Expositions of the story of the sick man at the miraculous Pool of Bethesda (Jn 5:1-16) tend to focus on the Jewish religious leaders’ reaction to the healing Jesus effected on the Sabbath — a poor response, to say the least, focusing on the day of the week rather than the return to health of a brother after nearly four decades.
But I would rather focus on the first part: specifically, the background information of the sick man’s story. His response to Jesus always bothered me: in essence, I can’t get in the water in time when it is stirred up before someone else gets in to receive the healing. Why not just wait at the very edge and then just topple into the water the moment it is divinely disturbed? Was it too crowded around the edge? And why wouldn’t someone, in the kindness of his heart, help the long-suffering man? You would think one person would put aside his desire for that day and help out this poor man. Not one person in possibly up to thirty-eight years ever put someone else above himself? Or maybe the water was stirred up so infrequently it was every man for himself on those rare occasions? This inquiring mind would like to know. (Interestingly, a verse was added much later, non-canonical, after verse three that attempted to explain what was going on: “For [from time to time] an angel of the Lord used to come down into the pool; and the water was stirred up, so the first one to get in [after the stirring of the water] was healed of whatever disease afflicted him.”) The good news is that Jesus ultimately cared for this man and made him whole. Maybe it was for the purpose of teaching a lesson on healing as well as the significance of the thirty-eight years (the time the Chosen People were “wandering” in the desert after the Exodus) that the man was not healed sooner. Often we do not realize the reason for our suffering as it is happening, but God always has a plan.
I have been working through Joseph Ratzinger’s book of “christological meditations and reflections” as part of my Lenten reading. Not an easy read, but certainly filled with nuggets. This sentence caught my eye today:
Any liberation of man which does not enable him to become divine betrays man, betrays his boundless yearning.Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Behold the Pierced One (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986), 35.
When we hear “liberation” or “freedom” today, it is far too often associated with sin: freedom to “choose,” freedom to “marry” whomever one wants, freedom to do it “my way,” freedom from all restraints. This is not authentic freedom, this is license (“the throwing off of all responsibility. It is a carte blanche to do as we feel“). Real freedom comes in doing God’s will and following His commandments. No one could rightfully say that the Almighty is not free, so he wants the same freedom for us. We get that strength to do what is right through grace, which the Catechism tells us makes us the “partakers of the divine nature” (#1996) — true freedom to become what we are meant to be. Deep down, this is the “yearning” of all our restless hearts.
Two Catholic websites I came across recently that are worth sharing:
Catholic Thinkers: “a free resource for advanced Catholic instruction.” It seems that this is really starting to pick up with videos being added often (you can sign up to receive notices when new one are being added). Lots of great lectures there already with a slew more to come.
Person and Identity: “formation, resources, and pastoral guidance on issues of faith, ‘gender,’ and sexual identity.” Lots of great Catholic articles and videos for parents, schools, parishes, and anyone wanting to know more about these matters. See the CWR article for an overview.