Healing in Christ
Fourth Tuesday of Lent
“Do you want to be made well?” Some may contend this to be a redundant question to ask a man who had been afflicted with a crippling ailment for 38 years. I imagine the man would reply with “of course I do!”, however what the man offers instead is something of a sob story, telling Jesus how hard he has tried over the years but how luck has never fallen his way. His reply would suggest he has become somewhat embittered with hoping for wellness, with each attempt proving as futile as the last. Wellness, perhaps, was once a promise of wholeness, but now serves only as a reminder of disappointment after disappointment. So how are we to understand Jesus’ question to this man?
The 38 years this man had been afflicted for is a parallel with the 38 years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness after rebelling against Yahweh at Kadesh. Amazingly, after Joshua and his company of men (Numbers 13:25 -14:11) had spied out the land and reported it to be “flowing with milk and honey”, the Israelites hearing about the superior size of the peoples inhabiting the land they were promised, lost heart of claiming the land and went so far as say to one another “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.” They saw only adversity and had forgotten how the Lord had delivered them and had promised to continue to do so. They were blinded by their affliction in their ingratitude and had ceased to trust in God, such that they no longer desired the promise land but just to be in the familiar chains of slavery in Egypt. This is the tragedy of sin, that so often it seduces the heart such that we do not desire life because after so many years of the pain that is the just punishment of sin, we cease to believe healing is possible and wellness a reality. In this context, Jesus’ question makes sense. So also does the man’s response. He in his self-pitying is seeing only his misfortune and is hard hearted to the offer of life. Jesus in his mercy, as once he did for ancient Israel, offers him a second chance to be received by faith. “Stand up, take up your mat and walk.” And Jesus then follows up afterwards with “See you are well” as if almost to say, “see, healing is possible after all”, but also a stern but loving admonition to avoid sin so that “nothing worse may befall you.” So we too as Catholics who too have experienced the healing of Christ should heed this call to avoid presumption, for only “he who endures to the end will be saved (Matt 24:13).” The good news of the passage is that the whole Gospel can in a loose sense be seen as Christ looking at us in our exile and misery and asking us too, “Do you want to be made well?”
James Price MGL
1st Reading: Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12
Gospel: John 5:1-16