The River Jordan and Paradise

The prayers for the Great Blessing of water entreat God to make the blessing of the Jordan be present in the water in the church font.  In the Vespers service for Theophany, 13 Old Testament Readings are proclaimed.  Four of these reading make reference to the River Jordan:

Joshua 3:7-8, 15-17 (the ark causes the Jordan to stop flowing, so Israel can cross to the promised land on dry ground);

4[2] Kings 2:6-14 (Elisha parts the Jordan after receiving Elijah’s mantle when he ascended into heaven);

4[2] Kings 5:9-14 (Naaman is cured by washing three times in the Jordan);

Genesis 32:1-10 (Jacob reminds God that he became a rich man after crossing the Jordan).

The Jordan River has a virtual mythical quality for Israel, and takes on a mystical purpose and meaning.  Crossing the Jordan is associated with the saving acts of God on earth – with movement that brings one closer to God and God’s Kingdom.   St. Gregory the Theologian reflects on the mystical meaning of the Jordan River.

St. Gregory then comes back to the Jordan:

‘Alone among all rivers, the Jordan received the first-fruits of sanctification and blessing, and has shed the grace of baptism over the whole world, as from a source. And these things are signs of that regeneration which is effected by Baptism’.

This is a very striking definition of a type, that it is an act truly accomplished, and signifying some future action. St Gregory then alludes to the Jordan in its relation to Paradise:

‘The Jordan is glorified because it regenerates men and makes them fit for God’s Paradise’.”

(Jean Danielou, From Shadows to Reality,p 275)

The Jordan is involved in several epiphanies of God, but in Christ’s baptism there is the Theophany of the Holy Trinity. It is Christ’s baptism that gives meaning and power to all baptisms done in Christ.  The Jordan has a mystical quality that is transferred to all who participate in it.

The Incarnation of the Word of God

You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you did comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  (Isaiah 12:1-3)

Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”  (2 Kings 5:10)

In the beginning, God the Father created the world through the Word of God.  In Christ, the Word of God became part of creation.  In Christ’s baptism the Word of God renews creation.  Water is purified by Christ, and in turn becomes capable of washing away sin.  Thus Christ, God incarnate, renews humanity from within by becoming flesh and uniting divinity to humanity, and from without by making water and creation capable of being the means for our salvation.  The body, renewed from within by God, is washed with the waters of salvation.  The inner renewal, and the external washing are both essential in salvation.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons  (d. 202AD) writes:

“Man was created by God so that he might have life. If now, having lost life, wounded by the serpent, he could not return to life, but was to be fully abandoned to death, then God would be conquered and the malice of the serpent would have overcome His will. but since God is at once invisible and magnanimous, He has shown His magnanimity in correcting man and putting all men to the test, as we have said. Yet, by the second Adam, He has bound the strong man and destroyed his arms, and He has done away with death, bringing life to man who had been subject to death. For Adam had become the possession of the devil and the devil held him in his power, having perversely deceived him in subjecting him to death when he had offered him immortality. Indeed, in promising them that they would be like gods, which was not in his power, he brought about death in them. This is why he who made man captive was himself made captive by God, and man whom he had captured found himself freed from the slavery of condemnation.

The Logos of God was made flesh….to destroy death and to give life to man, for we were in the chains of sin and destined to be born through the state of sin and to fall under (the empire of) death.” (The Spirituality of the New Testament and Fathers by Louis Bouyer, pp 232-233)

St. Gregory Palamas on Baptism

Baptism is one of the commonest themes in [St. Gregory] Palamas’s sermons, as it is in his theological and spiritual writings. The sheer number of his references to Christian initiation shows the importance he attached to it; for him neither Christian experience nor spirituality could exist outside the sacramental grace which, in the Church, communicated the divine life to the faithful. It was ‘to make a new being of us, and to renew us by baptism,’ that Christ was incarnate; ‘he has broken on the cross the record of our sins’ (Col. 2:14), and he has rendered innocent those who by baptism are buried with him (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12). Baptism, by delivering us from the original corruption, is a ‘resurrection of our soul,’ and to us, ‘communicates strength to conform to the body of the glory of Christ’ (Phil. 3:21). The triple immersion is a symbol of the three days’ sojourn of the soul of Christ in Hades that it might go out thence, and rise again in the body. At baptism we receive a disposition to do good, and we conclude a pact with God, but it depends on us to give real value to this grace. ‘If a man called obeys the call, and accepts baptism to be called a Christian, but does not behave in a way worthy of the name he bears, and does not in fact accomplish the promises given at his baptism, he is called, but he is not chosen.’ Then the promises are of no avail to him, but rather condemn him.

By baptism all Christians are holy – ‘If the vessel consecrated to God is holy,’ Palamas says, ‘how much more is the man holy who is joined to him by the bath of regeneration’ – and they are sons of God, but they are still required to prove by their works that they have received this gift; ‘Renewal and new creation of the characteristics of the soul are accomplished by grace in the bath of regeneration; they grow and reach perfection through just actions in accord with faith.’” (John Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas, pp 160-161)

The Healing of the Blind Man

For the 6th Sunday after Pascha, we proclaim the Gospel lesson from John 9:1-38, Christ’s healing the blind man using clay He made with spittle.

The Gospel lesson opens with these words:

As the Lord passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. 

From the early days of Christianity this miraculous sign of the blind man was understood to represent the defectiveness of the world of the Fall.  He is blind from birth as his eyes have not formed.  What Christ does in making the clay and anointing the blind man’s eyes is to complete the creative act, thus making the man whole.  Christ was believed in the early Church to have been the creator of the first human in Genesis 2.  It was the pre-incarnate Christ who formed Adam from the dirt of the earth.  Christ again in John 9 takes dirt from the earth to heal, to make whole, the blind human whose creation was incomplete.  As Christ notes, the issue here is not sin, but rather that the glory of God might be made known in him.  This is not just about the Fall, it is about the restoration of creation.  Really, this Gospel lesson seems to reject the notion that “original sin” can explain the reason for all illness and deformity in humans.  It is only the leaders of the synagogue who cast  the healed man out of the synagogue who hold to an idea of “original sin” and see this healed man as being totally depraved!

Christ has the man wash in the pool of Siloam to show how the waters of baptism make us whole again, giving us the eyes to see the truth about God.

Fr. John Behr explains a bit about the ancient teaching concerning this Gospel lesson, beginning with the comments of St. Irenaeus of Lyons.

 

“Christ healed the man blind from birth (John 9). It was not merely by a word that he was healed, but ‘by an outward action, doing this not without purpose or by chance, but that he might show forth the Hand of God that had at the beginning moulded the human being’ (haer. 5.15.2). So, just as ‘the Lord took mud from the earth and formed the human being’ (Gen. 2:7), Christ spat on the ground and made mud, smeared it upon his eyes, ‘pointing out the original  fashioning, how it was effected, and manifesting the Hand of God to those who can understand by what [Hand] the human being was formed out of the dust’ (haer. 5.15.2). As, in Christ’s words, the man was born blind not because of his own sin or that of his parents, ‘but that the works of God should be manifest in him’ (John 9:3), so Irenaeus sets this particular work within the intentionality of the economy as a whole: For that which the artificer, the Word, had omitted to form in the womb, he then supplied in public, that the works of God might be manifested in him, in order that we might not seek out another hand by which the human being is fashioned, nor another Father, knowing that this Hand of God which formed us in the beginning, and which does form us in the womb, has in the last times sought us out who were lost, winning back his own, and taking up the lost sheep upon his shoulders, and with joy restoring it to the fold of life. (haer. 5.15.2; cf. Luke 19:10, 15:4-6).” (Irenaues of Lyons: Identifying Christianity, pp 162-163)

Hymns from Theophany

Orthodox festal hymns are rich in imagery.  As such they reveal a great deal about what hymnographers in past centuries believed and thought about.   This in turn reveals a rich theological heritage – Christians not shaped by modern concerns and controversies revealed how they saw the world in the poetry they composed.

Below are a few hymns from the Prefeast of Theophany which offer glimpses into the mind of our Christian fore-bearers.  The first hymn hones in on the idea that the saving deeds of Christ benefit ALL of humanity, not just those who believe.  There is indeed a universalism to the salvation offered to humanity in Jesus Christ.  Orthodox festal hymns frequently proclaim that there is one God who is both creator and savior of everyone.   Obviously, not everyone is interested in this salvation.  [The emphasis in the text below is mine and not in the original.]

Receiving Him who came to be washed,
That He might wash away the sins of all,
John forbade Him, drawing back in fear:
“It is I who need to be baptized by You!
How can the friend stand in the Bridegroom’s place?
I am only a word from Your voice; a moon reflecting You, the sun,
Whom we exult throughout all ages!

I also find in the penultimate line an interesting scientific reference –  the moon’s light is simply reflecting the sun’s light.  The hymn writer is able to incorporate in a metaphor comparing John the Baptist to Jesus the fact that the moon is not the source of it’s own light.   Some think that the ancients, being pre-modern and pre-scientific, held only superstitious beliefs, but they were interested in the material world and science as they understood it.   Understanding the moon to be reflecting sunlight requires some abstract cosmology as the fact would have been beyond what the ancients could prove.  The hymn shows that this concept of the moon reflecting sunlight was so well established to the hymn writer that he could refer to it in a metaphor and trust that his audience would know the reference.

In a similar vein, a Patristic text on Christ’s baptism, Tertullian references the primordial waters from which life emerged.  Obviously his understanding of the primordial waters comes from the book of Genesis and not from evolutionary science, but he does accept a notion that from the inanimate sea, life came into existence.

In another hymn, we are reminded that the Holy Feast Days in the Church are instances of the Master’s hospitality – an image used on Holy Thursday referring to the Mystical Supper of Christ.  We (all Christians and all who attend the Feasts are the invited guests of God!  We aren’t the hosts of these Feasts, we are God’s guests, enjoying the Master’s hospitality which we are supposed to share with others.  Sadly, when we think we own the Feasts or the sacraments, we lose our proper place at the heavenly Banquet.

 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luke 14:7-11)

God is the Master who shows hospitality to all.  As His invited guests, our task is to give Him thanksgiving and to share His abundant hospitality with others.

Come, O faithful,
Having enjoyed the Master’s hospitality:
The banquet of immortality
In the lowly manger,
Let us run to the Jordan,
There to see a strange mystery,
Revealing light from on high.

The above hymn has us being invited by the Master from one Feast (Christmas) to another (Theophany).  We are the guests, and should be awed and humbled that God invites us to these Feasts honoring His Son!  And we have unlimited grace and divine love to share with all of our neighbors and indeed with the entirety of humanity.

And in the Feast of Theophany we see a strange mystery. Mystery is the normal word for sacrament in Orthodox writings.  The strange mystery is of course Christ’s baptism.  For usually baptism is understood as the spiritual means to wash away sin, but now the sinless Christ is baptized and it is Christ who is sanctifying the waters rather than the reverse.

In Orthodox theology Christ took upon himself the sins of the world.  This is an action of His entire life, not just the short time He was on the Cross.  So, in His baptism, Christ carried not His sins but ours into the River Jordan.  He drowns our sins in His baptism, or in another image, He buries our sins when He goes beneath the waters of the Jordan.   Baptism is a symbolic burial and resurrection to life.  Christ dies on the cross and resurrects to a new life, but His baptism already prefigures this.  Every significant event in Christ’s life was done for our salvation.  Theophany, Christ’s baptism is also accomplished foe our salvation, not His!

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  (Romans 6:3-5)

So the hymns of Theophany give frequent reference to Christ doing away with our sins, and use several different metaphors to make the point:

In the midst of those seeking baptism,
You stood, a man in essence, not imagination,
The only sinless One by nature,
For You came to bury mankind’s punishment
In the baptismal waters.

In Canticle 1 of the Eve of Theophany, we find this same idea of salvation referenced repeatedly:

Delivered from bitter bondage,
Israel crossed over the waters as if on dry land,
And seeing the enemy drowning,
They sang a song in gladness to God …
Christ now buries our sins in the waters…
Jesus Christ comes forth to drown the rivers of sin in the streams of Jordan…

The hymns see the Exodus event of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea as prefiguring Christ’s own baptism.  The real enemy of the Jews and of all mankind is sin.  The crossing of the Red Sea has eternal significance because the Egyptians are just the symbol of sin.  It does little good to escape a tyrant if you are trapped in sin.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? ” (Matthew 16:24-26)

Finally, all of the hymns are based in the theological truth that Jesus is God incarnate.  That is the whole basis for understanding every Gospel story and for celebrating every Christian Feast.

Once You clothed the shameful nakedness of our forefather Adam;
Now You are stripped naked of Your own will!
You covered the roof of heaven with waters;
Now You wrap Yourself in the streams of Jordan,
Only merciful Christ.

The above hymn accepts the idea that it was the pre-incarnate Christ who clothes the naked Adam and Eve after they had lost the original glorious garment God provided for them in Eden and were expelled from paradise.  Now in His own baptism, Christ stands naked on earth in the Jordan River taking upon Himself the sins of Adam and Eve and all their descendants. Christ is baptized for our salvation – he takes our sins into the Jordan to have those sins washed away.

Christ, who in creating the world covered the heavens with water, now clothes His naked humanity in the streams of the Jordan to heal us all.  He restores all of humanity to its natural potential, giving all of us the chance to once again submit our lives to God.

The Blessing of Water (2016)

Tertullian (d. 225AD) wishing, in the De Baptismo, to justify the use of water in Baptism from the unbroken witness of the Bible, turned first to the story of Creation in Genesis. In this narrative, the waters have two characteristics which Baptism reproduces: it is the primordial element in which life appears, and it is sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Tertullian develops this first aspect:

‘First of all, O man, you should have reverence for the antiquity of the waters as a primordial element’ (Bapt. 2).

It was in the midst of the waters that the earth appeared:

‘Once the elements of the world were set in order, when it was to be given inhabitants, it was the primordial waters which were commanded to produce living creatures. The primordial water brought forth life, so that no one should be astonished that in Baptism the waters are able to give life.’ (Bapt. 2).

And to this characteristic, another is added: the fact that the

‘Spirit of God was carried over the waters, He Who was to recreate the baptized. The Holy One was carried over that which was holy, or, rather, over that which could receive holiness from Him Who was carried. It is thus that the nature of water, sanctified by the Spirit, received the capability of itself becoming sanctifying. This is why all waters, by reason of their ancient original prerogative, may obtain the sacrament of sanctification by the invocation of God’ (Bapt. 2).

What is taught here is the consecration of the baptismal water, to which ancient Christianity attached great importance:

‘You have seen water. But all water does not heal, if the Spirit has not descended and consecrated that water.’ (Ambrose, De Sacr. 1, 15; Botte; 58).”

(Jean Danielou, S.J, The Bible and the Liturgy, pp 72-73)

Baptism: Blessing Creation

“We can see a concrete example of what Brother Stavros was discussing with Jim, in the rite of baptism, the ‘mystery’ of formal initiation into the Church. All too often, the many layers of meaning in this rite have been reduced to superstition.

baptismc

Baptism is not some quaint, legalistic ceremony that magically washes away the stain of original sinfulness. This idea robs it of any real power to challenge and change the tired status quo of the human condition. It also colossally misses the point. Baptism is much more profound than a simple purification ceremony; it vividly symbolizes each person’s death and resurrection by joining them with Christ’s. It is an ancient, dramatic sign of radical change that initiates the baptized into the believing community, a public pledge of a new and deeper life. It is a rite of personal passage, a Passover and entry into this new ‘way’.

The words of the service make this clear. When a priest blesses the baptismal water at the beginning of the service, he affirms the original purpose of the world. Creation is good, and is to be used for the glory of God, which creation proclaims by its very existence. When he breathes on the water, invoking the Spirit of God that hovered over the original waters of creation, the priest draws our attention back to what ‘water’ was in the beginning: grace-filled and blessed by God, to be valued and used by us wisely in order to grow and prosper in body, mind, and spirit.

Water, the primal element of creation, along with the entire physical world, is meant to be the very support, context, and even vehicle of our communion with God. Throughout history, however, many have overlooked this. They have seen creation as an obstacle to God, an impediment, rather than the way to learn about him more deeply. This has resulted not only in a split within us, but also in an estrangement from the external physical environment. Such a view and the way of life that flows from it is a dead end. Wise Christian teaching correctly sees nature as the primary means through which we come to know God, and through which we express our love of God.” (The New Monks of Skete, In the Spirit of Happiness,  pp 184-185)

Baptism and the Baptismal Garment

Baptism as re-entry into Paradise means that man has been restored as a liturgical being. It is significant to note that in the early Syriac tradition baptism was often interpreted as membership of the ‘kingdom of priests’. The baptized becomes the member of the community that worships God. The newly-gained freedom to praise God was frequently expressed as the ‘robe of glory’ or ‘robe of praise’, with which Adam and Even had, according to Jewish legend, been clothed in Paradise, but which they lost at the Fall. This robe, ‘the mantle of praise’ as Isaiah 61:3 calls it, is regained by the Christians at baptism. ‘Instead of fig leaves, God has clothed men with glory in the baptismal water.’ ” (Baby Varghese in St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly: Vol. 56, Number 1, p 23)

We are Commanded: “Sin No More!”

The Gospel lesson of the healing of the paralytic from John 5:1-15 is reading in the post-Paschal season as a further meditation on what it means to be baptized into Christ.   Great Lent is the time period in the Church for preparing catechumens for baptismPascha is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection which is experienced by the new converts to Christianity in their baptisms.  The weeks after Pascha are a time to reflect on what it means to be baptized and to live a new life in Christ.  The Gospel lesson of the paralytic reads:

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the   Sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.  Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.

The above passage from John’s Gospel presents us a startling image.  Jesus enters Jerusalem, God’s Holy City.  The only city on earth where God’s temple existed was the sign of God’s dwelling on earth.   The temple was the sign of God’s presence with His people.  And yet, in the city of God, in the city of God’s covenant, where God’s blessings upon His chosen people should have been most obvious, something was terribly wrong.  For here in the city God loves are droves of sick, blind, lame and invalids of all kinds.  Should it not be true that in the place where God dwells with His people, sickness, sorry and sighing should flee?  Should not these people all be blessed and living in an earthly paradise?   But this Jerusalem into which Christ entered was not heavenly.

The sick, infirm and invalids were all signs that something was wrong with God’s people.  Jerusalem was no different than any other city – filled with poverty and disease.  All signs that the covenant in fact was not being lived by the chosen people.  The suffering of the people is a sign that they are not obeying God.

Amidst the swarm of suffering people, Christ sees one man who had been infirm for ages, wallowing in self-pity and hopelessness.  Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be well?”

The question seems a bit strange, but as the story unfolds we come to realize Christ is really asking the man, “Are you willing to obey God?”  For obedience to God is the terms of the covenant to receive the blessings God promises (see for example Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 8).  It is only obedience to God that can bring about wholeness and health and humanity.

So Christ, the son of God, commands the paralytic to get up, and to lift and carry his bed  and then to walk.  This paralytic has to decide, will he attempt to obey this man commanding him?  Is the man speaking to him crazy?  How can he, a paralytic, walk, let alone carry his bed?   And even if he obeys, he will be lifting his bed on the Sabbath, which according to tradition is forbidden work on the Sabbath.   What should he do?

He obeys Christ and finds Himself able to lift his bed and to walk.  His healing is surely a sign that he is now living in obedience to God!  And while he is overjoyed, he immediately finds himself in conflict with the religious establishment who point out he is doing forbidden work.   But the healed man says the man who healed me COMMANDED me to do this.  I simply obeyed and now I experience the blessing of the Lord.  My infirmity is gone.

His interlocutors do not see a blessing from God.  They want to know who commanded the paralytic to break the Sabbath – they don’t even ask who healed him.  They completely miss the sign right in front of them and fail to  observe that God’s promised blessings are present.     Little do they care about God’s blessings and presence and promises, because they can’t see them!  They aren’t looking for God’s commands but are mostly witch-hunting for those who break the commandments.

This paralytic who obeyed the voice of God when Christ commanded him, now is faced with a lifetime choice.  He experienced the blessing of obeying God: his illness disappears and he is restored to health!  So now, will he choose to live a life of loyal service to God?

Christ gives him precisely that commandment: “Sin no more!”

The man is tested again.  He was told to get up and walk.  He obeyed what must have seemed like an impossible command.  He hears the same voice of Christ with a second command: “Sin no more!”   Is this commandment as impossible as the first?  Which is easier to command: a paralytic to walk or a healed man to sin no more?

All who have been baptized into Christ have obeyed His command that we be born again of water and of the Spirit.   Now, we who have been spiritually made whole and fully human in Christ, can we obey His commandment to cease sinning?

Today we aren’t obsessed with obeying God’s commandments as those Jews were at the time of Christ.  We are however very interested in the blessings of God in this world.  We want that magic which heals us or blesses us in any and every way.  The difficulty is the same one that the paralytic who was healed faced:  are we willing to obey God and sin no more?

See also: The Healing of Soul and Body

Next:  God Does Not Despise the Brokenhearted

The Healing of Soul and Body

On the 4th Sunday after Pascha in the Orthodox Church, we proclaim the Gospel of the paralytic from  John 5:1-15.   Fairly early in Christian history this Gospel lesson was connected with baptism, offering a spiritual explanation of the text as well as of baptism.  Here is the Gospel:

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the   Sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.'” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.  Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.

Roman Catholic scholar Jean Danielou comments:

“The fifth chapter of St. John’s Gospel tells the story of the healing of a paralytic man at the pool of Bethesda. Ancient Christian tradition saw in this episode a figure of Baptism: Tertullian, Didymus and Ambrose commented on it in their catecheses.  . . .  The pool of Bethesda was a place where miracles of healing took place; but there miracles took place for only one individual, at one definite instant, by the mediation of an angel. With Jesus these conditions were abolished. He is Himself the salvation which is accomplished at all times, without any intermediary, for every man.  . . .  But this action of Christ’s presents particular characteristics. For one thing, it is not only a healing of the body; it is connected with the pardon of sins. Thus, as often in the Gospel of John, the visible reality appears as the sign of an invisible reality.  . . .   The Fathers, then, were in the true line of interpretation of this text when they explained it in a baptismal sense. Tertullian is the first author whom we find treating it in this way:

‘By his intervention, an angel stirred the Pool of Bethesda. Those who complained of illness were on the watch for this stirring, for the first who went down into the pool ceased to have anything to complain about after the bath. This figure of corporal healing prophesies spiritual healing, according to the law that things of the flesh should always precede and prefigure spiritual things. So, as the grace toward the human being advanced further, it was given to the angel and the waters to be able to do more. Then they brought healing to bodily evils only, now they heal the soul; then they effected only temporal well-being, now they restore eternal life: then they delivered only one person once a year, now every day they preserve whole crowds, destroying death by the remission of sins’.”

(The Bible and the Liturgy, pp 209-210)

Next:  We are Commanded: Sin No More!