26 February 2010

Healing the Paralysis of Sin

In today’s Gospel for the Extraordinary Form of Mass (John 5:1-15), on this Ember Friday of the First Week in Lent, Jesus heals a man “that had been eight and thirty years under his infirmity” at a pond called Probatica, or in Hebrew, Bethsaida. Probatica’s meaning is perhaps a bit unusual to modern day thought, as it is said to mean “sheep-gate.” This was apparently a pond in which sheep that were to be sacrificed were washed beforehand. The Hebrew name Bethsaida, however means “fish-pond” but there are Greek transcripts which define the name of Bethsaida as being “a house of mercy.”

Saint John the Evangelist, whose Gospel is believed to have been written about the year 96 or somewhere in that last decade of the first century, was a mystic, and thus, no doubt, was conveying a deeper spiritual meaning in this account than what appears on the surface. Certainly words like sheep-gate, fish-pond, and a house of mercy are intriguing. The case could be made that all three can be linked to the Sacrament of Baptism.

Jesus is the Shepherd, and at baptism we become children of the Father, and consequently our Savior’s sheep. Hence, baptism is the gate in which the sheep enter to be carried in the Arms of the Shepherd (cf. Luke 15:1-10), close to His Bosom, His Sacred Heart, called to an intimate union with Jesus, Who is the Way to the Father, all by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Baptism. And yes, we are sacrificed. We are slaughtered to the life of old and through the waters of baptism, rise up to a new life in Christ.

Jesus is the Fisher of men, a mission He continues through the labors of His Church. Once baptized, we are caught, no longer condemned to swim around aimlessly, lost in the darkness of murky waters. We are pulled out that watery grave to look upon our Fisherman, to be mesmerized by His marvelous Light.

Because of the fall, man built up a wall which separated him from God. It is His loving mercy that has called us back to Him. All the Sacraments are merciful acts instituted by Jesus Himself, and are ministered by Him through His House of Mercy, the Church.

As this Gospel account continues, once Jesus heals the man by saying: “Arise, take up thy bed and walk,” the man meets others who tell him: “It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for thee to take up thy bed.” Those kinds of voices are all around us. Sometimes they are within us; and sadly, sometimes they are us. Lent is a time to put all that aside, in fact, throw it away, never to be looked upon again; to be healed by Jesus through Reconciliation. Alcuin of York, an eighth century English theologian, wrote: “In imitation of this sick man, if we wish to return God thanks for His favors, or enjoy the pleasure of His company, we must fly the crowd of vain and wicked thoughts that continually tempt us; we must avoid the company of the wicked, and fly to the sanctuary, that we may render our hearts worthy temples of that God Who vouchsafes to visit us.”

A wonderful benefit of being healed by the great Physician, and being able to enjoy “the pleasure of His company,” that is, spending time deeply immersed in prayer, is that sin wants no part Jesus. Thus, the closer we get to Him, the more we can experience that “sanctuary,” hidden in His Sacred Heart. Satan indeed may attempt to track us down in our desert, but as Scripture shows, if we’re close to Jesus in the desert, Satan will flee (cf. Matthew 4:1-11).