Tuesday, March 16, 2010

“Rise up! Pick up your sleeping-mat and walk.”

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Reading I
Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12
The angel brought me, Ezekiel,
back to the entrance of the temple of the LORD,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the façade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the right side of the temple,
south of the altar.
He led me outside by the north gate,
and around to the outer gate facing the east,
where I saw water trickling from the right side.
Then when he had walked off to the east
with a measuring cord in his hand,
he measured off a thousand cubits
and had me wade through the water,
which was ankle-deep.
He measured off another thousand
and once more had me wade through the water,
which was now knee-deep.
Again he measured off a thousand and had me wade;
the water was up to my waist.
Once more he measured off a thousand,
but there was now a river through which I could not wade;
for the water had risen so high it had become a river
that could not be crossed except by swimming.
He asked me, “Have you seen this, son of man?”
Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit.
Along the bank of the river I saw very many trees on both sides.
He said to me,
“This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”
”In the Middle East, desert land was commonplace and water all-important. Water was a symbol of God’s saving grace. The prophet Ezekiel described a future idealised Temple, the source of deepening waters and fertile abundance.” (Vatican II Missal)

A marvellous river, flowing out from under the Temple, is a manifestation of the blessings conferred on the land by Yahweh’s return to live among his people. It is linked today with the healing of the man who was waiting for the waters of the ‘Sheep Pool’ to move.

An ever-increasing life-giving stream of water flows out from the Temple. It is clear that a healing, life-giving water is understood. And, in the background, there is the image of the river flowing through the Garden of Eden, a symbol of the life that God gives to all creation. In the world of the Middle East, a world of parched deserts, water signifies great blessings, just as dryness and drought signify a curse.

Although not fed by any tributaries, the river continues to increase remarkably till it is too deep to wade across. Then it is seen to have an abundance of trees, which are reminiscent again of the fertility of Eden (Genesis 2:9). The river flows on into the deep depression that marks the course of the River Jordan and into the Dead Sea, so named because its high salt level makes life impossible. But this river will make the waters wholesome. Literally, the Hebrew says that the river will ‘heal’ the waters of the Sea. That this lowest (1,300 feet below sea level) and saltiest (25%) body of water in the world should be able to sustain such an abundance of life indicates the wonderful renewing power of this “river of the water of life” (cf. Revelation 22:1).

“Fish will be plentiful, wherever the water goes it brings health and life teems wherever the river flows”.
Here we have the image of miraculous water flowing from the Temple and conferring a marvellous fertility. The power of the water is such that, as it flows into the Dead Sea where nothing can live because of its saltiness, the sea flourishes with fish and fruit trees of every kind grow along its shores. There are also overtones of the creation of the teeming waters in the Creation story (Genesis 1:20-21). “Wherever the water goes, it brings health”: in the context of the Gospel, this water is the Life that Jesus gives. “He who comes to me will never thirst.”

Truly, this is a symbol of the kind of life that God wishes us to share with him. “I have come that they may have life, life in abundance” (John 10:10).

Let us during this Lenten season experience the healing power of Jesus, a healing power which was initiated at our Baptism but which needs to continue for as long as we live.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 46
The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken
and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.
The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.
The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Come! behold the deeds of the LORD,
the astounding things he has wrought on earth.
The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
+++ +++ +++ +++
John 5:1-16
There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.
Now that day was a sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.’“
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.

Today we see Jesus back in Jerusalem for an unnamed festival. He goes to the pool near the Sheep Gate. John says it had five porticoes and the ruins of such a pool have been excavated in recent times. Around the pool are large numbers of people blind, lame and paralysed. These are the ailments that we Christians often suffer from:

* blindness
** we cannot see where Jesus is leading us or where we should go in life;
* lameness and paralysis
** we can see but have difficulty walking or even moving along Christ’s Way.

During this Lenten season let us hear Jesus asking us the question he puts to the man: “Do you want to be well again? Do you want to be made whole again?”

For 38 years the man has been trying to get into the water when it is “disturbed” but someone else always gets in before him. It seems that a spring in the pool bubbled up from time to time and it was believed that it had curative qualities.

Jesus wastes no time. “Rise up! Pick up your sleeping-mat and walk.” The man is immediately cured and walks away. Again we have in the words of Jesus the intimation of resurrection to new life of which Jesus is the Source. “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

It is at this point that the legalists step in. On his way the man is challenged for carrying his sleeping mat on a sabbath day. How petty one can get! Here is a man who has been a cripple for 38 years and is now taken to task for carrying his sleeping mat on a sabbath. The wonder is that he can do it at all!

It is like those people who get upset because the vestments the celebrant at Mass is wearing are not the right colour for the day or because he changes some unimportant words or because a woman is not wearing a hat. Or people who worry that they have not been fasting for the full hour. As if there can be any comparison between sharing the Body of the Lord in the Eucharist and observing a minor man-made regulation. It is so easy to lose our sense of proportion. For some, a rubrically correct but deadly boring Mass is more important than one where there is a real spirit of celebration and community and a coming together in Christ even if the rules are not being followed to the letter. The man answers that the one who cured him told him to carry his mat but he did not know who that person was, as Jesus had disappeared into the crowds. Later, Jesus and the man meet in the Temple. The man is told to complete his experience of healing by abandoning a life of sin, bringing body and spirit into full harmony and wholeness. This is not to say that Jesus is implying that the man had been a cripple because of his sin. Jesus did not teach that. But what he is saying is that physical wholeness needs to be matched by spiritual wholeness, the wholeness of the complete person.

This is the third of Jesus’ seven signs – again bringing life and wholeness. Let us ask him to do the same for us.


Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Sarah in the tent, who makes frequent pertinent comments in this forum, sent one on the gospel of the lame man's healing that I'm going to abridge to the key questions:

Q: What would the Temple officials have done if the waters had become disturbed and he had somehow managed to enter the water and be healed?

A: The Temple officials would have been happy to verify his healing, even on the Sabbath. What the officials were disturbed at was that man was carrying his litter which was prohibited by the Torah, the Law of God given to Moses.

Q: Doesn't the Law also prohibit healing on the Sabbath, and wouldn't the Temple officials considered Jesus to have disobeyed God's law?

A: Healing is in fact forbidden by the Torah, but, according to the Law, Jesus did not heal the man, he simply told the man to get up pick up his mat, and go home.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.