Mar 29, 2022: Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

1st Reading – Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12

The angel brought me, Ezekiel,
back to the entrance of the temple of the LORD,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the façade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the right side of the temple,
south of the altar.
He led me outside by the north gate,
and around to the outer gate facing the east,
where I saw water trickling from the right side.
Then when he had walked off to the east
with a measuring cord in his hand,
he measured off a thousand cubits
and had me wade through the water,
which was ankle-deep.
He measured off another thousand
and once more had me wade through the water,
which was now knee-deep.
Again he measured off a thousand and had me wade;
the water was up to my waist.
Once more he measured off a thousand,
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?”
Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit.
Along the bank of the river I saw very many trees on both sides.
He said to me,
“This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

Ezekiel was a prophet to the exiles in Babylon. He offered the people hope with his vision of a restored Israel. Today’s first reading is part of that vision, specifically a vision of a spring flowing from the southern end of the temple to the Dead Sea, revitalizing everything it meets on its way.

This is one of the most striking images in the book of Ezekiel, especially considering that the temple had been destroyed at the time of this writing.

The angel brought me, Ezekiel, back to the entrance of the temple of the LORD, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east, 

Ezekiel is brought to the door of the temple by an angel. From there he is able to observe a stream of water flowing from the threshold of the temple.

for the façade of the temple was toward the east;

Temples were constructed in such a way as to face the east. Because the east is the horizon of the dawn, ancient tradition held that it was the direction from which salvation comes.

the water flowed down from the right side of the temple, south of the altar. He led me outside by the north gate, and around to the outer gate facing the east, where I saw water trickling from the right side.

More important than the course the water takes is the meaning of its source and the effects it achieves.

Then when he had walked off to the east with a measuring cord in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and had me wade through the water, which was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand and once more had me wade through the water, which was now knee-deep. Again he measured off a thousand and had me wade; the water was up to my waist. Once more he measured off a thousand, 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.

Ezekiel’s angelic guide has him test the depths of the water by degrees. The further this river goes the fuller it grows.

And so we discover the things of God to be. Some teachings and commandments of God are found to be very plain and easily understood, like the waters that came only up to the ankles; others more difficult, like the waters which rose to the knees, or the waist. Some are quite beyond our reach, which we cannot fathom, but must be content, with Saint Paul, to cry out, “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33).

He asked me, “Have you seen this, son of man?”

The angel calls on Ezekiel to take note of what he sees, to appreciate the poignancy of this vision.

Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit. Along the bank of the river I saw very many trees on both sides.

After demonstrating the depth of the river at various points, the angel guides Ezekiel back to the river bank.

He said to me, “This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah, and empties into the sea, the salt waters, 

The Arabah (‘ărābâ) is a desert plain that stretches south into the Rift Valley, where it becomes the southern depression of the Dead Sea. It is into this sea that the waters flow.

The Dead Sea is thirteen hundred feet below sea level, the lowest point on the surface of the earth. Seven million tons of water flow into it daily. Because it has no outlet, the constant evaporation of water results in a high concentration of salt, chlorides, and bromides.

which it makes fresh.

When the life-giving waters from the temple reach the Dead Sea, it makes the water fresh.

This vision of the temple stream which transforms places of death into places of life is similar in purpose to the oracle of dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1–14: it offers the exiles hope for the future.

Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh. Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. 

As the vision continues, the water from the temple miraculously purifies the stagnant waters of the Dead Sea and gives life to all.

This vision of the temple stream transforming places of death into places of life is similar to the oracle of dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1–14: it offers the exiles hope for the future.

Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. 

The life and refreshment produced wherever the Temple stream flows evoke the order and abundance of paradise (Genesis 1:20-22; 2:10-14; Psalm 46:5) and represent the coming transformation Ezekiel envisions for the exiles and their land. Water signifies great blessings and evidence of the Lord’s presence (Joel 2:14).

What was once a place of death is now a place of burgeoning life and productivity.

Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

The water from the temple has yet even greater effects. Not only is the water itself transformative, causing plants to bear fruit as food, but the leaves of the trees that produce the fruit possess curative powers.

The saving power of God goes out from the temple in a series of concentric circles: first the water from the sanctuary itself, then whatever the water touches, and finally the nourishing fruits and medicinal leaves produced by that which the water touched. The power of the presence of God radiates throughout creation.

Ezekiel is teaching the exiles that God will be faithful to God’s covenant promises; the exiles will return to the Holy Land. God will once again dwell in his temple. The fact that God dwells among the people will be life-giving for all.

Most Christian interpreters agree that these waters also signify the gospel of Christ, which went forth from Jerusalem across the world along with the gifts and powers of the Holy Spirit, bringing deep and abundant blessings to all.

Psalm 46: 2-3, 5-6, 8-9

R. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.

Today’s responsorial comes from Psalm 46, a song of confidence in God’s protection. In it, the psalmist employs various metaphors to encourage the people to trust in God.

God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore, we fear not, though the earth be shaken and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.

The people speak, expressing total confidence in God.

Mountains are symbols of strength and stability. However, if they are subject to an earthquake, they can break into pieces and tumble into the sea. In contrast, God is a different kind of refuge and strength, one that will never fail, one that is not subject to stronger forces.

Behind this metaphor is the mythological story of primordial creation. There we see that the victorious God has conquered the sea and firmly established the mountains (see Psalm 65:6-7).

With God as our help in distress, we have nothing to fear.

There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God, 

At this point, a priest or Levite seems to speak, proclaiming the fertility and freshness of Jerusalem, which comes from the fact that God dwells in the midst of the city, in his temple (see also Ezekiel 47:1-12; Joel 4:18).

Note the contrast: the “depths of the sea,” those chaotic and primordial waters, vs. a channeled stream, the symbol of fruitfulness (Genesis 2:4-10).

the holy dwelling of the Most High.

The title Most High (‘elyôn) originated in the time of King David. Before David captured the Jebusite city Jerusalem, the god that was worshiped there was named Most High (see Genesis 14:18-19). After the Israelites conquered the city, they appropriated much of the religious culture found there and incorporated it into their own tradition. They insisted that their God, the God of Israel, was the Most High.

God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed; God will help it at the break of dawn.

The Israelites believed that Zion was not only sacred but also secure, because God dwelt on it in a very special way. Dawn, the time when darkness was finally conquered, would reveal that it was this God who had been their protector.

The LORD of Hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.

“LORD of Hosts” is a military title. It is found in the accounts of Israel’s military conflicts (1 Samuel 1:3, 15:2; Psalm 24:10). It is also a reference to the primordial conflict between the mighty warrior God and the evil waters of chaos.

Whether we see the title as referring to ancient Israel’s military encounters with its enemies or to the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil, it is still the God of Israel/Jacob who is victorious. The astonishing feats this God has accomplished can be either the victories that God has won or the works of creation that God has wrought.

Come! Behold the deeds of the LORD, the astounding things he has wrought on earth. 

The psalmist calls all those who can hear to behold the marvels of God. Their magnificence should instill both gratitude and confidence in the hearts of all.

Gospel – John 5:1-16

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

Now that day was a sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.’“
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.

Today’s gospel reading picks up where we left off yesterday. Jesus’ self-revelation continues in Jerusalem at a feast. The third sign is performed, the cure of a paralytic by Jesus’ life-giving word.

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

It’s unclear what festival this was, probably the Passover or perhaps Pentecost.

Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.

This pool was also called the “Probatic” pool because it was located on the outskirts of Jerusalem, beside the Probatic Gate or Sheep Gate (Nehemiah 3:1-32; 12:39), through which came the livestock to be sacrificed in the temple.

Bêt-’ešdatayīn (rendered in English as Bethesda) is given as the name of a double pool northeast of the temple area in the Qumran Copper Roll. Around the end of the 19th century, the remains of a pool were discovered. Excavated out of rock, it was rectangular in shape and was surrounded by four galleries or porches, with a fifth porch dividing the pool into two.

In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. 

Healing powers were attributed to the pool of Bethesda, therefore it naturally attracted those in need of healing.

One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.

This man’s infirmity had endured longer than most people lived at that time.

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?”

Jesus’ notice of the man indicates that while in Jerusalem, he visited hospitals and other places of suffering, not palaces or other places of wealth and honor.

Among the multitude of sufferers, Jesus singled out this man — possibly due to his age, or because he was in a more deplorable condition than any of the others. Or perhaps Jesus knew that this man would be the most receptive to his mercy.

Jesus’ question to the man seems strange, given that he had been ill for so long. Some commentators see this as Jesus gently prodding the man to name his desire, akin to asking, “What shall I do for you?” Others say that the man had possibly long accepted his infirmity as a permanent one, and given up hope; in this case, Jesus would be rekindling the desire in his heart to be healed.

The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”

An intermittent spring occasionally bubbled up within the pool, creating turbulence. The first person to step into the water after the turbulence began received the benefit. Described this way, the healing power of the pool is a kind of standing miracle.

The Church Fathers teach that this pool is a symbol of baptism, but an imperfect one: while the pool of Bethesda cured physical ailments, baptism cures ailments of the soul.

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”

Without the man even considering the fact that Jesus could cure him, much less requesting it, Jesus effortlessly heals him.

Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

The water of the pool fails to bring life; Jesus’ word does.

Now that day was a sabbath.

Being an observant Jew, Jesus would have been well aware of the fact that he was not only performing a healing on the sabbath but asking this man to carry a burden on the sabbath.

It’s likely that he did this intentionally, to demonstrate that he was “Lord of the sabbath” — a way of asserting his authority.

Joshua, and the host of Israel, marched about Jericho on the sabbath day, when God commanded them (Joshua 6). Similarly, this man carried his bed on the sabbath in obedience to a command.

So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”

The tradition of the Jewish elders had stretched the law of the sabbath beyond its intention.

He answered them, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’”

The man points out that he is not carrying his mat in contempt of the law and the sabbath, but in obedience to someone who had the power to heal him. Anyone with that kind of power over nature would clearly have the authority to command him to carry his mat.

They asked him, “Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” The man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.

Note how they are not interested in the fact that this man who had been so ill for so long had been healed, nor are they interested in hearing more about his miraculous cure. Rather, they are interested in catching someone breaking the law.

After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.”

The man may have come to the temple to thank God for his cure. Jesus goes over to him and reminds him that the health of the soul is more important than physical health.

The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well. 

The man probably told the Jews about Jesus in order to honor him, not thinking that anyone so compassionate and powerful would have enemies.

Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath.

The Law of Moses established the sabbath as a weekly day of rest. Through keeping the sabbath, the Jews felt they were imitating God, who rested from the work of creation on the seventh day.

Saint Thomas Aquinas observes that Jesus rejects this strict interpretation:

“[The Jews], in their desire to imitate God, did nothing on the sabbath, as if God on that day had ceased absolutely to act. It is true that he rested on the sabbath from his work of creating new creatures, but he is always continually at work, maintaining them in existence[…] God is the cause of all things in the sense that he also maintains them in existence; for if for one moment he were to stop exercising his power, at that very moment everything that nature contains would cease to exist” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, ad loc.).

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