Bethesda—House of Grace
By Debbonnaire Kovacs, April 28, 2016
I have lots of time to think. I have nothing but time to think. Day after day, month after month, year after year, I lie helpless, until I can barely remember what it felt like to be autonomous, to be independent. To be a man.
But I remember the lifestyle that got me here, lying on this pallet, wasted like an old, old, man, helpless as a newborn. I remember that all right.
Thirty-eight years. Thirty-eight years. A lifetime. I wish it would be over.
A few years ago, some of my friends moved me here, to the Bethesda pool, where healing is said to take place. Sometimes I think it’s true; I’ve watched people jump up and dash into the water when it is troubled now and then, and go away proclaiming that they feel better. Other times, I think it’s all just a fable for the gullible, that the water is simply ruffled by occasional breezes, and no healing angel at all.
At any rate, true or false, it’s not for me. I don’t know what my friends thought would happen. The first few times I saw the ripples, after I got here, I did try to drag myself toward the water. I wasn’t even up on an elbow before five other sufferers were in, pushing and yelling, all claiming to have gotten there first. As if God wouldn’t know if they didn’t tell him.
As if God cared.
Maybe he cares for them, some of them, anyway. But why should he care for me?
I deserve to be the way I am. I suppose I will be this way until I die.
I remember. The scenes replay and replay. They mock me. I am sorry. I truly am. If I could, I would do it again, and do it differently. I don’t think it’s just because of the consequences. I hope I’ve really repented, in my heart. But what do we know of our own motivations, after all? Even Solomon said the heart is desperately wicked.
I lie with my arm over my eyes, ignoring all around me. But there is a strange hush suddenly, a different feel to the air. It catches my attention. I listen, but hear nothing. I think I feel a shadow over me. I remove my arm and look up.
There’s a man standing there, looking at me. Just looking, but for some reason I hold my breath. Even more oddly, no one around us speaks. Maybe they’re holding their breath, too.
Then the man says the most bizarre thing. “Do you wish to get well?”
My breath comes back in a gasp. What kind of question is that? Is he mocking me? “Sir,” I try to stay polite, “I have nobody to help me. When the water is stirred up, others get there before me.” Does he think I haven’t tried?
There’s something…something about his eyes. My heart quickens. He smiles, a little, and the sun behind him catches in his hair. Almost, I could believe he is a personification of the angel that supposedly comes around here. “Get up, pick up your pallet, and walk,” he says calmly.
I blink. It takes a minute for my brain to process what my eyes have heard. But there’s something…something about him…
I find I’m breathing as if I’ve been running. I remember, suddenly. I used to run. It makes your heart pound, just like this. But I can’t—he can’t—what on earth—? Somehow, I don’t know how, but I can’t help just trying, a little…I move my foot. My breath stops again and I look away from the man and down at my feet. They’re moving. They’re moving! An odd feeling, like lightning, runs through my veins. I push with arms that are suddenly strong, and sit up, then stand.
We’re about the same height, this man and I. I stare, he laughs, and I fall into his arms, laughing, weeping, thumping his back. He just holds me.
Then I roll up my old, old, familiar pallet, and, surrounded by shouts and cheers and cries for help, I walk away.
It’s Sabbath, and what a Sabbath! I go straight to the temple. I watch the sacrifices, and vow to bring one of my own as soon as I can. I repent. I do. Oh, High and Holy One, believe me! I do! And thank you, thank you, thank you…
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing, carrying that burden on the Sabbath?”
I jump, and focus on a priest. I’ve forgotten all about the rolled up bundle on my back. “I—I’m sorry. It’s just that, a man healed me—“ I feel the uncontrollable grin building up on my face again. “I’m well! He made me well! I can walk! He’s the one who told me to carry it.”
“Who told you?”
“I…I don’t know.” I look around, but can’t see the man. I look back toward the altar. All that matters to me right now is completing my atonement. Making sure that God knows I have repented, and I will do better. The priests fade away.
Later, I look up, and there he is! My heart jumps. “Sir, how can I ever thank you?”
“Turn your life around. Don’t live the way you did before, so that something even worse won’t happen.”
I won’t. I won’t. I promise! I go and find the priests to let them know. “Him. There. That was the one who healed me!” They should pass it on. He could heal a lot of others, too.
Then I head for home to start a new life. And find a lamb. I have to find a lamb, right away.