Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday of Ember Week in Lent

Ezechiel 18:20-28 / John 5:1-15

Wilt thou be made whole?

We hear in the Gospel today of Jesus' healing of the man by the pool of Bethsaida who had been waiting for thirty-eight years, unsuccessfully, to be healed in the pool when the angel of the Lord came upon its waters and he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water was made whole of whatsoever infirmity he lay under. The man, as we know, comes to be healed not by the miraculous waters, but by the words of Jesus: Arise, take up thy bed and walk.

We might find Jesus' question to the infirm man a bit puzzling — Wilt thou be made whole? Why should he not want to be made whole. Indeed, the man's reply asserts that it has not been for lack of willing it, but a lack of friends to help him, that he has, for more than the span of a generation, been unable to reach first to the waters. We sympathize with such a man, anyone so friendless for so long, to have been so close to God's making his creation new, sending has angel upon the water as even in the beginning his Spirit hovered over the deep, and yet unable to take advantage of this echo of the first creation and shadow of the new.

Yet, Jesus asks the question just the same, and at the end of the story, we see that there is more to his question than meets the eye. Having been healed, the man follows Jesus' command, picks up his mat, and walks away. However, as it is the sabbath, he is criticized for doing what appears to be servile labor, and is asked who it was that healed him and told him to pick up his mat. While the man did not know Jesus' name, we can well presume that those who interrogated him were perfectly aware that it was Jesus, and it was not out of curiosity, but in an attempt to catch him as a violator of the Law, that they sought to induce this man into serving their cause.

So, when Jesus meets up with the man a second time, he presents what looks to be a new command, but turns out to be merely an imperative of what was before posed as a question. That is, when Jesus says, Sin no more, lest some worse thing happen to thee, he knows this man's heart, even as he did when he asked him, Wilt thou be whole? The man wanted physical integrity, yes, but did he indeed want to be made whole? Did he want to be upright, not merely in the positional sense of standing on his two feet, but in the moral and spiritual sense as well? Did he want to remain forever paralyzed, passive in the face of the evil which seeks to oppress him, as he had been for thirty-eight years, or, when loved into health by Jesus his Friend, will this once-friendless man walk in the new power of that friendship? Sadly, we see that the man, despite his answer to the contrary, does not want to be healed. Despite Jesus' warning, he went his way, and told the Jews that it was Jesus Who had made him whole.

We have been made new in another pool, in the waters of baptism which not merely the angel of the Lord, but God himself, the Holy Spirit, has sanctified. In Christ Jesus, we have been made whole. Even so, is this what we want? In the face of the wickedness which preceded our baptism or those evils into which we have fallen since our being made members of Christ's body, do we in fact want to arise and walk?

In Lent, the Church reminds each of us especially of this fundamental truth of which Jesus reminded also the man he had healed: Behold thou art made whole. In the light of that truth, in the light of the glorious wholeness and dignity to which we have been restored by our forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ, why would we desire to sin any more? Ought we not rather arise in the newness of our Christian dignity, take up the mat on which we have lain for so long, and walk into the glorious beauty of life with our Triune God.

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