Today we encounter in the gospel reading the diseased man who for 38 years waited patiently by the pool known as Bethesda to be cured of his illness. We are told that at certain seasons the Angel of the Lord would trouble the water and whoever stepped in first was healed of whatever disease they had.
This reading is highly instructive if we are prepared to reflect upon its teaching. The first thing that strikes us is the patience and perseverance of the sick man, for he had been there for 38 years awaiting the possibility to be healed. Imagine the emotions of the man – the build-up of expectation as to the coming of the Angel of the Lord. Is this going to be my time? Am I going to be healed? Am I going to recover my life? No doubt these thoughts would be going through his mind. Then following on the heels of such thoughts would be feelings of resentment – why are there so many people here? Why do they not respect the fact that I have been here for so long? Why do they push past me? It would be natural for anyone who was awaiting to have such thoughts. Then would follow the excitement and the rush as to who would get in the water first, but this man “had no man to put him into the pool when the water was troubled and while he was going down another steps down before him.” So then would begin thoughts of bitterness to others. But did he give up? Did he go away? No. He remained steadfast in his patience and perseverance. Hope is what sustained him. His patience and hope continued to sustain him in full – and without hope there is only hopelessness.
The next thing that strikes us is that the healing was available to the first person who entered the water. Whether that person was saint or sinner the healing was freely given. Whether that person was deserving or undeserving God’s mercy made them well. This tells us something about God’s goodness. God freely gives to all. Whether we receive depends upon whether we have our hands open to receive or shut tightly into a fist to reject the greatest of gifts. After all, does not Christ himself tells us that his father in heaven “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). By this understand the Lord offers to all and by the same token he judges all – whether we have been good or evil or just or unjust. After all, does not God call everyone to repentance? For was not the reason he came into the world to save sinners? For after all, only those who are sick need a doctor.
Notice also the question of Christ to the diseased man. He asks him “do you want to be healed?” The man responds to the question in a practical way which makes it clear that the man was only thinking of his physical sickness. Yet Christ says to him “see, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you”. Here something strange is going on: Christ is telling us something profound. He is saying that the healing of physical sickness, although important, is not as important as the healing of the soul. If we consider that we live only for a short period of time in this world, but that our soul lives for ever and ever, then we should choose what benefits us in the long term. The first Epistle of Peter reminds us: “all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord abides forever”. That word is good news which is preached to us. This man was made well physically and healed spiritually. He was warned to sin no more. You see it is sin that leads to corruption of the flesh and not physical infirmity. It is sin that leads us to lose the kingdom of heaven. It is sin that makes us arrogant, proud, and rejecting of God. It is sin that makes us close our eyes to God and walk away from him into the darkness. Sin lost paradise for us and sin can condemn us from the world without end.
This gospel reading also teaches us that not all people react to goodness in the same way. This man was questioned by the Jews as to why he was carrying his bed on the Sabbath – in other words why was he breaking the law given by Father Moses. They were interested in whether or not people obey the rules in this world. They cared little about the next. To them religion was no more than rules to be followed. Isn’t that the way some people are today? They take what is beautiful and alive and reduce it to no more than regulating what cannot be done. To them the only way they could serve God was to observe the Sabbath. But Christ himself said “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath!” In other words the new dispensation was two way. Not only from man to God as the Jews believed but also now from God to man. The new dispensation swept away the rules and replaced it by two: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and you should love your fellow man as yourself. Through Christ man is joined in hand to God. Through Christ man is made a son of God. Through Christ man is given life immortal. Therefore, Christ’s words “sin no more that nothing worse may befall you” can only relate to the loss of the kingdom to come. May we all attain the kingdom through the grace and mercy of our loving Lord.