20 March. Tuesday of Week 4 of Lent
Ezekiel 47:1ff. Life-giving water flow out from the temple to irrigate the wilderness.
John 5:1ff. At the pool beside the Jerusalem Sheepgate, Jesus heals a paralysed man.
Beside the Living Waters
We live in an age of pollution and ecological crisis. In many places our air and our water are becoming so contaminated that we are approaching a critical point. The fresh-water image in the Ezekiel prophecy has all the more appeal to us; its miraculous origin all the more necessary. Only by an act of God, it seems, can the destruction of our planet be reversed. This prophecy offers us reasons to hope and pray.
Ezekiel also inspires us to pray and work for another kind of purification, that of our inner selves. Each of us needs the Spirit, like a stream of fresh water to flow through us, to wash and invigorate our minds and hearts, to bring a new fresh vigour to our attitudes, to enliven our hope and bring a new spontaneity to our reflexes. Each of us is only half alive; we are lame like the man in John’s gospel, waiting for the movement of the water.
While Lent suggests penance and self-denial – seemingly a time of dullness beneath grey, cloudy skies – it also recalls the waters of Baptism. It is a period when catechumens are prepared for Baptism on Holy Saturday. Lent can train us like athletes, to throw off the sluggish and heavy drag of gloom and pessimism. It helps us set aside false values, so that our best self emerges fully alive.
In Ezekiel’s prophecy the water flows from the Holy of Holies at the heart of the Temple. We are summoned to meet more frequently in our parish churches during Lent. Through added prayer and liturgy we feel the touch of these transforming waters. Reflecting on the Bible we are provided with another source of life-giving water; like Ezekiel we will be more able to spot new signs of life about us where previously we saw only desert.
Finally, the lame man at the pool of Bethesda advises us to wait. This most important virtue is inculcated by the prophets, especially by Isaiah who said: “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies” (Is 30:15). Waiting convinces ourselves and all others that Jesus alone, certainly not our activity without Jesus, works the transforming, at times miraculous change we need. The lame man could have waited forever and remained lame unless waiting prepared a vigilant spirit for the coming of Jesus.
First Reading: Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12
Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.
Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. Going on eastward with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist.
Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, “Mortal, have you seen this?” Then he led me back along the bank of the river.
As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes.
On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the waterfor them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
Gospel: John 5:1-3, 5-16
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.'” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.