Do you Really Want to be Healed?

Josh had been sitting in the same spot now for over thirty-five years. It was a good spot. The guy who had this spot before him had died, and Josh had moved into his spot. There was no better place to beg than Bethesda, and he had dibs on the best location in the joint.

The waters in this pool were believed by many to have special healing powers. As a result, many people with all manner of infirmities, from quadruple amputees to arthritics, came to the magical healing pool at Bethesda. As legend had it, sometimes the “spirits” would stir the waters, and when they did, that healing power would empty itself into the first lucky person who entered the water first, before anyone else did. And poof, that person would instantly be healed.

Josh had been here long enough to know the truth. There was no magic in the waters. It was all showbiz. This was how the priests held on to their phony-baloney jobs. When the time was exactly right, they would bring in a plant, someone who would feign some tragic injury, to edge toward the water. From below the surface, bubbles would mysteriously rise to stir the waters. The plant, in perfect position to be first into the water, would quickly slip in and be instantly “healed.”

Josh had been a cripple now for over thirty-eight years. He had long ago given up any hope of getting better. Instead, he had learned how to turn his disability into an asset. He was now a practiced professional. He could beg with the best. He’d gotten so good that he could judge pretty close how much he could get from a man or woman from the way they carried themselves.

As he saw the young, obviously wealthy man approaching, he knew he’d get nowhere with this one. But he had to ask anyway—it was his job.

“Please, kind sir, do you have any change you could spare for an old crippled man?”

“Get a job,” the wealthy young man said dismissively as he continued on his way toward the baths.

“Asshole,” said Josh under his breath. As Josh turned to look back toward the entrance, known as the Sheep’s Gate, he saw a man enter he could not judge. He was middle-aged, probably early thirties, well-built, although not particularly attractive. But he had an unmistakable air of authority about him. As if to reinforce that impression, an entourage of young, mostly well-built men followed him.

Josh was not only intimidated by this strange man, he was actually fearful of him. I’m gonna let this one pass, thought Josh. Much to his chagrin, the man headed straight toward him. Crap, Josh thought. Maybe he’ll keep going? Maybe he’ll keep going? Please, please keep going.

No such luck.

The strange man stopped right in front of Josh. Josh looked up at the man, who was staring down at him.

“Do you want to be healed?”

What kind of question was that? Of course, he wanted to be healed. But did he? In a way, this was the only life he had known. What would he do if he could no longer make a living begging? It didn’t matter anyway. This strange man couldn’t help him. Instead of answering the man’s question directly, Josh made an excuse. “Mister, I ain’t got nobody to help me git into the pool when the water is stirred. Every time the water stirs and I try and git in, somebody else goes down ahead of me.”

“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

Josh was stunned. It was not a suggestion. It was not a request. It was a command. He desperately wanted to try, but it would be no use. Suddenly, Josh felt incredible warmth flooding his legs, legs he hadn’t felt in over thirty-eight years. He tried to move his big toe on his right foot, and as he watched, it moved.

He then tried to flex his left foot. To his amazement, his foot lifted and then lowered. Could it be? Josh looked up at the man’s face. He observed the beginnings of a faint smile on the man’s face. Josh watched as his legs began to move. They had been dead for over thirty-eight years, yet now they were responding to the commands his brain was sending them.

“Go ahead—you can do it,” the strange man said.

Josh rolled over onto his belly. He then lifted his torso by straightening his arms. He was able to pivot back, moving one hand back at a time, onto his knees. One of the young men who accompanied this strange man bent down to try and help Josh. “Don’t help him,” said the strange man, “he can do it by himself.”

To Josh’s amazement, he felt strength flowing back into his long-dead legs. Slowly, Josh straightened his back. He was now upright on his knees. He bent down and put his right hand on the ground, then, pivoting to his right, he raised his left leg and placed his left foot on the ground. Placing his left hand on his left knee, he then slowly stood.

Because Josh had been at Bethesda almost every day for over thirty years, all the regulars knew him and understood the severity of his condition. Thus, when he stood, all those around him gasped in amazement.

“Like I said, pick up your mat and walk.”

With tears of joy streaming down his face, Josh bent down, picked up his mat, and walked out of the bathhouse, toward his home. As he was walking home, two Pharisees stopped him.

“What are you doing carrying that mat? You know today is Saturday. It is the Sabbath,” said one of them. “No work is to be done on the Sabbath.”

What the hell? thought Josh. I’ve just experienced a life-changing event and these bozos are worried about some stupid rules. “Mister, you probably don’t recognize me, but I’ve been lying on this mat, crippled and begging for money, almost all of my life. In fact, both of you have, on occasion, helped me out. I was just minding my own business when this guy I’ve never seen before came up and healed me. I mean, he just flat-out healed me. It was a miracle. The man who made me well told me to pick up this mat and walk, and, by God, that’s just what I did.”

“Well, he’s not supposed to be healing anyone on the Sabbath either. What’s this guy’s name?”

Really? thought Josh. “Look, man, I don’t even know the dude’s name. He didn’t say.”

“Well, if you find out his name, let us know. People cannot be breaking these holy rules, and someone like him who is breaking our rules needs to be disciplined.”

“Yes, sir. If I find out his name, I’ll let you know.”

This fictional account is taken from John 5:1–18.

Eatin With Sinners

Matt was a wealthy man. But personal wealth always comes at great price. The price he had paid was great—too great.

He had a killer job. The Roman taxes had to be collected. As a tax collector, he was just doing his job, and he deserved to be paid to do it. The law allowed him to collect the taxes from each person and to keep whatever amounts he could collect above that for himself. So what if Matt sometimes collected more than he should? Matt was good at his job and deserved to be paid for it.

Matt had been chosen for this job because he could write and was meticulous in his record keeping. Now he was resented for those skills.

From the beginning everyone in town, even his family, hated him. It was like they wanted him to just look the other way. It wasn’t fair. Some accused Matt of using his position as a license to steal. Well, if he didn’t do it, someone else would, right? At the same time, Matt knew down deep that he was nothing more than a common thief. 

People now considered him not only a thief but a traitor. None of the “good” people would even associate with him anymore. Now his only friends were the other rejects of the community, the drunks, whores, and others like himself who were considered unworthy of polite society. He and his friends had even been banned from church.

Screw those son of a bitches, he thought. I don’t need ‘em anyway.

But he did.

Despite his bravado, Matt missed his family and old friends. Even though he was now rich and had the best job in town, his life was shit. It was empty. Being treated like a traitor in his own hometown had taken its toll. He’d even been beaten recently when he was caught outside after dark. He had no purpose, no joy.

He was sitting where he did every day, except Saturday. His table was set up along the side of the road in the middle of town. From this spot, everyone in town, eventually, had to pass by him, and if they owed him money, he could harass them daily. As he saw the gang approaching, he got nervous. This was going to be bad, he thought. The gang was large. They looked rough. If he was lucky, only contemptuous looks and a few insults would be cast his way. If he wasn’t lucky, then he was probably in for yet another ass-kickin. 

It was obvious who the leader was. Besides the fact that everyone else was following him, he possessed a certain air. He was well built, powerful, confident, and unnervingly relaxed.

Maybe they’ll just walk on by, Matt thought.

They didn’t.

The leader walked right up to Matt and stared at him for a moment without saying anything. The deep brown eyes beneath his furrowed brow seemed to peer right through Matt. Neither man spoke. Slowly Matt watched the corners of the man’s mouth turn up in a slight grin. The man reached out and touched Matt on the shoulder.

“Follow me.”

Matt’s mind started reeling. Only two words had passed from the man’s lips. Yet, somehow, they carried more meaning than anything Matt had ever heard before in his life. Perhaps it was the way the man had strangely emphasized the word “me” instead of the word “follow.” Matt somehow knew that this man was calling Matt to do more than just follow him to eat or go to a meeting. This man was calling Matt to leave everything he had, his money, his family, his friends, and even his job, the best job in town—the job he had worked so hard to get. This man was calling Matt to leave everything he held precious in this life, to give it all up and just follow him.

Instead of the hatred and contempt Mathew had expected, he felt nothing but love, respect, and acceptance from this man. This man cared for him, in spite of the fact that Matt had cheated others, in spite of the fact that others considered him a thief and a traitor. 

Matt knew that if he left this table, he could never come back. He would be abandoning the best job he could ever hope to have. Even if he tried to come back, the Romans would never forgive him for abandoning his post.

Without further thought, Matt got up, left everything as it was on the table, and simply walked away.

Shit, thought Matt. Am I really doing this? He realized that he had just guaranteed himself permanent unemployment.

As they walked together down the road, Jesus put his arm around Matt’s shoulders. “Gentlemen,” said Jesus, “this calls for a celebration. I feel a party coming on. All we need is a joint to throw it in.”

Matt had never been accepted like this, especially when he had done nothing to deserve it. “We can use my house,” said Matt.

“Great. Why don’t you invite all your friends over, and we’ll have a throw-down,” said Jesus.

Matt’s head dropped slightly. “Sir, I don’t know if you’d like my friends.”

“Why not?” asked Jesus.

“They’re not exactly the country club crowd,” Matt said.

“Matt, look at us,” said Jesus. “Do we look like we belong to any country club?”

“I mean, some of them are really, really shady characters,” said Matt.

“Sounds like my kind of people,” said Jesus.

Later that night at the party, Matt looked around at his friends. It was the damnedest assortment of characters one could imagine: whores, homosexuals, drunks, and crooks—a collection of everyone rejected by polite society. 

Almost everyone, that is. Standing out like undertakers at a wedding were two officials from the local church. Matt suspected they were not there to enjoy the party; they were there to dig up dirt on Jesus.

As Matt was talking to Jesus, the two dudes walked up to Pete and Tommy, who were standing nearby. Speaking in a voice clearly meant to be heard by everyone around, one of them said, “Why do y’all hang around with such people?”

Things got quiet.

Before Pete could respond, Jesus turned around to face the two men.

“It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, do they?” said Jesus. “It’s the sick. But I tell you what you need to do. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ Because I didn’t come for you righteous boys. I came for the sinners of this world.”

Later, as Matt and Tommy were cleaning up after the party, Tommy asked Matt, “Jesus only said two words to you—‘follow me’—and you left everything. Why?”

Matt thought about it for a minute. “A couple of things,” he said. “First, I immediately felt his love for me, even though he knew I was a thief. Secondly, I realized that everything I had, and that I had worked so hard for, meant nothing. Following him meant everything. Tommy, let me ask you a question. What did Jesus mean when he said, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’?”

“I don’t know,” said Tommy, “but I’ve heard him say it several times, so it must be important.”

This fictional account is taken from Mathew 9:9–13; Mark 2:13–17; and Luke 5:27–32.