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The WORD. The TRUTH.

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Homily for Tuesday of the 4th Week of Lent, 29 March 2022, Jn 5:1-16

When Jesus asked the crippled man if he wanted to be well, the man replied, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.” What did he mean? Well, there is a little background to it. The Jews in the time of Jesus believed that an angel came down every now and then to stir up the water of the Pool of Bethesda, and made it miraculous. (This pool was supposed to be very close to the temple area. It was excavated already around 1911. Those of you who have been to the holy land might remember visiting the Church of St Anne. The pool is very close to that Church.)

The sick people were supposedly laid on the pavement around the pool area to wait for the water to move. Whenever they saw ripples or bubbles on the water, they scrambled to jump into the water ahead of everyone else. They believed that the one who got to the water first, would get healed.

I suspect that the traditional belief about an angel stirring the water was influenced by the vision of the prophet Ezekiel, which happens to be our first reading today. The angel, we are told, led Ezekiel to the entrance of the temple—more or less where the Pool of Bethesda was located—and he showed the prophet a trickle of water, “flowing from beneath the threshold of the temple.” He made him wade into the water, which kept flowing. First it was up to his ankle, next it was up to his knees, then it was up to his waist, until it was up to his neck.

This vision is supposed to have a figurative meaning. It means the temple is envisioned to bring about an overflowing of grace for the whole world. Perhaps this is also the reason why in ancient Churches the baptismal fonts were located right by the entrance door of the Church, and they were big tubs, almost the size of a small swimming pool.

The author makes us visualize an overflowing of grace. A bit like what we say in that famous 3 o’clock prayer, “You died Jesus, but the source of life flowed out for the souls and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world.”

For John, Jesus is the fulfillment of that vision. He has actually said it already in the earlier chapter, in his conversation with the Samaritan woman in Jn 4:14 “…whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. “

In today’s Gospel, it is not an angel’s stirring of the water that enables the paralytic to walk again. It is rather the words that come out of Jesus’ mouth; they are enough to bring him back on his feet.

Take note, however, how the scribes and the Pharisees react when they hear thatJesus had healed the man who had been a paralytic for 38 years. What they see is not an overflow of grace but rather a violation of the law!

It’s like showing a doughnut to somebody and what he sees is the hole in the middle. Or like showing a glass that is HALF-FULL, and what they see is a glass that is HALF-EMPTY!

When people’s hearts are clouded with bias and prejudice or with malice and ill-will, they will find it difficult to see God’s grace at work around them. Remember that other occasion when Jesus exorcised a man and he was accused of being under the spell of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

I find it interesting that, after healing the crippled man, Jesus slips away. The others are looking for him but they cannot find him. They look, but they cannot see him or God at work in him. He chooses those to whom he reveals himself.

Perhaps that is the reason why Jesus included, among the Beatitudes the saying, “BLESSED ARE THE PURE OF HEART FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD.” It was also echoed today by the Gospel acclamation, “A clean heart create for me O God; give me back the joy of salvation.”

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