the pool of healing waters
(How embarrassing: someone pointed out to me I had conflated the pool of Siloam with the pool of Beth-za-tha in the title. Fixed now. CC)
Of course heading into Easter, when the catechumens are to be baptized and the rest of us are to renew our baptismal vows, whenever we hear something about water we ought to pay attention. That is especially so today, when we hear about it in both the readings and the responsorial psalm.[i]
This phrase from the prophet Ezekiel––I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple––is one we sing a lot for the sprinkling rite during Eastertide, as a matter of fact it is supposed to be sung during the renewal of the baptismal promises at the Easter vigil. But we are supposed to be remembering a few other texts while we sing it too. First of all, just two days before we will have heard the Passion of Our Lord from the Gospel of John during which John tells us that one of the soldiers thrust a lance into [Jesus’] side and immediately blood and water flowed out. That in turn is supposed to remind us of earlier in the Gospel of John when Jesus had declared ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again,’ about which the evangelist tells us He was speaking about the temple of his body.[ii] In Jesus, the Temple has been relocated. It’s no longer a building; it’s a body, the body of Jesus.
And here we have a foreshadowing of that: this poor man who had been ill for thirty-eight years and has not been able to get himself to the pool, now doesn’t have to go to the pool of Beth-za-tha (or Bethesda). Beth-za-tha has come to him! The real pool, the stream of life-giving water, is in Jesus, the stream of life-giving water, which is, of course, again as John tells us in chapter 7, none other than the Holy Spirit. But remember too that in that context Jesus is not speaking about himself but about all who believe in him, that ‘from out of the believer’s heart would flow streams of life-giving water.’ The temple gets relocated again with our baptism. As Paul exhorts his readers in Corinth: Do you not know that you are God’s temple by the Holy Spirit the dwells within you?[iii] Now we carry that healing pool, that life-giving water, the Spirit of Jesus, within us.
The lectionary ends this section of the Gospel of John a little early. There are two more verses to this section of chapter 5[iv] that tell us that Jesus answered them by saying, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working,’ even on the Sabbath! And this is why they were seeking to kill him, John tells us, not only because he was breaking the Sabbath, but also because he was calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.[v] That is sort of ironic, given that Paul tells us that that is exactly what Jesus did not do––deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but rather he emptied himself.[vi] Jesus emptied himself of himself so that he could be filled with the healing water, filled with the Holy Spirit, always doing the Father’s will. We read this recently from Robert Barron: “When a beautiful object speaks beyond itself, when it effaces itself in deference to the grounding beauty of which it is a reflection, it is paradoxically, most authentically itself and hence most beautiful.”[vii] I thought that was particularly appropriate since this past week we have been hosting an icon writing workshop as we do each year, and that is a perfect explanation of the art of iconography––a beautiful object that speaks beyond itself. And the same thing applies to Jesus: because he does not deem equality with God something to be grasped at but empties himself, he is paradoxically most authentically himself and the most godlike.
I thought of that too when we heard the reading from Henri Nouwen this morning at Vigils, addressing that very thing: “Everything we know about Jesus indicates that he was concerned with only one thing: to do the will of his Father. Nothing is as impressive as Jesus’ single-minded obedience to his Father,” even to death, Paul says, dying on the cross. Nouwen adds something equally important: “Everything that belongs to Jesus is given for us to receive. All that Jesus does we may also do.”[viii] In the same way Paul says that we too can have the mind of Christ if we empty ourselves of ourselves. Then we will paradoxically be most authentically ourselves and most godlike, sharing the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
Let’s pray that we too would know our own beings, even our very bodies, to be God’s holy temple of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us, and pray even more that the life-giving water would flow from out of our hearts, to bring healing––light, peace, joy, and hope––to a weary world that has been waiting so long.
13 march 18
[i] Tuesday of the 4th Week of Lent: Ez 47:1-9, 12; Ps. 46 (There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God…); Jn 5:1-16.
[ii] Jn 19:34; 2:19, 21.
[iii] 1 Cor 6:19.
[iv] Verses 17-18 are the beginning of the gospel the next day.
[v] Jn 5:17-18.
[vi] Phil 2:5-8.
[vii] And Now I See, 60.
[viii] Show Me the Way, 34 (quoted in WIS II, p. 104-105).