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.

Lord, the One You Love

Mary peeked into the room. “Is he any better?”

“He’s the same as half an hour ago,” Martha whispered, “I thought you were going to get some sleep. It’s not even sunrise yet.”

“How can I sleep when my brother is so sick?” Mary forgot to be quiet. “What can we do? We’ve called three different doctors. We’ve tried every conventional treatment. We’ve sent offerings to the temple. He’s only getting worse! What else can we do?” Her voice rose in pitch with each sentence. Continue reading

A Small League of Unrecognized Radicals

Biblical flash fiction based on John 19:38-42 (and the other gospels).

“Get me an audience with Pilate. Now.” Joseph’s servant nodded and stepped away, soon lost in the dispersing crowd, but Joseph couldn’t move. He tried not to think about the twelve-year-old who had amazed him in the temple more than two decades earlier. He forced himself to breathe again and steadied his hands.

Now for the eyes. They hadn’t left Jesus since a centurion thrust his spear into Jesus’ side. Look away, Joseph. You have to look away. You have to take care of this, even if He isn’t what you anticipated. Jesus deserves that much. Continue reading

Women of the Bible: Jochebed

She lay awake in the dark, listening with one ear for soldiers’ footsteps outside her window. Her other ear strained for the slightest whimper of her new baby boy. He cried out only once before she could reach him, offering her heavy breast to calm him. She held her breath to listen, but her own heartbeat echoing in her ears blocked any other sounds. While he nursed, Jochebed resumed her silent prayer to Yahweh, the God of her ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. -Hebrews 11:23

Her tears anointed the child in her arms, a physical manifestation of her pleas for a savior. She begged God to redeem them from this slavery, from the bonds that tightened so stealthily around their necks. Her people hadn’t come to Egypt as slaves. They were God’s Chosen Ones—the Hebrews—and only entered Egypt to escape famine. But now they were tied to this place. Now even their newborn babies belonged not to them but to Pharaoh. She had cried with too many mothers as they mourned the loss of their sons, born healthy but thrown to the currents and crocodiles of that cruel river.

Somehow, he was the answer
to her prayers for a savior.

As she prayed, she felt the same confidence of the night before…and the night before that. She was doing the right thing. This child was special, not just “mama-loves-you” special but specially chosen by God. He was no ordinary child. Somehow, he was the answer to her prayers for a savior.

But how long could she keep this up? How long could she hide him in the house? His lungs were getting stronger. The neighbors were looking askance at her. And what of her older children? What if the overseers questioned Aaron and Miriam?

 

I love this story because Jochebed was a thoughtful, faithful rebel! Read more about her courage, confidence, and creativity in my guest post at My Life. His Story..

Moses’ mother was a rebel, full of courage, confidence and creativity. This is faith.(click to tweet)

Fame and Infamy: A Retelling of Luke 8:40-56 (part 2)

Two desperate people. One famous, one infamous. Both loved by Jesus. Both restored.

Intimate Impurity, Stolen Salvation

Twelve years. Twelve years of shame and judgment. Twelve years without the touch of another person. Twelve years of poking, prodding doctors who lined their purses with her desperation.

News travels fast in a small town. Continue reading

Fame and Infamy: A Retelling of Luke 8:40-56 (part 1)

News travels fast in a small town.

“Jesus is back,” the servant whispered in Jairus’ ear, hope fueling the boldness it took to disturb his distraught master. The girl, almost a woman actually, didn’t look any better than she had when Jairus sat down beside the bed hours earlier.

Jairus raised one eyebrow and sighed. Nothing else had worked. Continue reading