A field hospital after battle: that’s the image today’s gospel brought to mind for me.
Pope Francis famously made just such a comparison a couple of years ago in talking about the modern church’s mission:
I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.
It’s a perspective Pope Francis seems to share with the Jesus we meet in today’s passage from the Gospel of John. Traipsing about Jerusalem, Jesus comes upon a pool called Bethesda. It’s surrounded by five porticoes…all of them populated by ‘a large number of ill, blind, lame and crippled.’
Presumably, Jesus has compassion for them all. But he focuses on one man in particular – one he knew had been ill for a long time. Jesus asks the man a curious question: ‘Do you want to be well?’
Every time I hear that question these days, it sends a shiver down my spine.
The question has the power to convict me, simply because I know my brokenness all too well. The truth is, I tend to cling to my brokenness just a tad. You might say I actually embrace it from time to time: those sins…and sinful patterns…that feel about as comfortable on me as a favorite pair of jeans.
‘Do you want to be well?’ Jesus asks.
And sometimes, I wonder.
To be perfectly honest, I can’t imagine what I’d do…or who I’d be…if I got rid of some of my worst habits once and for all. So I tend to make excuses for myself instead: ‘Maybe next time, Jesus… because you see, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up…’
That’s one of the beauties of this holy season of Lent, it seems to me. It can become a ‘no excuses’ zone, if we’re open to the invitation. It’s a time when we can gaze into the eyes of Jesus and hear him say: ‘Rise, take up your mat, and walk.’
We are – all of us – stuck in the porticoes at Bethesda. We all find ourselves weighed down by sin…perhaps even desperately in need of triage at the field hospital.
Into that setting walks Jesus, with a reminder that the water has already been stirred up in our lives. We have received the grace of baptism.
In Christ, we have the help we need.
And in the Body of Christ, we have access to the medical staff we need — the loving hands of those who can move us ever closer to the pool.
Why, it’s enough to make even a seriously broken person suddenly burst into song…
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.