Yup, that’s me. The man with the red hat sitting at the side of the Pool of Bethesda. Right beside the man Jesus healed after he had been ill for 38 years. I recently heard that my neighbor had told his story on this blog, and, well, I decided that I wanted to tell my story too. Bloch, after all, did include me in his painting, and I do have a few things to say. So please hear me out. Here, by the way, is the full painting that shows Jesus lifting the filthy cloth that had covered my neighbor whose chronic illness kept him virtually “invisible” for 38 years.
Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda
Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890
Believe me, it was quite something to watch my neighbor walk away after all those years of his paralysis. Quite something. But I’m not sure just what that something was. My neighbor mentions in his story that he heard some muttered curses as he walked away. Let me assure you, there were many such curses, and I was among the loudest! You can see the anger in my eyes. I was sitting there, right beside him, for goodness sake. Jesus could hardly have missed seeing me!
But, Jesus did not heal me. Nor did he heal scores of others who watched this amazing sight. Why? I’ve screamed that question for years. I still scream it from time to time. It still hurts that I was overlooked. It still feels so unfair.
At the same time, I find myself realizing that I wouldn’t have missed that day, that moment, for anything in the world. “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” It was as though a voice from long before our world was created was speaking a new creation into being right in front of my eyes. It was as though I was seeing the world—not just my neighbor, but the whole world—being re-born. It was as though that voice was saying, “This is what I ultimately intend for all of you. This is what I am constantly working at, even though my work is sometimes as invisible as was this man whom I just healed.”
Those words, “Stand up, take your mat and walk” lit a spark within me. A spark of hope, a spark of acknowledgement, a spark of recognition that there really may be Something, Someone Out There, Someone who really does care about us and who is at work in the midst of all the fallenness and hurt and evil in our lives and in our world.
But don’t get me wrong. A spark, I said. I didn’t say I had a full-blown conversion experience and from then on lived with great peace and joy in my soul. Far from it. A spark. A spark I keep tucked under my little red hat. It’s there along with my anger. Along with my questions. Along with my jealousy of those who are well. My little hat feels pretty tight on me at times, holding so many contrary feelings, but I will never take it off. I cannot deny my feelings and my questions. Nor can I deny that spark of hope. So I cram them all together into my little red hat and continue on with my life. I still curse sometimes. I laugh sometimes. I sigh a lot. Sometimes I even breathe a prayer.
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethesda, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. (John 5:1-9)