Why did he hesitate? That was a thought that came to my mind when praying with this Gospel passage [you can read the Gospel here]. This guy who is described as having been ill for 38 years. Jesus approaches him and asks simply “do you want to be well?” You would think the answer would be obvious Yes, of course I do?
But that’s not what happens. Immediately the “sick man” points out his predicament – this healing pool of Bethesda is always so crowded… just when he’s going to go, someone gets in before him…he has no one with him to advocate for him.
So that’s what’s going on – that’s why he hesitated – He’s scared… He’s in pain… He’s alone. These 38 years has taken a toll on him. He doesn’t believe anyone cares or that anything can be done for him.
But there’s still a flicker of hope. How do we know that – because he’s still there. He’s still waiting by the pool. He’s seeing other people’s being healed and restored and miracles taking place – whether it’s someone getting restored physically or just the miracle of compassion and love as loved ones were helping and advocating and assisting their sick relatives and friends that they brought to the pool – telling those people as they did to not give up, to believe that the God of Israel was faithful…that God hears the cry of the poor…
The “sick man” sees all this and wonders why he has been excluded for so long from those words of love, those looks of compassion, those acts of care.
He’s not prepared for God Himself to show up and show out in such a dramatic way. Jesus breaks through:
the layers and layers of doubt this poor man had;
the circumstances that had limited and inhibited him; –
the words of debilitation that this man allowed to define him as “ill” even to rename him as he was identified in the gospel as “the sick man”,
Jesus casts His eyes on him – telling him he’s noticed
Jesus invites him to renew his hope “do you want to be well?”
Jesus calls him to greater faith and trust “Rise, take your mat and walk.”
In that, the man not only experiences a physical healing a miracle of restoration of his health – but learns from Jesus the Messiah, the son of God that the God of Israel is a loving Father. He is no longer a “sick man” but discovers his identity as a beloved son of God. Jesus does this in a way that was unexpected, in a way that upset the social order of things, the set up that had been protocol (you didn’t do these things on the Sabbath)
Once again, you see the reaction from those around this man. They focus on the way things are, the way things have been and imaging that God is limited to those circumstances. It turns out their hope is limited too. And whatever faith they thought they had, evaporates in their dismissal of Jesus and the restored man.
As Catholic Christians, there’s a greater urgency for us to take this passage to heart. Right now as a nation and throughout the world as more and more people are locked down, locked in -we can hear how people are scared, we see images of people in pain and we know people are feeling more and more alone.
It’s up to us to not let those things take a toll on us… We have to be vigilant that these things not cause us to sow seeds of doubt, to debilitate us. We’re being hyper vigilant about not getting physically ill, but we have to make sure all of this sickness invade our spirits causing us to lose our identities as God’s beloved sons and daughters either.
And so this Gospel being proclaimed needs to take root in us:
Jesus has not stopped casting his eyes on us.
Jesus invites us to not give up but to renew our hope as well…
Jesus calls us to greater faith and trust.
May we not only receive this blessing – but share that blessing, be that blessing to those around us.