Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent | Readings: Ezekiel 47:1-9,12; John 5:1-16
Human lives are made of moments, incidents, happenings, and what become anecdotal events, some of which we generalize about and make into full “belief systems.” Art, pictures, snapshot biographies, metaphors, and stories have the ability to do this very quickly and deeply for us. They touch and gather the unconscious much more than concepts do. Once we can coalesce our varied experiences into a “picture,” it has much more power for us to either heal us or hurt us or at least change us. The Bible, of course, is hoping to present us with some healing stories and images that allow us to reconfigure our life in God and in truth.
One of those deeply healing metaphors is water, and we see it in both readings today. Ezekiel presents water flowing from every side of the temple as the source of life, endless fertility: all living creatures, fish, and trees “whose fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.” What an excellent image of Divine abundance and the universal flourishing that comes from it!
In John’s Gospel we see another image of fruitful and healing water, fittingly called Bethesda or “house of mercy.” Now we have the healing waters available and bubbling, a house of mercy for sure, but a man who is right there not making use of it! He is paralyzed as much in spirit as in his body. This is the real “sin” and tragedy that he must be healed of. He is playing the victim, “I have no one to plunge me into the pool. By the time I get there someone else has always beaten me to it.” And he has been saying this for thirty-eight years!
So Jesus orders him up, and tells him to pick up his mat and walk for himself. Jesus mirrors his best self for the man, he empowers him, and gives him back his own power, he “images” him, he gives the man back to himself by giving him His self. This is the way it has to happen, because we all begin to see ourselves as other people see us—for good and for ill. With Jesus, it is always for good, but such perfect mirroring also carries further relationship and responsibilities with it.
He warns the man not to turn back to his paralysis, “or something worse will overtake you.” This “regressive restoration of the old persona” is a very common pattern when we are sent out into new and risky worlds when we have to take responsibility for ourselves, when we must courageously face our own lives and stand on our own courageous feet. There are few honest guides, like Jesus, at this point. Most will tell you to “take good care of yourself” and pad your false self. Jesus never does that.
Such regressive restoration of persona commonly happens to both individuals, and also to institutions, as we continually see in our country, our social groups, and even more sadly in our churches. They too often go back to nostalgia for the past and victimhood for the future in lieu of courage or guidance. We need healing images and courageous people to image us at our best. Nothing else will invite us into the flowing waters from the temple and the always bubbling pool of divine mercy. Many never take the risk, and remain spiritual infants even much beyond “thirty-eight years.”
“He made me wade through the water, which was now knee deep. Again he measured off a thousand cubits and made me wade again, and the water was up to my waist.” —Ezekiel 47:4
“Do you want to be healed?. . .Then stand up, pick up your mat and walk!” —John 5:7, 9
“Healing God, give me the courage to move forward, and help me to see that my deepest sin might be my unwillingness to keep growing.”