“Rise up, take up your mat, and walk” (John 5:6).
Jesus heals the man who has been waiting for many years by the pool of Bethsaida. There he has competed to get into the water first when an angel was believed to stir the pool. Someone else always gets in first.
Jesus asks him pointedly, “Do you want to be well?” The question touches a theme relevant to other miracles involving people who are sick and disabled and living on alms. Their entire lives and identities have been built on their illness and dependence on others.
Jesus' question contains a challenge put to everyone who expresses a desire to change. If your prayer is answered it will change your entire life. You will have to leave behind your beggar’s cloak and spot near the pool or the road. You will then have to “pick up your life and walk.”
When the man is healed, the religious authorities are right there asking him how this happened. When they learn that Jesus has healed the man, they dismiss the obvious miracle and focus only on the fact that it was performed on the Sabbath.
Legalism triumphs over grace. Keeping the rules is more important than a man restored to life after years of suffering. For bringing grace and freedom into the world, Jesus is condemned by his enemies. They know nothing of compassion and God’s mercy.
On our Lenten journey, perhaps this Gospel invites us to consider the ways in which we choose limited lives over the risk of real discipleship, rule keeping over the adventure of love in new and surprising ways. Do we want to be free? Do we want a larger and more challenging life?
If we say yes, Jesus will call us to take the next step, and the next, and the next. This is the joy of the Gospel, but it comes only to those who want it and have the courage to live it.