Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.
Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. Going on eastward with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist.
Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, "Mortal, have you seen this?" Then he led me back along the bank of the river.
As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. He said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes.
On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing."
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids .. blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" The sick man answered him, "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." Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat." But he answered them, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Take up your mat and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take it up and walk'?" Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you." The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the Sabbath.
We live in an age of pollution and environmental crisis, with global warming a real threat to the future of life on earth. As Pope Francis has graphically reminded us in his encyclical "Laudato Si," this world is our shared home; but with the earth's air and water becoming so contaminated, we are putting in peril the living conditions of future generations. We are strongly called to practice inter-generational justice, to actively protect our environment and pass on the earth unharmed to those who will follow us. The fresh-water image, therefore, in Ezekiel's prophecy has great relevance for today and its protection by God all the more necessary. Only by the mercy of God, it seems, can the destruction of our planet be reversed. Only God's grace can convert human hearts in such numbers as are needed to make the difference.
Ezekiel offers us reasons to hope and pray. His words also inspire us to pray and work for another, closer kind of purification, that of our inner selves. Each of us needs a stream of fresh water to flow through our minds and hearts, to bring a new fresh vigor to our attitudes, to enliven and brighten our hopes, to allow a new spontaneity within our responses to life. Each of us is only half alive; we are as lame as the man in John's gospel, waiting for the movement of the water.
While Lent is a period of self-denial it also recalls the waters of Baptism. It is the time when catechumens prepare for their Baptism on Holy Saturday. Lent trains us like athletes, to throw off the sluggish and heavy drag of gloom and pessimism, to turn aside from false values, so that our best self may emerge. The waters of Ezekiel's prophecy flow from the Holy of Holies at the temple. We are reminded of the sanctuary of our parish churches where we try to meet more frequently during Lent. Through this extra prayer and liturgy we feel the touch of these transforming waters. The preceding passage of Ezekiel (verses one to twelve) show the prophet is meditating upon earlier biblical passages, especially one from Jeremiah (17:5-7). Reflecting upon the Bible we find another source of life-giving water; like Ezekiel we will be more able to spot new signs of life about us where previously we saw only desert.
Finally, the lame man at the pool of Bethesda shows the value of waiting with patience. This most important virtue is inculcated by the prophets, especially Isaiah who said: "By waiting and by calm you shall be saved. Your strength lies in quiet and in trust." (Is 30:15). As we wait we come to know that it is Jesus who can work the transforming change we need. The lame man could have waited forever and remained lame, if he was not alert for the coming of Jesus.