Intention: For all who are standing up for justice, especially those who are being persecuted for their courage, that God will continue to strengthen them and that their sacrifices may bear redeeming fruit.
Today’s Gospel | John 5:1-16
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. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” He answered them, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk?’” The man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there. After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, “Look, you are well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well. Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath.
A Lenten Reflection
The Gospel account of Jesus’ healing of the man at Bethesda is a miracle story with a twist. Jesus approaches a man who has been living with serious afflictions for decades. He is so incapacitated that he cannot even make his way into a mineral pool for relief. Then, Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be well?” It seems such a strange thing to ask under the circumstances. Yet, on closer examination, it may reveal to us what lies at the heart of God’s healing.
In the Church’s understanding of the scriptures, Jesus’ healing miracles are seen as moments in which the power of God’s Kingdom breaks dramatically and intensely into the human condition. In the Kingdom, what is wrong is set right, what is broken is made whole. This is the meaning of redemption. And if redemption is a restoration of our wholeness, then how redemption takes place must acknowledge and respect human dignity, which includes our freedom to choose and to act for ourselves. By setting before us a choice and then entrusting us with the ability to make our own decision, God invites us to be cooperators in his grace, experiencing the gift of salvation not as helpless victims, but as empowered participants.
And so, at Bethesda, Jesus asked, “Do you want to be well?” In other words, will you accept the challenge of enabling your own return to fullness? Will you allow me into your brokenness by saying yes to me? During Lent, we should reflect on what is our own answer to that question because, whether we realize it or not, the question is being asked of us all the time. Are we humble enough to admit to our need for God’s help, and yet strong enough to overcome for ourselves our doubts and fears? Above all, do we have the faith to answer God’s question and, in the midst of our infirmities, rise up and walk?
Eternal Father, you sent your Son to teach us the way to eternal life, to help us overcome our trials and our weaknesses. In this holy time of Lent, help us to be strong and face whatever challenges the future might bring. When we are tired, may we find strength. When we are discouraged, may we find hope. Whenever life pushes us to our limits, may we rise to its challenges and continue to confidently proclaim your Good News. We ask this of you who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.