This feels like a little bit of deja-vu for me, because I just did a video lesson on holy water for the school kids yesterday. Water is so important to us, and we see a lot of water in these readings. Water refreshes us, sustains us, cleans us. And people are saying that drinking water, if you get the COVID-19 virus can wash it into your stomach where it gets destroyed. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m drinking plenty of water anyway!
But when the readings talk so much about water, what we are being led to is a reflection on baptism. We ourselves are the sick and lame man who needed Jesus’ help to get into the waters of Bethesda. The name “Bethesda” means “house of mercy” in Hebrew, and that, of course, is a symbol of the Church. We see the Church also in the temple in the first reading, from which waters flow which refresh and nourish the surrounding countryside. These, of course, again are the waters of baptism. Lent calls us to renew ourselves in baptism. We are called to renew ourselves in those waters that heal our bodies and our souls. We are called to drink deep of the grace of God so that we can go forth and refresh the world.
But what really stands out in this Gospel is the mercy of Jesus. I think it’s summed up in one statement that maybe we might not catch as merciful at first: “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” It’s hard to imagine being ill for thirty-eight years, I’m sure that would be a pretty bad thing. It’s hard to imagine anything being worse. But I’m also pretty sure missing out on the kingdom of God would be that one, much worse, thing. There is mercy in being called to repentance, which renews us in our baptismal commitments and makes us fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Sometimes parishes have removed the holy water from church during Lent in a kind of fasting. This is exactly why you shouldn’t: Lent is all about baptism, all about God’s mercy, all about being renewed and refreshed and healed in God’s grace. I can’t wait for this virus situation to be over so that we can once again fill up the holy water fonts, and the pews, and rejoice together in our baptism!
So I encourage you all to not take holy water for granted. Think about that the next time you put your hand into the font and stir up those waters of mercy. Be healed and made new; go, and from now on, do not sin any more.