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 Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed. 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. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.” ’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. -- John 5:1-15 (NRSV)
Patience is a virtue. We're usually taught from early childhood to practice patience -- with more or less success. When I was four or five, being told to be patient and that Santa would come, in so many days or hours wasn't a really understandable thing. Five minutes at that age can seem like a year, and anything longer is interminable. At 16, waiting until Saturday night when I had a date with the cutest boy in the world (at that time, anyway), from Thursday afternoon until he showed up on the doorstep seemed to take forever. Hopefully, anyway, I learned patience by now -- at least in some areas. In others, though, I'm still five years old and waiting for Santa.
The guy at the pool must have had the patience of Job. Granted, he wanted a cure for whatever ailment he had, and he wanted that cure badly enough to keep trying to get to the spot where he could get into the waters of the pool and be healed. He didn't do it just for a few months or even a few years but for thirty-eight years! My son is thirty-nine. I look back over those years and realize it has been a long time since the day he was born. This guy at the pool didn't have a measuring stick like the life of a child to measure the time of his suffering, just a day-in, day-out struggle to try to get to a place where he could be ready to slip into the pool when the water bubbled and prayers for the alleviation of his pain.
I wonder, for what would I be willing to be that patient and that persevering? It's a hard question to answer because I've never had to walk in his sandals. He wanted to be cured, but something kept getting in the way. I've done some fancy wanting, usually stuff I couldn't afford and even if I could, getting it and scratching that itch was only good for a while. Something else took its place so I was back to wanting something else. I could say the closest I can consciously come is wanting a job, a ministry, a profession in which I could excel and feel I were making a difference somewhere to someone. Mostly, though, I plug along, wanting but not always getting. The guy at the pool would probably look at me like I were nuts; he wanted and wanted so badly he dedicated thirty-eight years of his life to that want. And it wasn't just wanting, it was needing.
I'm pretty sure I've been wanting the wrong things all these years. I should be more interested in a great relationship with God and serving my fellow human beings than iPods and Kindle Fires, but I am flawed. Still, the iPod carries the hymns, evensong services, oratorios, and masses that keep me connected to God as I go about my work. My Kindle rides in my purse, ready at an instant to open books of all kinds -- including prayer books and those of writers who inspire me spiritually. Without either one I feel incomplete, yet even then I can still personally connect to God -- wirelessly and without memory chips and a hard drive.
Maybe at the deepest level of my consciousness I have been wanting something all these years. Maybe what I have been wanting is to be able to get in the pool of God's grace and feel healed, not necessarily cured.
Maybe the man at the pool and I have more in common than I thought...
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, December 30, 2011.