After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” [John 5:1-6]
I had a physical exam on Monday. Now that I am in a certain age category, my doctor schedules these for me once every six months instead of annually. It’s forced me to come to grips with the fact that at 76, my body – and that of any person my age – breaks down more rapidly than when I was, say 26.
I admire those who continue to do strenuous physical exercise into their advanced years. I’m not one of those. I do try to get out and walk a couple miles twice a week, weather permitting. But on most days, my idea of a vigorous workout is sprinting from the couch to the refrigerator and back before the television commercial break ends.
I’m kidding, of course. But seriously, as I read through our Gospel passage this morning, I almost immediately connected the scene it describes to what is happening in our country and in our world today. The invalids by the pool, the blind, lame, and paralyzed, are comparable to the COVID-19 patients that have filled our hospitals to overflowing.
Though it’s hard to imagine that any society would leave its invalids simply lying in a public setting without making any effort to help them, consider the more recent health crises that we’ve witnessed both here and abroad. HIV/AIDS in the 80’s, and the Ebola virus of the last decade, are two that immediately come to mind. The prevailing attitude was one of indifference, as long as it didn’t affect us directly.
But the Coronavirus is a totally different matter.
We are living daily in the shadow of death. We are constantly bombarded with the rising statistics of the infection. The news media never fail to remind us of the human lives, both well-known and unknown, who have fallen victim to the illness.
In our efforts to try and make sense out of the senseless, it is human nature to ask questions, to wonder, to doubt, to fear. But in all cases, our efforts at explanation fall short. We cannot explain the Coronavirus any more than we can explain cancer, or any other life threatening illness.
In the midst of this crisis, we hear the voice of Jesus asking, “Do you want to be made well?”
Of course, no miracle story about Jesus would be complete without some opposition. Because Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, he is violating a religious tradition, thereby generating a conflict that will target him for death.
We have seen this drama play out in our own struggles with COVID-19. At first it was a labeled a hoax. Then, some sought to point fingers at the Chinese and blame them for creating the virus, leading toward unwarranted attacks against people of Asian origin. Afterwards, it was a deemed a political ploy to bring down the economy and win the presidential election. All have been proven false.
But casting aside all the controversy of the last year, the politicizing of the pandemic, the refusal by the uncooperative to avoid crowds, wear masks, or keep a safe distance; we have experienced the compassion of Jesus in the person of the health workers who continue to risk their lives to save the lives of others. We are receiving the healing of Jesus in the vaccinations that are now being produced and distributed to a greater segment of society. (I’m scheduled for my second dose tomorrow, by the way.)
In many respects, the novel coronavirus has become the great equalizer. It has forced us to put ourselves in the place of the invalids lying by the pool. Many of us who once took a lot of things for granted, are now desperate for Jesus’ mercy and healing.
“Do you want to be made well?”
This Gospel story from John reveals how Jesus penetrates the world’s despair, darkness, and death. We are living in a strange time that we haven’t experienced in our lifetime. But nevertheless, it is a time and an age that points us towards the cross.
This Lenten journey, weighed down with endless news about illness and death, invites us into yet another opportunity to walk a path toward restoration with Jesus.
But we walk that path as a community, so that there may be a resurrection into new life. We are reminded that only God gives life. This story, as with other healing stories, give us hope that God in Jesus Christ will continue to give life – even over death.