Ezekiel 47: 1-9, 12
Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.
Going on eastward with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, “Mortal, have you seen this?”
Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes.
On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
Psalm 46: 1-2, 4-5, 7-8
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
John 5: 1-16
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?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath.
Have you ever waited a long time for God to answer a prayer of yours? Have you ever endured the same trial for years without an answer, while you watched others have the same prayer answered over and over again? Have you ever felt alone or unsupported by those around you, and even wondered if God was like that too?
If so, you may be able to relate to the man in the Gospel story today. We do not know what sickness he had, or how old he was, but we do know that he had been afflicted for thirty-eight years, so we can assume that more than half of his life was spent in pain and alone, with his healing seeming to be just out of reach. We do not know how many real efforts he had made to get to the healing water, or how many people he had asked over the years, or if he were still trying or was simply laying there, having given up on ever being healed. When Jesus met him, He asked the man if he wanted to be well, perhaps trying to reawaken the faith he once had. The man responded by telling Jesus that he had no one to put him in the water. How many of us can relate? How many of us have come to God not necessarily in faith but asking why our answers seem to be impossible? “Why are so many other people receiving what I have been asking for and you don’t seem to see me? Why do I not matter to you?” Interestingly, Jesus does not respond to the man’s statement, or even offer to walk him to the water, but heals him right then and there. It was no accident that He healed him on the Sabbath either; though He did not express it in words, Jesus showed the man, who had been worn down by years of waiting and was likely wondering if God cared about him at all, that yes, his healing mattered -- it even mattered more to Him than observing the Sabbath.
While the Lord never explained why this man needed to suffer for thirty-eight years before his healing, we do know that, when the time came, he received the deepest answer to his prayer possible. Not only was his affliction healed, but he encountered Jesus, who gave him a new start in his life. Likewise, we rarely receive an explanation of why we must suffer some of the things we do in this life (perhaps there is none), but the Lord does promise to be that refuge and ever-present help in trouble. If you are waiting on an answer from God, or are feeling alone, take heart today that you are not alone. Just as the Jesus broke the Sabbath law by healing the man in the Gospel, He broke the rules for all of us by His death on the Cross. He showed us that we matter deeply to Him, and that the desire of His heart is that we encounter Him and receive our deepest needs from Him.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for your constant love and care for me, even when I can not see it. Forgive the weakness of my faith, and give me the grace to keep seeking you and trusting you, even in this desert experience of Lent. I offer you all of my deepest needs and the desires of my heart and turn to you to help me through whatever trials I am going through right now. Please meet me where I am, as you did the man in the Gospel, and renew my faith through the healing water of your Holy Spirit. Amen.