Reflection on John 5.1-3, 5-16 (Lent)

The sick man said to Jesus: 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.

How often, when you have been driving, have you seen someone accelerate to prevent another driver joining a stream of busy traffic? Perhaps you can recall just a few of the times when you have done this yourself! How often, when holidaying in a foreign country, have you been appalled by the way in which local people pay no respect to the British notion of queueing? Perhaps you can recall just a few of the times when you have done this yourself, and not necessarily when you have been trying to fit in with local culture! How often, when going about your normal daily life, have you pushed yourself forward in a spirit of ‘first come, first served’, no matter who might be deprived or offended by your course of action?

Today, all those instances of ‘first come, first served’ are addressed by the account of the disabled man who, for thirty-eight years, has been pushed aside so that others might get to the front of the queue. 

Our ‘survival of the fittest’ way of going about our daily lives does not sit well with Christ’s call to love and serve, to put ourselves at the back of the queue, rather than fighting tooth and nail to be first in all things. Our aggressive instinct acts in direct opposition to any profession we may make in respect of our being followers of Christ. Our determination to be the best, the first, in all matters denies Jesus’ entire earthly ministry, denies our engagement with Christ’s journey towards the cross, and beyond.

In today’s reading we are being warned not to be one of those who steps down ahead of others. As the patience of the disabled man is rewarded by Jesus’ presence and healing touch, we also hear that Jesus disappeared in the crowd. Jesus journeys with us through all the ups and downs of our earthly lives, but those who deny his teaching, those who consider themselves too important to be anywhere other than at the front of the queue, those whose detachment and pride will not allow others to benefit from all that may relieve their distress and their misery will be among those who look for Jesus in vain. 

Let us pray that we might set self aside in order that those weaker than ourselves will know some of the relief and consolation that might otherwise be theirs. Let us pray that we might find the courage and humility to sacrifice self as we follow Jesus’ call to love and serve in his name.