It was the water.
People said the water had healing properties. And it wasn’t just a fad, like special oils or the new sycamore-leaf diet that may or may not actually do anything. He had seen people go into the water limping and come out of the water jumping like nothing had ever happened.
But here’s the thing: It wasn’t healing water all the time. Only when the water was spontaneously stirred. Only when the springs that fed the pools caused a natural whirlpool could someone benefit from its healing nature. And only one at a time. It seemed as though the first person to go down into the whirlpool, whenever that happened, would be the only one healed.
He wasn’t entirely sure he believed it, but it would be worth a try. After 38 years of paralysis, he would try anything.
If he could just get in the pool.
He sat there every single day. There were plenty of places to sit or lay around the pools. Five covered walkways surrounded the pools, and he was not the only soul laying there hoping for healing. Blind, crippled, deaf—whatever the malady, the pools offered a particular hope for many.
So there he lay, day in and day out, just waiting for the pool to be stirred and for his legs to work again. That’s all he really wanted. That’s all he had wanted for all 38 years he had been laying at these pools.
But whenever the waters stirred, someone always got to the water before him. He had tried using his arms to inch himself closer and closer so he would have a chance, but someone always managed to get there before him. Someone might jump in from the side, or run into the water because they had legs that worked. He could never get there fast enough.
Then one Sabbath, a new face appeared at the water’s edge. He had never seen this man before, and it didn’t look like anything was wrong with him.
He wondered why this Stranger was even there. To laugh? To make fun of silly, magical water? To mock the impaired? Everyone waiting at the pools had learned to ignore those voices, though it never got easier to hold their tongues. This man didn’t look mean-spirited though; he knew the face of sneer and taunt, and this was not the face the Stranger wore.
Instead, the Stranger’s expression held a soft kindness he hadn’t seen in years.
He prepared his speech about how he had been paralyzed and why he had been laying at the pools for 38 years and that people said the stirred waters could heal. But the Stranger wasn’t interested in small talk. He only had one question and wasted no time asking it.
“Do you want to get well?” asked the Stranger.
That seemed like a dumb question; he wouldn’t be at the pools, waiting for the water to stir, if he didn’t want to get well. That’s all he had wanted for 38 years. But there was the problem of actually getting into the water. Quickly, he answered, explaining his quandary.
“Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. When I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then the Stranger told him to do something he hadn’t done in 38 years.
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
At first, he thought the Stranger was joking. He thought: Thirty-eight years and this stranger thinks He can just tell me to stand up and—wait, what was that?
He felt something. A tingling in his legs. Could it be?
He hadn’t felt anything in his legs in almost four decades. But he could have sworn — there it was again! Yes, he felt something in both legs. It wasn’t pain; it wasn’t particularly distinguishable at all, but it was real and undeniable. And that Stranger seemed so kind; He wasn’t the type to trick him into standing just to watch him crumble back to the ground. So, why not? Go big or go home, right?
He stood, and his legs felt fine. Like nothing ever happened. He shifted his weight from leg to leg, just to make sure. He did a few quick hops, and his legs caught him, landing firm on the ground each time. He walked around, up and down the covered walkway, with not even a trip or twitch. And he didn’t even have to get into the water!
He was going big AND going home. But he needed to grab his mat.
He went back to where his mat lay, expecting to find the kind Stranger, smiling in delight at his newfound legs. But He was gone. Must have slipped into the crowd gathered at the pools.
He bent down to collect his mat — and realized he hadn’t seen the ground from so far away in such a long time. He chuckled at the thought. He rolled up his mat and tucked it under his arm.
A second thought froze him: It’s the Sabbath, and he vaguely remembered a rule about carrying mats on the Sabbath. He hadn’t had to do that in so long, he’d forgotten all the law’s ps and qs. It’s been forty years, he thought. Maybe the rule had changed.
The next voice he heard assured him it hadn’t. It was one of the Jewish leaders.
“It’s the Sabbath. The law forbids you to carry your mat.”
Searching for an excuse—any excuse—to get him out of the bind, he settled on the best one he could find: the Stranger.
“The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
Honestly, after 38 years of being crippled and hoping against hope to be healed, even if he had remembered the law’s restriction, he doubted it would have stopped him from such a simple task. But he knew the Jewish leaders held tremendous power, and he didn’t want to get on the wrong side of that power.
They asked him who that man was, but He had disappeared into the crowd.
He didn’t know who the smiling Stranger was, but he knew one thing for sure: It wasn’t the waters that had healed him. It was that Stranger. He decided when he found out who the Stranger was, he’d tell the Jewish leaders.
But until then, he’d use his legs just like anybody else.
No more laying at the pool.
He was healed. Finally.