The infirm man by the pool of Bethesda in today’s Gospel had taken a great step forward after thirty-eight years, despite the fact that he was unable to move. He acknowledged that he needed help to be freed of his predicament. As Our Lord would later reveal, his illness was just a symptom of a deeper problem: sin. He’d been sick for thirty-eight years, but it’s not clear how long he’d waited near the pool. Somehow he got there, and that desire to be there showed something was dawning in his soul, something good: he wasn’t just lamenting his health. Now he was seeking a spiritual solution. It was believed that when the waters moved in the pool of Bethesda you could bathe in them and be healed: some ancient biblical manuscripts added here that an angel brushed its wings on the water, showing with the ripples that an opportunity was at hand for healing. As the number of people around the pool demonstrated, many people hoped for this miracle.
It doesn’t seem the infirm man was completely paralytic, but he couldn’t move easily. Who knows whether he’d spent the last of the little strength he had to just get nearer to the pool, but now there was no one to help him go further. Or wasn’t there? The infirm man in his mind had a plan, and it involved God: he was taking a step forward in faith and trust going to Bethesda despite his limitations. He believed healing was possible there. Our Lord comes onto the scene, knowing his plight and his desire, and the man expresses his faith in a miracle and that all he needs is a little help to receive it. The miracle arrived: Our Lord healed him and then disappeared into the crowd. When the healed man picks up his mat and walks off, he doesn’t understand much of what happened; all he knew was that a stranger healed him. Once he had a little time to process what had happened, Our Lord sought him out and warned him against falling back into the true source of his woes: sin.
Some sins are only conquered after a prolonged battle. This should not discourage us. The important thing is to keep our eyes fixed on where we need to go spiritually in order to overcome them. Our Lord works through our faith, our trust, and our effort. Lent is a time to progress in conquering sin. Let’s keep moving forward as the Lord reveals the path to us and not get discouraged when it seems we hit a roadblock. The moment will often come when you least expect it.
Readings: Ezekiel 47:1–9, 12; Psalm 46:2–3, 5–6, 8–9; John 5:1–16.