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.