Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Reading 1 EZ 47:1-9, 12
The angel brought me, Ezekiel,
back to the entrance of the temple of the LORD,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the façade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the right side of the temple,
south of the altar.
He led me outside by the north gate,
and around to the outer gate facing the east,
where I saw water trickling from the right side.
Then when he had walked off to the east
with a measuring cord in his hand,
he measured off a thousand cubits
and had me wade through the water,
which was ankle-deep.
He measured off another thousand
and once more had me wade through the water,
which was now knee-deep.
Again he measured off a thousand and had me wade;
the water was up to my waist.
Once more he measured off a thousand,
but there was now a river through which I could not wade;
for the water had risen so high it had become a river
that could not be crossed except by swimming.
He asked me, “Have you seen this, son of man?”
Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit.
Along the bank of the river I saw very many trees on both sides.
He said to me,
“This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
R. (8) The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken
and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Come! behold the deeds of the LORD,
the astounding things he has wrought on earth.
R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Verse Before The Gospel PS 51:12A, 14A
A clean heart create for me, O God;
give me back the joy of your salvation.
Gospel JN 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 any more,
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.
Forgiven by Greg Olsen
The passage always reminds me of the second strophe of the morning hymn of the Liturgy of the Hours sung on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross:
O Cross of Christ, immortal tree
On which our Saviour died,
The world is sheltered by your arms
That bore the Crucified.
Beginning with the early Church Fathers the passage was often interpreted in relation to Christ, the new temple (John 2:13-22), from whom blood and water issued (John 19:31-37). And in relation to the new creation (Rev 22:1-5). It also was used in association with baptism, particularly during the Easter Vigil when the catechumens were baptized:
The second symbol of the Easter Vigil – the night of Baptism – is water. It appears in Sacred Scripture, and hence also in the inner structure of the Sacrament of Baptism, with two opposed meanings. On the one hand there is the sea, which appears as a force antagonistic to life on earth, continually threatening it; yet God has placed a limit upon it. Hence the book of Revelation says that in God’s new world, the sea will be no more (cf. Rev 21:1). It is the element of death. And so it becomes the symbolic representation of Jesus’ death on the Cross: Christ descended into the sea, into the waters of death, as Israel did into the Red Sea. Having risen from death, he gives us life. This means that Baptism is not only a cleansing, but a new birth: with Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death, so as to rise up again as new creatures.
The other way in which we encounter water is in the form of the fresh spring that gives life, or the great river from which life comes forth. According to the earliest practice of the Church, Baptism had to be administered with water from a fresh spring. Without water there is no life. It is striking how much importance is attached to wells in Sacred Scripture. They are places from which life rises forth. Beside Jacob’s well, Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman of the new well, the water of true life. He reveals himself to her as the new, definitive Jacob, who opens up for humanity the well that is awaited: the inexhaustible source of life-giving water (cf. John 4:5-15). Saint John tells us that a soldier with a lance struck the side of Jesus, and from his open side – from his pierced heart – there came out blood and water (cf. John 19:34). The early Church saw in this a symbol of Baptism and Eucharist flowing from the pierced heart of Jesus. In his death, Jesus himself became the spring. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the new Temple from which a spring issues forth that becomes a great life-giving river (cf. Ezekiel 47:1-12). In a land which constantly suffered from drought and water shortage, this was a great vision of hope. Nascent Christianity understood: in Christ, this vision was fulfilled. He is the true, living Temple of God. He is the spring of living water. From him, the great river pours forth, which in Baptism renews the world and makes it fruitful; the great river of living water, his Gospel which makes the earth fertile. Jesus, however, prophesied something still greater. He said: “Whoever believes in me … out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love! (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on Holy Saturday, 2009).
Interpretation: Ezekiel (A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching). Joseph Blenkinsopp. Blenkinsopp is professor emeritus at Notre Dame University. The interpretation series was produced by authors from a variety of ecclesiastical traditions.
Ezekiel: A New Heart (International Theological Commentary). Father Bruce Vawter and Father L. J. Hoppe. The ITC is a series which includes contributors from a wide range of ecclesiastical traditions.
Ezekiel, Daniel: (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture). Stevenson and Glerup, editors. Commentary take from the fathers and early medieval writers. I’ve not yet read the book but I suspect I will find 47:1-12 interpreted christologically, with the temple being applied to Christ, the water to his passion, baptism, etc.
Ezekiel, With an Excursus on the Old Testament Priesthood. Father Aelred Cody, O.S.B.
Art at the Top:
DO YOU WANT TO BE WELL AGAIN?
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EZEKIEL 47:1-9,12; PS 45,2-3,5-6,8-9; JOHN 5,1-16]We are all in need of healing. We are all sick physically and wounded in different ways. We are broken emotionally and psychologically. Some of us are paralyzed spiritually by our bondage to sin, addiction to drugs, drink, smoking, bad habits and irregular relationships. Most of all, those suffering from rare illnesses or terminal sicknesses cannot find cure, even with the best medical facilities in the world. So it is not surprising that at a Jewish festival in Jerusalem, Jesus was surrounded by the sick. “Now at the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem there is a building, called Bethzatha in Hebrew, consisting of five porticos; and under these were crowds of sick people – blind, lame, paralyzed.”
It is significant that the building is named “Bethzatha”, which means “House of mercy.” We are all in need of mercy. Many of us long for mercy, but mercy never came. Some of us are like the paralyzed man who waited almost a lifetime for someone to help him to receive God’s mercy. But he never had a chance, for he said, “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets there before me.” We too could be in the same situation as this man. Something always gets in the way of our healing. For 38 years he waited, but he never gave up hope. Such was the perseverance of this man. How many of us would wait so long for God’s mercy? Most of us would have given up. But this man waited and waited for the time to come. Indeed, God comes to those who wait on Him. This is what the prophet says, “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isa 40:31)
The scriptures tell us that the Lord comes to heal us. The question is, “Do you want to be well again?” This is an important question. Many of us, like the man, do not understand the full import of Jesus’ question. Like him, we are thinking of physical cure or short-term healing. He was more concerned, like all of us who are sick, with solving the problem, for he said; “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets there before me.”. Most of us are concerned with short-term goals and immediate gratification of our needs.
But Jesus is more interested in granting us full healing of mind, body and spirit. Not only that, the healing that Jesus comes to give is permanent. When Jesus met him again, He warned him, “Now you are well again, be sure not to sin any more, or something worse may happen to you.” Clearly, the real healing that is needed is more the restoration of the soul. What we need is peace in our hearts through forgiveness and reconciliation. Many of our illnesses are caused by the failure to live an upright life. This man sought physical health. We do not realize that man is constituted of body and spirit. If the body is sick, the mind and spirit will also be sick. If the mind and spirit are sick, the body will also fall ill. Like him, so many desire only physical restoration, but we do not take care of our other needs. That is why Jesus warned him that he might be physically able to walk, but his spiritual health was even more important. The healing happened for him so that he could come to know God who alone can give life. What he needed most was to live a life without sin, a life that was free from selfish ambition, vices and self. Otherwise, even with physical health, he would not be happy. Some sick people with terminal illness are more at peace than those of us who are supposedly healthy but are full of anger, resentment, discontentment and hostile competition for power, wealth and power. So if we do not repent of our sins out of true reverence and love for God, at least the thought of hurting ourselves and/or our loved ones even more, should motivate us to avoid sin and self-destruction.
Within this context, the sacrament of baptism is for the full restoration of the human person. One is made a new creation. It must be noted that the Sheep Pool is a symbol of the Baptismal font for the catechumens. In entering the water, they are cleansed, renewed and restored. This is in fulfillment of the first reading when we read of the water of Arabah giving life to the Israelites. They were in exile and their temple was destroyed. They lost all hope and meaning in life. But the prophet assured them that the water would once again flow from the temple and become a river that gave life to every creature and plant. Once again, the land would be fertile and there would be life again. So too when we are baptized, we will be renewed with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Whereas the pool of Bethzatha only gave physical healing, baptism heals the soul through the Holy Spirit. Unlike the pool which could cure only one person each time, baptism cures all humanity purchased by the blood of Christ. It brings about the forgiveness of sins and the person is healed at its very core. He is given new life, peace and the joy of the Holy Spirit.
But baptism alone is not sufficient. Many are baptized but they do not grow in faith and most of all, in discipleship. True healing means coming to know Jesus. The man who was healed never bothered to find out the source of his healing. He took his healing for granted. So, too, when we are graced by God, be it in passing an exam, successfully finishing a project or cured of an illness, many of us never truly give thanks to God and reflect for ourselves what this means to us in terms of faith and life. It is important to know that we depend on God and He is our everything. Humility before God keeps us in our place so that none of us can become too arrogant or independent.
If we know that life and healing belongs to God, then we should be seeking to know Jesus more and more so that we can live like Him. Many seek baptism, but do not like living the life of Christ. Baptism, just like confession, is not a matter of washing away our sins. It is not like going to a spiritual laundry. Baptism and confession entail a real desire to turn away from sin and our idols to follow Christ our Lord. Merely going through the ritual will not save us. Rather, we must draw near to Christ each day. We must come to the living water and draw life from Him, like the Samaritan woman. The prophet assures us that “Wherever the river flows, all living creatures teeming in it will live. Fish will be very plentiful, for wherever the water goes it brings health, and life teems wherever the river flows. They will bear new fruit every month, because this water comes from the sanctuary. And their fruit will be good to eat and the leaves medicinal.”
Furthermore, like the psalmist, in our struggle against sin, let us remember that “the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” This is because “God is within, it cannot be shaken; God will help it at the dawning of the day. Come, consider the works of the Lord the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.” Alone, we cannot overcome the temptations of the Evil One, but since our baptism incorporates us into the body of Christ, with Him as our head, we can win the battle against sin and evil. We must allow God’s mercy and power to give us the strength to continue this fight against sin.
So all that is left now is for us to decide whether we want to allow God’s grace to work in and through us. If Jesus could give strength to a hopeless paralyzed man, surely He can give hope to all of us. But we must “get up and walk”. We must cooperate with His grace. He wants to free us from the power of sin and death, but not without our consent. If we do not want to change and instead give excuses, like the man that no one helped him, then nothing is going to happen. God has sent many people and prophets to us. He has given us this season of Lent to come to self-awareness and repentance. If we are serious about getting well again, then we need to get up and start walking towards Jesus. Observing the Sabbath does not mean doing nothing, as what the religious leaders thought and taught. Observing the Sabbath means to continue doing good, giving life and acting for God every moment of our lives. So do not delay any longer. No more lame excuses. Go to Jesus for healing now, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation, or say ‘yes’ to Jesus in the sacrament of baptism.