From 1921 through 1969, today (October 24) was observed the the Roman calendar as the feast of the Archangel Saint Raphael, whose name means "God has healed." He lived up to his name in his main biblical appearance, in the Book of Tobit, where he healed Tobit of his blindness and healed Tobit's daughter-in-law Sarah of the demon that had afflicted her. Later Jewish tradition made him one of the three angels (along with Michael and Gabriel) who appeared to Abraham and then sent to Sodom to save Lot. Although unnamed in the New Testament, Christian tradition has likewise identified him with healing and as the angel who periodically stirred the water in the five-porticoed pool of Bethsaida (Bethesda) in John 5. Current lectionaries now routinely omit the former verse 4: an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had. (Whatever the origin of that verse, without it the whole context of the story of the grumpy man, sick for 38 years, who could never make it into the water in time to get healed whenever the water was stirred, is missing.)
In John, Jesus healed the man himself (apparently purposely performing a miracle on the sabbath). So Raphael and the stirred water were not needed. But, besides the grumpy (and as it turned out ungrateful) miraculously healed man, there were also, according to John, many blind, lame, and paralyzed - presumably waiting an opportunity to avail themselves of the water's healing power. No miracles for them - just the ordinary means of healing generally available in that time and place!
Miracles continue to occur according to the mysteries of God's providence. (They play an essential part in Church's process for recognizing - "canonizing" - saints.) Still, for most of us, most of the time, it is the ordinary means of healing that are available to us in our time and place that we must rely upon. Luckily, we live in an era of enormous medical and scientific progress and hence have many more means of preserving and restoring health available to us than the five-porticoed pool.
In particular, we have vaccines - against smallpox and polio and countless others ancient afflictions, as well as the latest vaccine developed just one year ago against the great scourge of our time and place, Covid-19. The gospel's many blind, lame, and paralyzed knew what to do, in terms of what was available to them in their time and place. Like them, we too need to recognize what to do and avail ourselves of the amazingly stirred water of vaccination - now increasingly available to more and more people, soon including children.
Of course, there are many who, like the miraculously healed man in the gospel, do not have easy access, for any number of reasons. Instead of populating five porticoes, they populate all five continents. Like the the miraculously healed man before Jesus healed him, access for many is dependent on others - others to put them into the pool when the water is stirred up.
Clearly, it is the first responsibility of national leaders to get as many as possible of their own citizens vaccinated - and then be the helpers the paralyzed man in the gospel lacked to aid everyone enter the stirred water of a vaccinated world. Here in the U.S., the first task is proving to be much more difficult than it was expected to be, much more so than it would have been had so many Republican politicians not made it their perverse mission to hurt their own constituents! Whether for their fellow citizens in our society or for fellow dwellers on the planet that is our common home, the challenge for all of us in these crowded five porticoes is to alleviate the congestion and help one another to get into the pool that is the means of healing together.
(Image: Painting The Pool of Bethesda, 1977, by Robert Bateman)