There is a story in the Bible about a man lying by a pool with healing powers and people everywhere. Jesus asks him what he’s doing (the healing powers are in the water, not at the side of the pool). The man is too disabled to get through by himself. He says he doesn’t have any friends to help him. They talk. Jesus heals him.
In, “Jesus, A Pilgrimage,” James Martin gives examples of learning from familiar stories by imagining them. Reading this book is responsible for ruining the previously happy healing story above for me. In the court of divine justice, I now want to be the sick man’s lawyer.
Had he asked for help to get to the pool a hundred times? A thousand? I see him asking anybody who walks by. For years. After a while he gets discerning. (Rejection burns a lot of energy. He doesn’t know how many more years he’ll be sitting there.) He asks people who seem wise, compassionate, strong. After thirty-eight years, I forgive him if he isn’t paying attention that day. I don’t think it says a thing about laziness, passivity, or lack of interest in healing. If there’s a secret formula where he got it wrong by trying for so long and the actual trick was just sitting staring at his feet, then he and I together will blow up the court, but I don’t think that’s it.
In grade five, I moved to a shiny new far away school. Old and sophisticated, we changed classes many times a day. I felt big until I tried to sit down. I looked for friendly girls, smart girls, interesting girls, even lonely girls. Day after day, class after class, the empty seat beside every single one of them was saved.
I attempted to get to the friendship pool until I realized that not asking was better than being told no. This caused my mother distress at parent teacher conferences that year. My teacher and my mother helped me get to the pool.
The imagination ride wasn’t done with me yet. My mind leapt to the story of the woman who brings expensive perfume to pour on Jesus’ feet. The story says she didn’t have a very beautiful life. But she gives a beautiful thing. She doesn’t seem to need a lawyer. I shake my head watching her. She is giving from what she hardly has. Possibly giving the very thing she herself craves.
About the pool man, God doesn’t cringe in panic at my questions. Or start searching through his bag for lightning bolts to shut me up. I tirade. He listens. I tirade until I’m tired. Then he looks at me and smiles. I love you, is all he says.
I don’t ask him how this figures as a defense of his methods. I start to see things differently. How the man didn’t wait for 38 years because he did something wrong. It really wasn’t his fault that no one helped him. There was nothing he had or hadn’t done to make that particular day the day that Jesus healed him. I imagine him there, unhealed for 38 years, but loved and remembered every 13870 days of it.
A question wriggles, determined like an earthworm, through my mind.What if those days weren’t useless? What if like the perfume lady, he too gave of what he had so little? Can we prove he didn’t watch from where he sat, day after day, and call people aside to let another to the water’s edge?
Comfort. Hope. Mercy. Peace. Acceptance. Reassurance. Companionship. Sitting by the pool, might we not also give (with sheer determination and then joy, abandon) from what we hardly have?