Yesterday was the feast of St. John, known as the Beloved.
The only Apostle not to be martyred, though at least one attempt we know of was made to kill him.
There is a story, likely apocryphal but beautiful nonetheless, handed down through the ages that youth from around the known world would come to visit St. John when he was exiled and living in a cave on the Island of Patmos, much the way youth in our day go to meet the Pope during World Youth Days.
It is further said that the Deacons would help the old man come out to meet the young people and that he would proclaim one word to them repeatedly: “My little children, love one another.”
This reminds me of a line in his first letter: We are writing this so that your joy may be complete. [1Jn.1:4]
Surely this can be applied to his writing of his Gospel accounts of the life and words, the actions of Jesus, who Himself, once more showing His love for us in all He reveals tells us that: “I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” [Jn. 15:11]
When I was preparing this yesterday, it was just after four in the afternoon and dusk was falling and today dawn started just before nine with a windchill in the minus 40’s, while now it has warmed up to a balmy minus 32!
Today in Bethlehem, this day of the Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents, victims of Herod’s death squads, it is a cloudy plus 11. I mention this because it is vital we be aware of everyone on the face of the earth.
Jesus, whom as St. John reminds us in his Prologue came to dwell among us, first as a newborn homeless child of poverty, this Jesus who later would say of Himself He had nowhere to lay His head and would Himself be executed, knows the suffering of every human being, intimately, and is present to everyone in their suffering be it, in this northern city the homeless suffering in this extreme, death-dealing cold, or the untold number of children throughout the world suffering because of famine, war, slavery, abuse, forced to be child soldiers.
Unless we plumb the depths of, are constantly nourished by, allow to permeate our minds, hearts, wills, choices, actions, the very Person of Christ Incarnate, as encountered in the Holy Gospels, and in the Sacraments, especially Holy Mass and Holy Communion, we will remain incomprehensible to ourselves, unable to love one another, blind to what is really and objectively unfolding around us and therefore will be unable to shine the Light of Christ to shatter the darkness of the culture of death.
Once again, as we enter chapter 5 of the Holy Gospel according to St. John, the Evangelist shows us Jesus on the move again, healing again, revealing more of His authority to act and teach.
5:1-4= After this, there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool, and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.
Jesus on the move.
Jesus, in search of those who need Him: each one of us!
Jesus’ passionate search for us is no mere symbol from millennia past when the event the Evangelist reveals to us here was happening.
With every breath we take we are IN the very moment when Jesus approaches, coming as He says knocking at the door of our being, seeking leave to enter and be in communion of love with us. [cf. Rev. 3:20, ff.]
What is striking, in every miracle Jesus performs, always as simultaneous acts of love and compassion, of Divine Mercy when He includes forgiveness of sin, there is always a restoration of wholeness to the person/people touched by Him.
Given it is the soul which gives form to our bodies, interior wounds/pain require healing as well, thus external healing flows from the Divine touch in the depths of our soul, our heart, our emotions and what has been wounded, by sin, sickness, trauma, whatever the cause, is healed.
The challenge then is for us to choose to ever more fully follow Jesus in every remaining moment of our lives, or – like 9 of the 10 healed lepers [Lk.17:11-19] or like the rich young man who was invited to communion of love and life with Jesus [Mk. 10:17-31] – remain stuck in a less than fullness of life and wholeness of being, forgetting we have been healed, more tragically, WHO has healed us.
v. 5=Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity for thirty-eight years.
Ultimately what we call ‘time’ is a great mystery.
Our experience of time tends to be impacted by what/how we feel, by the experience of change: sunrise, sunset, what our watches or calendars tell us, by our activities throughout a given hour or day, the changes in our bodies as we age, perhaps even our attitudes, for certainly while liberalism may be somewhat understandable in our youth, one indication of the time of life well spent is that in our old age we are wisely conservative!
v.6=When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had always been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
The Evangelist does not tell us how Jesus knew the man had been suffering a long time, yet it is indicative of Jesus’ awareness of everyone and everything around Him, that this should come to us as no surprise.
Are we that aware, or are we in such a rush – perhaps even a panic – to get from one thing to the next we miss what is, more importantly who is, in our presence?
How often these days do we see people sitting beside each other on the train or bus, indeed even parents walking with their children, so preoccupied with their cell phones it is as if the technology is a drawn up and secured drawbridge and they are safely behind the castle walls of texts or internet or………….
Jesus in this instance does not ask if the man wants to be cured, but rather does he want to be ‘made well.’
This is a profound offer.
Physical healing alone is just that, physical-alone.
A dear friend, long dead, was a brilliant cancer surgeon who always prayed, with his surgical team, before starting an operation, for he knew every disease was more than mere infection of cells or tissue or organs.
Every disease impacts our entire being and that while he could ‘cure’ surgically, he could not heal.
One alone can heal.
One alone can make us well.
v.7=The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up: but while I am coming another steps down before me.”
Fascinating reply to Christ’s question of the man, asking him if he wanted to be made well!
The man does not immediately answer directly, rather gives an obvious explanation of his predicament when the water is stirred up.
Perhaps the man was gripped by fears: fear of the unknown as certainly after thirty-eight years, miserable as his life likely was, it was a known, perhaps, at least emotionally, an, if not comfortable, at least an ‘it is what it is’ familiarity; perhaps fear of what would he do, in a word, with what would he replace the space, the people, the begging for money for food, the shelter by the pool – everything that over those years had become ordinary life for him.
In a word his response to Jesus was like saying “It is not my fault I’m not well, and here’s why.”
People trapped in various types of infirmities, addictions, negative emotions, even those who have if not a curable but bearable sickness, can become so used to their condition even when obvious and potentially effective help is offered will, like this man, either because of loss of hope, fear of the future, find ways of excusing themselves from risking change.
The familiar, as painful, as less than wholeness of being it certainly is, nonetheless is clung to like the proverbial Linus blanket: therein is a certain security. We feel safe, protected, even though it is, ultimately, an illusion.
St. John Paul tells us that ‘unless we know Christ we remain incomprehensible to ourselves’, for Christ alone is the way, the truth, the life, Christ alone knows us as we are in each moment, whatever our situation.
Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. [Heb. 4:12]
How does this unfold? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with Me.” [Rev.3:20]
It is the Risen Jesus, the Eucharistic Jesus, seeking communion of love with us who, as with the man in question here, ALWAYS takes the initiative, always approaches, always is ready to enter, enlighten, heal, restore: “He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” [Lk.24:17ff]
In this moment, with and through the Church, the Sacraments, He is always approaching, respecting our freedom, asking if He might accompany us, might enter within, thus the Second Vatican Council reminds us: The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds. [The Church in the Modern World, Preface.1]
Immediately after the man’s no answer statement, for the man says neither that he prefers to be made whole or not, Jesus, knowing the deep inner hunger within the man over thirty-eight years to be whole says: “Rise up, take up your bed and walk.” [v.8]
Once again, as always with God, gift offered is offered freely, free to be accepted or rejected.
IF the man does rise – then therein is a type of resurrection from the darkness of what is within the core of his heart and soul, indeed within his very limbs: utter unwholeness.
IF he does accept the offer, heed the command of Christ, then he will enter into the light of wholeness of being.
Like Lazarus, who was told himself to walk out of the tomb, this man too must act, must walk, must carry away the very thing upon which he had lain, was entombed really.
v.9=And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.
Not just cured. MADE WELL!