Tuesday of week 4 of Lent – Gospel


Commentary on John 5:1-3, 5-16

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. Some earlier versions of the New Testament at this point added: “For [from time to time] an angel of the Lord used to come down into the pool; and the water was stirred up, so the first one to get in [after the stirring of the water] was healed of whatever disease afflicted him.” Some older people may remember this text but its genuineness has since been called into doubt and it is now omitted.

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.

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