Ez 47:1-9,12; Ps 46:2-3,5-6,8-9; Jn 5:1-16: “Behold the deeds of the LORD, the astounding things he has wrought on earth.” This faith acclamation of the Psalm is that of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda. It is the cry of the people who hear of Ezekiel’s vision. It is our Lenten cry of joy as the days of penance pass and our Easter is at hand. God, the LORD of hosts is with us, and He is our refuge and our strength. There is no greater help in any distress. We do not fear, and that’s not just a bumper sticker. We do not fear earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and volcanoes; we do not fear death. However, there may be something we do fear. Perhaps we fear the stream whose runlets gladden the city of God. Perhaps we are most afraid of drinking from the stream of His Delight. Perhaps we don’t want God to be in our midst—too close for comfort. If the LORD meets us like a dawning day, his strength may be too much for us to handle. His marvelous deeds and the astounding things he has wrought could assert his love beyond all our expectations. What then? What would we do if the LORD’s love was so strong, so assertive, so astounding? Would we cry with joy at his vision of our future? Would we cry in pain at the thought of all we must yet go through in order to change? How would we answer the Lord Jesus when he asks: “Do you want to be well?” Perhaps we have grown too comfortable or complacent in our misery. Perhaps we have enough excuses to avoid the healing we need the most. Such are the questions one confronts in today’s Word of the Lord.
It’s almost impossible for most of us to imagine what it’s like to live in a dry and arid land. We have almost always had hot and cold running water at our fingertips. Ezekiel’s vision is like a dream come true. To have such a promising vision of God’s abundant mercy and constant kindness is nothing less than astounding. Notice the water flows out from the temple. Notice, also, it flows out toward the east. The rising river rushes out to meet the rising sun. The rivers of justice flow out to meeting the Risen Lord Jesus, who will return just as he left us. This water is superabundant; it’s no trickle. It far surpasses the water from the rock in the exodus. This water is deep and strong and constant; it will support their new life after exile. This river water is not absorbed into the salt water of the Arabah; rather, it transforms the sea into fresh water. Astounding! This river of life supports the life of every kind, fish and fruit abound. The waters of this river flow out of the sanctuary; they flow out of the place where His Glory abides. Even the leaves nourished by this living water provide medicine for the healing of all who come to the water for baptism, cleansing, and refreshment. Such are the waters flowing from the side of the temple, and such are the waters flowing from the side of the Christ. What a vision! Just what we need as we approach the end of our desert journey. Here lies a glimpse of the paschal waters of the fountain of baptism. Perhaps this year we’ll be ready and willing to immerse our dry and weary souls in the waters of life, abundant life, and sanctuary life.
It seems like they just can’t have a feast in Jerusalem without the Lord Jesus in attendance. Perhaps that’s because he, the Lord Jesus is the feast. He is the reason for the season. As usual, the Lord goes to the temple; he is the faithful son of His Father. While at one of the pools, the Lord encounters someone who sounds familiar. He meets a man who is lying on a mat and it is obvious from his appearance that he had been there a long time. When the Lord Jesus asked if he wanted to get well, he was hesitant and unsure of himself. He made excuses for himself. No one loves me. No one helps me. If he were a bit more honest he might even admit, I don’t love myself all that much either. The Lord did not let the usual excuses keep him from seeing the man as he was, in his heart of hearts. He did long for wholeness and healing. So the Lord Jesus instructed him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” His healing was astounding, sudden, and frightening for at least some of those around. The leaders of the community saw this man carrying his mat on a Sabbath and they were outraged. They did not rejoice. They were more paralyzed than cripple. They could not dance for joy at the astounding mercy of the Lord. All they could see was that a law was being violated. This was all they needed; now they had even more reason to persecute the Lord Jesus. Now, they could justify their deep seeded suspicions about this dangerous and powerful Jesus. Perhaps we are afraid of being set free from some very familiar paralysis. Perhaps we would rather remain on our mats. We get used to anything if we do it long enough, even paralysis.