Just Pick Up Your Mat

I hope you enjoy this #FifthFriday #FlashFiction based on John 5:1-15.

Zeb wasn’t particularly mystical. If he hadn’t seen it with his own two eyes, he wouldn’t believe it himself. But people had been truly healed at Bethesda pool—people he’d seen suffer for years. That’s why Zeb stashed his wheelchair at the bottom of the steps every morning and dragged his body up the steps and across the colonnade. Every morning, he staked out a space as close to the water as possible, but every morning, others arrived before him.

This morning, only one person blocked his path to the water. It wouldn’t matter. If the waters moved, someone else—someone with two working legs or a friend—would reach the water before he could. Maybe this daily labor was his penance. Maybe he didn’t deserve to be healed.

The warm sun convinced Zeb a short nap wouldn’t hurt anything, and he was almost asleep when someone spoke to him. He looked up, blinking, at the man standing over him.

The man squatted. Now they could speak eye-to-eye. “Do you want to get well?”

Did he want to get well? What
sort of fool question was that?

Did he want to get well? What sort of fool question was that? Of course he wanted to get well…didn’t he? Some part of his heart pushed the idea aside. His recklessness and arrogance had made him this way and stolen his bride thirty-eight years ago. Did he really want to get well?

Short of breath, Zeb grasped at the obvious. “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” It wasn’t an answer to the man’s question, but it was the best Zeb could do in the moment. Maybe this guy would hang out and help him win the race into the water.

The man’s next words startled Zeb into obedience. He said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Zeb obeyed without thinking. When the man straightened up, Zeb stood up too. Then Zeb bent over, rolled up his mat, and walked away. When he reached the bottom of the steps, he saw his wheelchair tucked behind a bush. Only then did his knees go weak. He was walking! He turned around, trotted back to the top of the steps, and scanned the crowd for the One who had healed him. The man was gone.

08-28 Greece (133)
Greek colonnade (c) Carole Sparks

Zeb leaned on a column, puzzling over his next move. What should he do first? Where should he go? Who should he tell? Well, the “who” question was easy. Across the thirty-eight years of his disability, he had pushed away everyone who cared and everyone who offered to help. There was no one left who would celebrate with him.

Perhaps the best thing to do was offer thanks to God. Zeb made his way to the temple. He didn’t realize it was the Sabbath.

Before he took two steps on the main street, a Pharisee tapped him on the shoulder. The short man’s frown extended to his hairline like a mask he couldn’t remove. His stubby finger jabbed at Zeb’s mat under his arm. “It. is. the. Sabbath!” the man barked, his finger punctuating each word, “The. law. forbids. you. to. carry. your. mat!”

“Umm…” for the second time in an hour, Zeb wasn’t sure what to say. “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ So I did.”

Even thinking about the
man who healed him brought
a smile to Zeb’s face.

Two other Pharisees had descended on this exchange. One asked, “Who was this guy? Who told you to pick it up and walk?” But Zeb had no idea who the man was. Still, even thinking about him brought a smile back to Zeb’s face. He turned to a shopkeeper along the street and asked the man to hold his mat until evening. The Pharisees shoulders slumped as they looked around for someone else to correct.

An hour later, Zeb was standing (because who would sit after thirty-eight years of not standing?!?) in the temple courtyard when he heard the same voice he’d heard by the pool. He wandered toward the crowd around the man and asked someone at the back, “Who is this guy?”

“Where have you been?” the guy snorted. “This is Jesus. Some people say He may be the Messiah!”

Zeb shuffled to the front of the crowd and found himself face to face with Jesus. Then Jesus looked him directly in the eye and said, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Zeb blinked slowly as Jesus returned to his teaching.

Zeb turned his eyes toward
Jesus again…He really was
the Messiah!

What could be worse than thirty-eight years of pain, shame, loss, and struggle? Eternity apart from God, that’s what. The Sabbath school answer popped back into his head despite the fifty-year span since he had learned it. It wasn’t wrong. Zeb turned his eyes toward Jesus again, the Teacher’s words muted by the volume of Zeb’s own thoughts. He really was the Messiah! It was completely clear now. Zeb’s feet danced a little shuffle, responding to the fresh light in his eyes. Jesus looked back toward him, and a smile stretched His lips as if they shared an inside secret.

There’s a lot of my own imagination built around the story John gives us in his gospel. Maybe you picture it differently. That’s okay. Here’s my take-away based on the true parts of the story:

Jesus asks a seemingly easy question that’s actually very difficult. That’s how he often worked. I once heard someone say, “You answer with your heart before your mouth.” It’s true, isn’t it? And Jesus was the master of asking just the right question…usually the one you don’t want to answer. Remember the woman at the well (John 4)? She tried to avoid the difficult question by distracting Jesus, but it didn’t work. This time, the guy is so focused on his one way to be healed that he misses Jesus’ point.

Sometimes, we think Jesus needs to fix our circumstances or help us achieve a personal goal that will make our lives better. Like this disabled man, we focus entirely on the foreseeable outcome, even if it has frustrated us again and again. Jesus’ question wasn’t, “Do you want to get in the pool?” It was “Do you want to be healed?” What question is Jesus asking you? Are you mishearing Him because you’re so focused on your existing plan? He has a way for you to get what you really need, even when you don’t know what that is. But it’ll take a little obedience.

Jesus has a way for you to get what you really need, even when you don’t know what that is. A little #BiblicalFiction for some #FifthFridayFun via @Carole_Sparks on #NotAboutMe. (click to tweet)

What do you think about this fresh take on a familiar story? Is there a moment you want to remember? Something you want to apply to your own life? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

This is not my first time in this passage. For more on Jesus’ side of the story, check out God’s Priority: His Kingdom from way back in 2012.

Whaddaya want?

Sometimes the question is raised, “Why should we pray?” After all, God already knows everything and He already has a plan, so what’s the point? Read on…

Luke 18:35-43.

As Jesus made his way toward Jerusalem for the last time, a blind man asked what all the commotion was about. Hearing that it was Jesus, he started calling for Jesus’ attention. (We’ll overlook the people who tried to quiet the blind man. Probably the disciples, since they were leading the way.) This guy had obviously already heard of Jesus and knew he needed Jesus’ help.

It’s almost funny—this moment where Jesus obviously knows what the man wants, yet makes him say it anyway:

Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied -Luke 18:40-41`

Why did Jesus make
him answer the question?

Lord, I want to see. Why did Jesus make him say it? He had to be taken by the hand and led over there. He had been calling out desperately. His blindness was surely evident.  Even the blind guy didn’t think it necessary to state the obvious. And yet Jesus made him answer the question. Why?

I think there were a couple of reasons. One, his statement voiced the faith that already dwelt in his heart. Like asking someone a question to which you know the answer, but you ask just to prove a point. For example, do you love your mother? Everyone loves his or her mother. If I ask such a question, I must be going somewhere with it, not because I really don’t know the answer. The blind man had no doubts about Jesus’ miracle-working abilities; otherwise, he wouldn’t have insisted on Jesus’ attention like he did. So without saying anything directly, Jesus’ question contrasted this random man’s faith with the faith of those who watched and followed him…and with our faith as we read the story now. Is my faith such that I absolutely, unquestionably believe that Jesus can and will meet my needs?

The act of asking means
I want the answer.

But there’s another, deeper reason for Jesus’ question. When we ask for something, we’re saying two things:  one, “I am in need;” and two, “I will receive what you give me.” We’ve all been given unwelcome (or at least unasked-for) gifts, and while we appreciate the generosity, there’s a part of us that is unwilling to receive the gift. I once received a wooden carving of an island made to stand up on a table or shelf.  Umm…gee…thanks. But if I ask for something, the very act of asking means I want and will receive the answer. If I ask for your advice, it means I want to hear what you think, and I will receive your opinion (hopefully with thanksgiving). I am receptive to you, and I recognize my inability to help myself.

So beneath Jesus’ question were several others:

  • Do you understand Who I am?
  • Do you believe I can heal you?
  • Do you put the authority over your life in my hands?
  • Do you want to be changed forever?

For each question, the man’s answer was “Yes!” That’s confident and authentic faith–confident: I know You can do it; authentic: I confess that I need and want you to do it. I wrote before about how we phrase our prayers and how we present them, now in this picture with Jesus, we find a beginning (because there’s SO much more to this!) explanation of why we pray.

A blind man as our model of faith: we ask because we want His answer. (click to tweet)

In your opinion, what is the purpose of prayer? There’s more to it than this, I know. Please share in the comments below. Let’s have a conversation!