I’m sure I can’t imagine what it was like.
So many who were so sick, were seemingly stuck like magnets in that place, that place of unbelievable opposites. Those–five porches surrounding the Pool of Bethesda– were places of sickness and wellness. Of despair and hope. Of defeat and victory. Of choices.
Every morning as the sun rose, the light danced on the water, signaling, beckoning, reminding. The glow would warm the stones that dozens of mats rested on, stirring the occupants with newness. Hopeful lips would whisper, “Today?” and try to find their place in the coveted real estate known as Water’s Edge. Some had given up trying to physically move that far, and worked to bribe passers-by to stop and help them just in time. Others tried reasoning with those who had occupied the coveted spots for so very long. Everyone knew their chances dwindled almost to nothing if they were not at Water’s Edge. It seemed that a few mat-dwellers had those honorable places bequeathed to them by family members. “My uncle got healed here,” they would explain, and nothing could persuade them to scoot back and make room…
…not even by a few inches.
Others got into impassioned arguments about what preferences should be given to the ones who were most sick, and how someone should be in charge of this, a community both odd and at odds.
It was all about what happened in the water. The angel would come, everyone knew, and stir the water. A thousand circles would ripple out to Water’s Edge, and whoever was first
in the water would be healed. The mat-dwellers had seen it happen over and over again, but wondered by the moment when it would be their turn. To come to Water’s Edge was the only way they knew. And the only way seemed a complete impossibility.
And the sun rose, and the light danced, and the mat-dwellers argued, and the sick moaned, and the angel stirred, and the water stirred, and the made-well rejoiced, and the porch stones fell cold again by night, and the mat-dwellers left there shivered and wondered, “When?”
And thirty-eight years passed by.
And it wasn’t so much that the Mat-Dweller was looking any particular place at that moment, but it was that he could feel Someone looking at him. The thought that someone would be looking at him was normally not so unnerving. Pity was useless unless someone offered to help, all the mat-dwellers told each other, and the Very-Sick tried so hard to ignore the staring looks of The Well. But someone…
…Someone So Very Well was looking at him.
He looked back. And what he saw stunned him. The sun, a great source of comfort to the Mat-Dweller, had never warmed him as these eyes did. Everything warmed, glowed even. Everything was light. Or was it love?
A question came, “Do you want to be made well?”
“Want to be made well?” the Mat-Dweller thought, and every limitation seemed to taunt him. He wished so much to move just far enough to get to the water. That was all. What was it–just a few feet? The smallest assistance would mean so much.
He knew, as did every other mat-dweller, that the things that kept him on the mat and away from the Water’s Edge were the things that paralyzed him. It was that limitation that this Someone apparently needed to understand, so the Mat-Dweller started to explain, but stopped. What was the Someone looking at? It was the strangest thing the Mat-Dweller had ever seen, and also the most beautiful. He wasn’t looking at the distance to Water’s Edge. He wasn’t looking to see what room there might be at Water’s Edge. He wasn’t looking to see who might be convinced to scoot over to make room. He was looking love. The love compelled the Mat-Dweller to have the courage to finally speak:
“Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
And as soon as the words left his mouth, he wondered if it was actually possible that the Someone cared. And his eyes fell and his voice fell quiet. There were simply no tears left after thirty-eight years.
But he had to look up, and when he did, what he saw shocked him. What was that? A smile?
And something broke. Shattered, actually.
That moment, a thousand limitations and thirty-eight years fell off of him like chains unseen. He felt it. He knew that suddenly there was this Hope:
a Hope not at all limited by what once was, or even what was supposed to be.
The first thing he noticed was his mind. All the desperate thoughts that clamored like hamsters in a wheel to nowhere: the security of the mat, the other mat-dwellers, the coveted places at Water’s Edge, the constant pain, the cries of “When? When?”…
And then all at once…
“Rise, take up your bed, and walk.”
And he moved. And stood. And he grasped the mat that never offered him hope but only ever marked him as a mat-dweller. And he walked. And it was then that he knew. It wasn’t just his body. It was him. All of him.
He was so very, very well.
And the next morning when the sun rose, the light danced on the water, signaling, beckoning, reminding. The glow warmed him, stirring him with newness.
And he walked.
And for the first time, he knew.
It was Day.
John 5; Ephesians 5:14