Tuesday, March 21, 2023

LIVING WATER - Today's Mass Readings

Throughout the Scriptures, water is a very powerful symbol. Sometimes it is a sign of death and destruction such as in the Great Flood (Genesis 6:5 – 10:32) or when the chariots and horses of the persecuting Egyptians were drowned. (Exodus 14:22-31)

Often, however, water symbolises life, as we see with the Israelites' Meribah in the desert (Numbers 20:1-12) and the writings of the prophets. We are reminded of this at baptisms, because the prayer for blessing the water calls to mind all the ways throughout the Scriptures that God used water to give life to his people.

In the first reading of today's Mass (Ezekiel 47:1-12, we see the vision of a river that that starts modestly as it flows out from under temple, but eventually becomes a great surging torrent torrent flowing down the valley into the desert, bringing new life and healing.

In St John's Gospel the theme of Jesus as the giver of living water is very important, and we are to keep in mind the Old Testament picture of a flood of healing grace as we study that Gospel's portrait of Jesus. The pool of Bethesda is a place of healing and cleansing. But lying by this pool is a man who has been sick for 38 years. Jesus asks why the man hadn't reached the healing waters, and the man explains, “I have no one to put me into the pool”.

So Jesus heals him, showing himself to be the fulfilment of the healing waters and the one to whom these Old Testament signs pointed.

The early Church Fathers saw in this a prefiguring of Christian Baptism, when in the water of rebirth Jesus gives us new life.

Here is a very short but powerful homily from Metropolitan Anthony, who gives the account his own distinctive application:

We have heard today in the Gospel of a man who for thirty eight years had laid paralysed. The only thing that separated him from healing was the possibility to reach the waters, which the angel brought into motion once a year. Thirty eight years had he attempted to move towards healing but someone else has been quicker than he and stolen healing from him. 

How many are there now in the world, how many have been and will be in this world of ours who need healing, who are paralysed by fear, paralysed by all that prevents us from moving with boldness and purpose towards fullness of life? How many? And who are those who will take them and help them to receive healing instead of seeking it for themselves? Let us look at ourselves, not at each other but ourselves. What have we learnt from the Gospel?

Christ says that no-one has true love who is not prepared to give his life for his neighbour, and the neighbour, as it is quite clear also from the Gospel, is not the one whom we like, whom we love, who is close to us, it is whoever needs us.
Ask yourself this question. There are number of people around you who would believe, who would gladly start a new life, who would bless you and God for giving them courage to move not physical but spiritual limbs that are tied. And let us ask ourselves, what do we do, what have we done, what are we capable of doing to help them? 

The waters of Siloam are an image of God, of His healing power. When God comes close, when we become aware that He is there, near, do we look around to see who needs Him more than we do? No. We rush forward, we want to be those who will sit at His feet, we are those who wish to touch the hem of His garment and be healed, we are those - and this is even worse, - we are those who wish to be seen as His disciples and companions so that people may look at us and wonder, admire us, at times almost worship us, the companions of Jesus, the friends of God become man. Who of us is prepared to step aside, to become inconspicuous, or rather to help another to step forward instead of us when we know that we will be the losers in a way, - in a way only because if we do this, we will have lost what is thought we coveted but we will have become disciples of Christ who gave His life that others may live.

Let us reflect on the story. It is not simply an old story about things that happened about two thousand years ago, it is something that is happening every day and we are those who rush forward and prevent others from merging themselves into the healing waters of Siloam. Let us listen to St. John the Divine, the teacher of true love, let us be ready to sacrifice all we long for, all we desire for someone else to have it, to be given it by God, let us be prepared to pay the price of other people’s finding freedom, life on all levels, even on the simplest level of food and shelter and the warmth of an attentive gaze or a loving, sober word. Let us become free of selves, and then how many will be saved, saved from hunger, from homelessness, saved from the dominion of others, saved from all that is fetters and imprisonment of life. Let us become what Christ was - the One that sets free in the name of truth and of life. Amen.

(Metropolitan Anthony Bloom 1914-2003) was bishop of the Diocese of Sourozh, the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain and Ireland. He was a sought-after spiritual director. Go HERE for more of Metropolitan Anthony's homilies) 

The Bethesda Pool, where Jesus heals the paralytic man in the Gospel of John, is today a complex site. It appears to have been a mikveh, or ritual bath. It was built over in subsequent periods with chapels and churches that are still visible today.


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