Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Once more he measured off a thousand (cubits),
but there was now a river through which I could not wade;
for the water had risen so high it had become a river
that could not be crossed except by swimming.
He asked me, "Have you seen this, son of man?"
The mystery of Lent grows inexorably deeper; we have to swim to get across it. But a swimmer remains on its surface; he does not risk drowning by diving into its bottomless depths.
The swimmer in today's gospel seems in no particular hurry to be healed. He invariably arrives late in the pool of Bethesda, and someone else has already been healed. What would happen to this old man if he accidentally fell in first?
What would happen to us if we accidentally plumbed the depths of Lent, of our sins and of God's Mercy?
But God does not permit such accidents. Our healing begins with God's mercy and continues with our willingness. His mercy is an ever-open door, a standing invitation which is frequently announced, "Come to me...!"
God will not invade our persons without a welcome, no more than a surgeon would act upon an unwilling patient. His mercy begins with the freedom he has given us, without which we lose our human dignity.
"Have you seen this, Son of Man?" the angel demanded of Ezekiel. Have you seen this superabundant river of freedom? In this stream you will no longer belong to your fears, nor to the expectations and restrictions of people around you.
You will know abandonment in a desert of solitude as grace pulls you from family, friends and colleagues; you will know shame and remorse as your memories finally catch up with you. You are, after all, the only person on Earth with these memories, with your story.
You will know -- this will come to you -- the particular affection God has for you. It is manifest in the breath you take each moment, in the "now-here-I-am" that breaks over you like the waves upon our stranded swimmer.
In Saint John's fifth chapter we meet a solitary Jesus. He is the obedient Son of the Father, suspected, despised, isolated by the "authorities" because he has authority in himself, an authority that astounds and confuses those around him.
Where does this man get such freedom? they ask. How dare he! He is not the establishment. He comes and goes apparently as he pleases, but actually as the Holy Spirit directs him. He is no more guided by his own impulses than he is by those of others.
His disciples too will take up their mats and walk even on "Sabbath" when freedom is not permitted. They are guided by an impulse which is not willful.
Lent calls us away from the world around us. Amid a crowd doomed to follow its primitive instincts, the penitent hears the voice which asks, "Do you want to be well?"