We may get bogged down in the readings from the gospel of John we’ll be hearing these last days of lent, which are long and often difficult to understand. Today’s reading (John 5, 31-47) seems like a reading from a court trial, and in many ways it is. Jesus presents his witnesses who testify for him, vouching for his claims.
He claims to be God’s Son, true God from true God.
Today’s lengthy reading, unfortunately, may cause us to forget what sparked these claims. Jesus has come up for a feast. ( John 5,1-14) We don’t know what feast, but on a Sabbath day occurring during that feast, he meets the poor fellow who’s paralyzed, who can’t get into a pool of water near the temple to be cured. For 38 years he’s been there. Jesus cures him and tells him to take up his mat and go. The man is confronted by the Pharisees who criticize him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath and criticize Jesus for curing on the Sabbath.
It’s a dispute about the Sabbath Rest, and we see what side Jesus takes. He cures the man because of mercy, and mercy doesn’t take a day off. God is merciful every day and so should we be. But Jesus doesn’t leave it at that, he takes it much further. He is the Lord of the Sabbath, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. He makes a divine claim. (John 5,17-30)
Father Francis Maloney in his commentary on John’s gospel ( The Gospel of John, Francis Moloney, S.D. B. Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press) suggests when we read a gospel like this to take a look at the many issues it raises. Don’t give up or move too quickly away from readings hard to understand. The Old Testament reading for today, like other readings before the gospel from our lectionary, offers some help. Jesus, like Moses, always pleads for mercy for us, a stiff-necked people.
Besides other lectionary readings, keep in mind too the issues raised in our gospel besides the identity of Jesus. For example, the Sabbath Rest. I’m sure Jesus kept the Sabbath Rest all his life, and he must have kept it mercifully, as his cure of the paralyzed man shows. At the same time, he must have recognized the value to the Sabbath Rest. It wasn’t a slavish law; it was a call to contemplation.
In his encyclical Laudato si, Pope Francis sees the Sabbath Rest still needed today “when many people sense a profound imbalance which drives them to frenetic activity and makes them feel busy, in a constant hurry, which in turn leads them to ride rough shod over everything around them.”
The law of weekly rest forbade work on the seventh day, “so that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your maidservant, and the stranger, may be refreshed” (Ex 23:12). Rest opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others.” (LS 237)
A nice understanding of what the Sabbath Rest means. We need contemplative time that “opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others.” We also need contemplative time to recognize the claims of Jesus. He is God and man, divine and human, and he came to live and die for us. We need time to know him.