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 indeed, 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 made well?

    Unable to walk 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 to have curative qualities. Some older versions of the New Testament at this point included the line:

    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.

    While some may may have seen this earlier version of the text, its genuineness has more recently been called into doubt, and it is now omitted.

    Jesus wastes no time. He says:

    Stand up, take your 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. (John 11:25)

    It is at this point that the legalists step in. After leaving, 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 unable to walk for 38 years, and who is now taken to task for carrying his sleeping mat on a sabbath. Of course, 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 they think someone is dressed inappropriately for church. Or people who worry that they have not been fasting for a full hour before receiving Communion – 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.

    In the Gospel story, 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 unable to walk 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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