In Saint John’s Gospel there is an account particular to this Gospel of the healing of a paralytic by the Pond (or Pool) called Probatica. The poor man had lain there on his pallet for thirty-eight years hoping for a miracle. Imagine that, thirty-eight years, and still hoping. As we are told by the Evangelist, every now and then an angel would stir the waters of the pond and the first one to enter the water was cured of his infirmity. The angel was, no doubt, Raphael the Healer, whose name means “medicine of God.”
In its literal sense the occasion of the stirring of the water by the angel and the healing power conferred thereby by God is to be taken just as it is given. And that means, innocently. Was it fair that the speedier person, or one with ready helpers, should be healed, while a poorer and needier invalid be left bereft? No, it wasn’t fair, as we proud egalitarians would determine fairness. It was what it was. The more fortunate got healed, the less fortunate did not. God was merciful to one, and His justice served the other. Yet God’s justice for the one less fortunate was also a mercy in that the infirmities He lays upon individual men are more often than not on account of their personal sins (that this is not an inflexible rule is seen from Our Lord’s words concerning the man born blind). So it was with this man whom Jesus had compassion on as He walked by the pool:
Him when Jesus had seen lying, and knew that he had been now a long time, he saith to him: Wilt thou be made whole? The infirm man answered him: Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pond. For whilst I am coming, another goeth down before me. Jesus saith to him: Arise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole: and he took up his bed, and walked (John 5:6-9).
Note that Our Lord first asked him if he wished to be made whole. Of course, Jesus knew that he did, but He wanted the man to ask in order that he might receive. “I have no man to put me into the pond” (my emphasis), he replied. Perhaps, he thought with hope, that this man speaking to him would stay with him and carry him at the next stirring of the water. He did not know that He whom he was answering was more than a man, but God. God wished to wash the infirm man’s soul by healing his body.
Now this miracle occurred near the temple in Jerusalem. And, after healing the man, Jesus disappeared among the crowd. What did the man do after he was healed? He went immediately to the temple to give thanks to God. By this prompt gratitude we see that his soul had been made clean. Jesus found him in the temple and said to him: “Behold thou art made whole: sin no more, lest some worse thing happen to thee”. “Made whole!” In soul as well as in body! But gratitude must prove itself in deed unto perseverance. This man must have committed many grave sins in his youth. Now he must prove himself and, like the woman caught in adultery whom Christ forgave, go and “sin no more.” Woe to that man who, having been forgiven much, should return like a dog to its vomit. “His mercy is from generation unto generation on those who fear Him,” not on those who are ungrateful for His mercy, ungrateful enough to return to a life of habitual sin. The “something worse” that could happen to them, if not another infirmity, could be an eternity in hell.
It is evident, then, that infirmities can be sent by God to chastise the sinner and move him to penance. Even to take away exterior occasions of sin, which a healthy man can succumb to so easily if he does not pray to be “delivered from evil.” The infirm man can still sin, certainly in thought, but his illness prevents him from many exterior acts of wickedness. His infirmity is a merciful grace, a gift of God, as are all chastisements in this life.
Then, to continue and conclude the account, the self-righteous Jews accost the man and must have questioned him as to why he was carrying his bed, for it was the sabbath. And the man, in total innocence, told them that it was Jesus who had made him whole. He was assuming that his fellow Jews would rejoice with him, but not so: “Therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, because he did these things on the sabbath” (v. 16)
And, their envy and hatred of Jesus fumed to a higher pitch. even into a rage. They boldly confronted the Lord God Incarnate and the Lord Jesus, in turn, confronted them: “’My Father worketh until now; and I work.’ Hereupon therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he did not only break the sabbath, but also said God was his Father, making himself equal to God” (v. 18).