The Eucharist – Fruit of the Tree of Life
Tuesday March 8, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week of Lent
Reading (Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12) Gospel (St. John 5:1-16)
We hear about this water flowing from under the altar and out near the main entrance of the temple, this water that is going to make things fresh, the water that is going to give abundant life. It is, of course, the grace of God that flows from the altar. When we look at what this water is to do, we are told at the end of the first reading about these trees that grow near the river and that their fruit will serve as food and their leaves as medicine. Now if we ask ourselves, “Just exactly what is that,” if we look at the point that the water is the grace of God and then we ask ourselves, “What is the tree that we are going to find near where the grace of God is,” it is the tree of life. Its fruit – the Eucharist – serves as food, and the leaves which serve as medicine are the means by which we are going to be healed.
That healing is made very clear for us in the Gospel. Here is a man who is near the water that flowed from underneath the sanctuary, that flowed out of the temple into the Pool of Bethesda. He wants to be healed, but he is afraid. Jesus comes to him and He heals him. And so we recognize that in the Eucharist is the means of our healing, if we really want it. But that is the question. There are so many of us who are like this paralyzed man, who sit near where the water is and we think about it, but we really do not want it. And so the Lord comes to us, the Lord, Who not only is the sacrifice that is offered on the altar and the Priest Who offers the sacrifice, but His life, His grace, flows from that sacrifice and He offers it to us, not just a little trickle but a river of grace.
The way that it operates in our lives, as we all know, is that it starts just like that little trickle that Ezekiel saw, and as we grow in holiness it becomes a river. The Lord, Whose heart has been open so that the torrents of His grace will flow forth to cause this river to flow, looks at each one of us and says, Do you want to be well? Do you want to be healed? Everything is right there. We have the grace; we have the Eucharist; we have the Lord Himself to give us life and to heal us. Do we want it? We are told that the fish are going to be abundant; in other words, life in this river is abundant. Are we willing to enter the river? Are we willing to be able to really immerse ourselves, not just to dangle our toe into the river, not just to be content with a little trickle that we can walk in ankle-deep, but to go down to where it is a river and the only way you can cross it is to swim, to immerse yourself in the grace of God? That is what is being offered to us.
God does not want us to have just a trickle. He did not keep Ezekiel near the entrance where it was just ankle-deep. He brought him down a few thousand cubits where he could not just wade through the water any longer – he needed to immerse himself. That is what we have being offered to us. We have the Eucharist, the fruit of the tree of life. We have Jesus Himself, the leaves, the life. We have the grace of God flowing in torrents from the altar. He looks at each one of us paralyzed in our sins, and He says, Do you want to be healed? Like this man, most of us say, “Well, by the time I get to the water someone else gets in so I can’t do it.” Yes, we can, because it is the Lord Himself Who is the water, the Lord Himself Who is the fruit, the Lord Himself Who is the leaves. It is the Cross that is the tree of life. That is what grows near the river of life and that is what is being given. It is given freely by Our Lord and it is given to anyone who wills to come and who really, truly wants to be healed.
So as we sit there like the paralyzed man in the Gospel, each one of us needs to look into our own hearts and know what is being offered. It is all there, free for the taking if we are willing to immerse ourselves in the river and to eat of the fruit of the tree of life and to be healed. Our Lord, with compassion for each one of us, looks at us in love and simply says to us, Do you want to be healed? He Himself is the means to the healing, and He offers Himself with an open heart to anyone who wills to come.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.