Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Scripture Scribblings -- Yeah, but do you really want it?

At my house, since we don't have daily Mass like we do back at the monastery, we use the gospel of the day as the reading for Morning Prayer. Today's Gospel was John 5:1-16 and, as I heard it being read, I remembered a little creation of mine from retreat last summer, so I figured I'd share it here with you all today. Maybe this amount of text can make up for the recent absence of text around here ....

For those who need a refresher, here's a snippet [New American Bible]:
There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.
The two relevant footnotes provide this additional information:
The Caesarean and Western recensions, followed by the Vulgate, add "waiting for the movement of the water." Apparently an intermittent spring in the pool bubbled up occasionally. This turbulence was believed to cure. And ... Toward the end of the second century in the West and among the fourth-century Greek Fathers, an additional verse was known: "For [from time to time] an angel of the Lord used to come down into the pool; and the water was stirred up, so the first one to get in [after the stirring of the water] was healed of whatever disease afflicted him." The angel was a popular explanation of the turbulence and the healing powers attributed to it. This verse is missing from all early Greek manuscripts and the earliest versions, including the original Vulgate. Its vocabulary is markedly non-Johannine.
And now ... a story.
So there I was, hanging out with my buddies at our standard spot on the beach. All of the sudden, a cry goes up: “The tide! The tide’s coming in!” Everybody immediately leaps up, and falls all over themselves as they form this mad stampede to be the first one in the pool. Well, almost everyone. Me, I don’t buy into that hooey. This ain’t your standard “Last one in is a rotten egg.” Noooo. This is FAR more significant than that. “First one in will be completely healed.” Yeah, right. And if you believe that I’ve got a freshwater fishing permit I’ll sell you for the Dead Sea! It’s just some urban legend that seems to be making the rounds these days. Things like this always resurface every couple years or so, and that’s when you can find out just how many people have nothing more than camel turds in their heads. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel obligated to admit that even I have fallen prey to this scam once or twice. OK, I admit it, it was sixteen times. But this hot sun’ll do wonders on your brain and make you think that maybe this time’ll be different, “I’ll just try one more time.”

Really, I’m actually quite ashamed of how long it took me to finally face up to reality and stop joining the idiotic herd of lemmings. And for that I have to give thanks to my uncooperative joints. See, there was the one time the cry went up, and for the seventeenth time I scrabbled to get up and beat everyone else into the lake. Except this time, I couldn’t even make it to my knees, the pain was so bad. After a couple more attempts, I realized that I didn’t stand a chance, and flopped down into the sand. Tears filled my eyes, from both pain and frustration, but, as I watched the events at the shoreline, I began to laugh. How ridiculous they all looked! How embarrassing to think I had been a part of this absurdity! All these fools fighting and tugging one another, doing anything they can to hold their neighbor back so they can be the first to dive in! Some were pathetic enough that they did nothing but sit on the beach all day, jockeying for position for the instant the cry went up. And yet even the stupidest Samaritan could see the futility of such mob mentality, if he’d just take a half-step back and look. There are no healings here. No wonders, no miracles, no signs. Think about it. Everyone’s fighting to be first in the pool. So who’s gonna win – crippled me or Joe Decathlete? Duh. It’s always the healthy guy who gets in first, so of COURSE he’s “healed” – he was healed before he even LOOKED at the pool.

But, it’s all good. I mean, once I got over my original self-imposed humiliation and all that. Actually, it’s turned out to be some pretty good entertainment, now that I’m just kickin’ back and watching. And the funny thing? Some of the “healed” still come back! Ha! What a scam!

On the whole, life is pretty good. For one thing, I’ve got the lemmings for laughs – what more do you need? My leg hurts enough to make me look weak and helpless, but not enough to be unbearably miserable – MOST of the time, anyway. Folks around here are pretty generous. Especially the “newly healed” – get the right puppy-dog eyes going and you can do well off the guilt/pity combination! And those stingy with their silver tend not to be with their scraps. As a “poor decrepit beggar” I am “so far” beneath them (they think!) that they cannot under any circumstances bring themselves to speak to me – even to tell me to stop lurking by their table. They eat well, so I eat well! Ha! They look down on me, but really I’ve got the better life!

Anyway, so it was maybe six months after my epiphany of enlightenment, when all this commotion arose. “Yeah, sure, the tide. Go find your ‘salvation,’ boys,” I mumbled as I rolled over to drift back to sleep. Then it hit me – this CAN’T be the tide – the timing’s all wrong. Besides, the noise should be coming from the shoreline, not from … I sat up quickly and looked around. Still groggy, it took a minute to sort things out. Finally I spotted some guy walking across the beach. Of course, it was hard to make him out, what with all the gawkers and simpering ground-kissers. With that big of a crowd, he MUST be famous, and fame means funding! I threw myself down and put on my most pained and pathetic face, with some moans thrown in for good measure.

SCORE! He’s coming this way! We’re eating good tonight, boys, so break out your best barrel of …

“Do you want to be well?”

Huh?!? I stop, mid-internal celebration, and stare. What’d he say?

“Do you want to be well?”

I can’t even think. What’s he talking about, do I want to be well. I am well. An occasional twinge of pain, perhaps, but I’m eating and getting handouts and managing quite nicely, thank you very much. So just drop a few coins in the cup and …

He’s still looking at me.

OK, man, you’re beginning to creep me out. Forget about the money. Just stop …

“Do you want to be well?”

Great, now all his little sheep are following his lead and staring at me, too. OK, think fast. If you disrespect this guy and show him to be a fool, you’ll have all these people mad at you and you’ll lose your source of livelihood. If, however, you …

“Do you want to be well?”

Argh! Enough with the eyes already. OK, since he’s obviously NOT going to go away … I know! I’ll play into their little legend. They’ll sympathize, he’ll have pity on me and toss me a few coins, and I can get back to …

“Do you want to be well?”

“Well, see, there’s this tide, and I’m weak, and … a couple times I got pretty close but then that guy over there stepped on my hand … put me out of commission for three weeks, and so really I’m trying, but …”

“Get up.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake! What is WITH this guy? That pained pathetic face, it wasn’t ALL an act, you know.

“Get up.”

Come on, man, leave me alone. We can pretend like this whole thing never …

“Get up.”

OK, now I’m starting to get mad. Do you SEE this leg?!? What’s left of it, anyway? What’s your deal, man?

“Get up.”

And how exactly am I supposed to do THAT?

“Get up.”

I sigh exasperatedly. Fine. I’ll “get up.” You’ll see what a struggle it is, toss me a couple of coins, and leave me in peace to …

Wait a second.

What happened to my leg?

WHERE’D THE STUMP GO???

Everyone’s celebrating, congratulating this guy. Sure, you’re welcome. Glad to be of service. Glad you could use me as your prop, your tool.

Dang it.

What about me, huh? Everyone’s so ga-ga over him, what about me?

Wait a sec … if I’ve got my leg back …

Crap crap crap crap crap.

By-bye panhandling, bye-bye scrap-scavenging, bye-bye buddies on the beach.

Hello … what? What now? NOW what am I supposed to do?

I didn’t want this. Why didn’t anyone ask me?

What gives this guy the right to go around fixing what ain’t broke and don’t even belong to him?

Maybe I can get myself trampled at the next tide …

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6 Comments:

Blogger Lorem ipsum said...

Have I mentioned lately what a wonderful writer you are?

I guess there's a certain familiarity to being broken. The real 'leap of faith' is to pretend that you aren't, even after you're healed.

3/28/2006 10:42 PM  
Blogger Natty said...

Off topic: Steph, you've been tagged for an opinin. Feel free to just email me any thoughts if you get a chance...

3/29/2006 10:04 AM  
Anonymous jeana said...

I was thinking of your story when I heard it the other day too!

3/29/2006 6:33 PM  
Blogger Dennis said...

Hmm. Stephanie has a blog and none us seminarians knew about it. Well, that's going to change. Muuuu haa haa haa.

3/30/2006 7:22 PM  
Anonymous Sally said...

Hope is a powerful thing isn't it...just one more time...just one mroe.
Thanks for sharing your writing.

3/31/2006 4:58 PM  
Anonymous Orthodoxy said...

Reminds me of "Life of Brian":
"Alms for an ex-leper?"

5/08/2006 5:17 PM  

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