Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Jesus and the Ingrate

Today's Gospel features one of the most unattractive people in the whole Bible. Never, not even once in the story, does he take responsibility for himself. When Jesus comes upon him around the healing waters of Bethesda, and asks if he wants to be well, the man doesn't answer. He just complains: "There's no one here for me, to help me get into the waters." Jesus takes that as a "yes," and tells him to get up, take his mat and walk. Cured of a chronic illness, the man walks away without so much as a "thanks a lot." Reproached for carrying the mat in violation of the Sabbath rules, he blames "the one who made me well." (He couldn't point him out, because Jesus had slipped away; the man hadn't even asked his name.) And when Jesus comes up to him in the Temple with a prophetic and brotherly warning about avoiding sin so nothing worse befalls him, the man gets revenge on his healer by reporting him to the patently hostile authorities.
Why on earth would John give us a story like that? Clearly, it is possible even to receive a miracle from heaven and still close your heart to grace. Scary (but salutary!) thought. But even more importantly, I think it shows the importance of gratitude in our life of faith. The man in today's Gospel seemed to have such a sense of entitlement, he could not rejoice even over a miracle done for him. And God longs for us to rejoice in his gifts of grace. That rejoicing is a kind of communion with God.

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