses, and to appreciate your grace.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.