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. Again 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: 47: 3-5
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.”
John 5: 14
In the familiar vision of Ezekiel, we hear of the water that flows from the Temple and that is the source of life, fruitfulness, and fullness. Yet, as Rudolph Otto reminded us, the mystery of the Divine and the choice of life to the full carries also a sense of dread. As we read today of the experience of Ezekiel, we understand that to abandon small and petty lives and concerns into the river of God’s life is to find ourselves “in over our heads.”
In today’s gospel, we hear of Jesus’ cure of the man at the pool of Bethesda. Even once cured of his paralysis and gifted by Jesus with healing and restoration, the man needs to be reminded not to sin any more. At a naive level we might ask, why given such a gift and encounter with Jesus, would one return to the painful and constricted life of reaction, sin, and habit? Yet daily life is a constant reminder of our preference for the illusion of a life constituted by our own customs, habits, and prejudices to the “Mysterium Tremendum” of God’s reality. We prefer a life of dipping our toe in the water of our own dribbling brook to the risk of being swept away by the torrent of the river of God’s life and love.
We choose sin because it provides us with a more comfortable and manageable life. As strange as it seems, we prefer a familiar and known existence with its discomfort and pain to being swept up and into the current of a life that summons us beyond anything we can control or imagine. We sense that to give up our small gratifications and repetitive habits will require of us to stop merely flirting with God and wading in the river of his life and to dare to plunge into the Divine life and begin swimming. It will mean abandoning ourselves to a flowing torrent that will carry us off into a life that is beyond our own management and control.
Time and again, especially when strained and tired and fearful, we find ourselves choosing the sin and death of our own pettiness and habitual reactivity over the life which God is offering us. During this Lent may we dare to risk “not to sin any more” in some small way. May we dare to live without even just one of our habitual ways of coping and escaping from God’s offer of a fuller and deeper life. Perhaps in even a single regard, we can let go of some way of being or acting that is keeping us on the bank of the river rather than allowing us to plunge into the excess of life and love that is being offered.
Who is real, I or God?
Let’s be clear: enthusiasm of mockery!
Somewhere a prophet roars: Lord, accept reproof!
A youth screams disappointment:
You powerless one, You, God!
Like spared logs lusting, thirsting for flames
my eyes cry to You, God,
Who rends His clothes in mourning for the world—
Let us see how Your face is mirrored
In the pupils of our eyes.
And I have sworn:
to let the pupils of my eyes be mirror to each sunset,
my heart never sealed
my eyes never locked!
Abraham Joshua Heschel