He That Made Me
(A short story)
Alison M. Tomlinson
Copyright © 2017 by Alison M. Tomlinson
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing:
for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.
He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.
KJV (Public Domain)
After more than thirty years of constantly waiting for his rare and precious visits, I recognize him immediately.
He’s in human guise—handsome and strong, wearing a clean, neat tunic and well-fitting sandals. The crowd don’t notice as he approaches the steps into the pool. He glances round, and for a moment, I catch the hint of a smirk on his face. This puzzles me, but there is no time to consider it.
I don’t wait for the screams and shouts and pathetic stampede to begin. I throw myself forward onto my weak, skinny arms and drag myself desperately towards the pool. My left leg is useless and numb. I can push a little with my right leg, but doing so sends agonizing shots of heat though my hip and knee. I ignore the pain. I must press forward.
I’m starting from a bad position. I used to be nearer the pool, but some newcomers arrived. I was helpless as they picked me up, moved me a stone-throw further back, and took my place.
My face is inches from the ground, and I don’t look up when someone screams, “He’s here.” I know what has happened. The angel has stepped into the water, and his appearance has changed. He is now wearing a long, white tunic with a gold sash. His hair is white and his skin is bronze. The water in the pool is now gushing back and forth. I’ve never seen the sea because I’ve been confined to this place since I was four, but I’ve been told the water in the pool becomes like the waves of the ocean.
Through the deafening noise around me, I hear Bard’s voice. “Raphael, where are you? Give it up. You’ll never make it, and you’ll get hurt.” I ignore him. I have only one goal, one focus. Lord God, have mercy on me. I beg you, by some work of your mighty hand, get me to the water first.
I know it’s hopeless. Around me there are hundreds of others—the blind, the lame, the withered. Some can walk. Some have friends to help them, to carry them to the water. I have no one. The frenzied melee of frantic humanity crush in around me. Someone treads on my right hand. I hear the bones crush and see blood gush forth. No matter. Press on. I must bear more pain in the vain hope of relief.
Then a foot hits me squarely in the right eye. This time, I howl and clutch my bleeding face. For a few moments, I’m stationary. But not for long. I cannot allow anything to stop me. While I have the ability to move my body, I must do so. Who knows when the water will be disturbed again? Who knows when the next chance of healing will come? Thirty-eight years I have lived in this sorry excuse for a body. I would rather be crushed to death by the mob than spend another empty day of waiting for some long-promised respite.
Another shout is heard above the clamour. “Glory to God. Praise the Lord. Hallelujah.”
Someone’s lame feet are healed or blind eyes are opened.
The crowd around me collapse and give out a long, collective sigh. Despair descends. There are moans as people nurse their injuries. Then the wailing begins. Pitiful expressions of misery.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
I crawl slowly back to my sleeping mat. Every ache and pain is magnified a thousand times.
And The Great Wait begins again.
“Why the smirk?”
I’m lying on my mat, waiting for my muscles to relax and the sharp stabs of pain to give way to the usual unrelenting dull ache. My hand and eye are throbbing. A thick cloud of gloom has settled over the people.
“What?” says Bard. He feels my head and shoulders to orientate himself, then slinks down beside me.
“The angel smirked. Why would he do that?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. What are you rabbiting on about?”
“Angels don’t smirk. Have we got any food?”
“We had some bread, but who knows where it is now? Our cloaks are still here.”
Bard gropes to find his cloak and says, “Not worth stealing. When sanity returns, I’ll go find some food.”
“Anyway, how do you know?” I ask.
“How do I know what?
“That angels don’t smirk.”
“Well, they’re holy and good, aren’t they?”
“They’re not all good.”
“And what do you know about it, you ignoramus. You can’t even read.”
“Neither can you.”
“Only because I can’t see. If I could see, I’d be able to read, wouldn’t I?
“How do you work that out?”
“I’ve had some schooling, haven’t I? If I wasn’t blind, my rich cousin would pay for me to learn to read and write.”
“Ah, yes, the phantom rich cousin.”
“What do you mean, phantom?”
“Well, we’ve never seen him. We’ve only got your word he exists.”
“Where do you think I go once a week then?”
“What I’m saying is, I’ve experienced more of the world than you have. I’m telling you, angels are good and they don’t smirk.”
“Maybe I can’t read, but I can hear, and I listen when the teachers come and read the Scripture. There are some bad angels as well as good.”
“But bad angels don’t heal people, do they? Stands to reason. Our angel does wonderful miracles.”
“Then why don’t you try to get to the water when he comes?”
“No point. You’re living proof. You throw yourself into the crowd and get trampled on. You’ve got a screw loose, you have?”
“It’s the only hope of being healed.”
“There is no—”
“Get out the way.” I grab his arm and pull him aside as two men walk through carrying a body. One holds the corpse’s twisted, crippled feet, and the other holds the shoulders and grey head. At first, I assume the poor soul was crushed in the stampede, but then I see the knife sticking out of his belly. He had decided to put an end to The Great Wait.
“There is no hope of being healed,” says Bard. “Face it, or you’ll end up like that wretched old man. Take whatever morsels of happiness you can find in this cursed existence.”
“If there’s no hope of being healed, why do you stay here? Just for the food and attention?”
“This isn’t a bad place to be for people like us, the scum of the earth that God has thrown on the scrapheap. But there’s no point joining the mad fight to get to the water. So, one person gets wonderfully healed. Everybody else gets injured and disappointed or even killed.”
“That’s my point.”
“What’s your point?”
“If the angel is so good, why does one person get healed and hundreds of others end in an even worse state?”
“And he smirked?”
“Yes, he smirked.”
Bard throws his head back and laughs a mirthless laugh.
I say, “It’s like he enjoyed causing suffering. I think he’s a bad angel.”
“You think too much, that’s your trouble.”
“What else is there to do? And if he’s a bad angel, this is a bad place.”
“Jerusalem’s a bad place?”
“Of course not, but maybe the Pool of Bethesda is a bad place. Everybody knows it was dedicated to Asclepius.” A few people around us stop and glare at me. I’ve uttered the forbidden word. “Well, everybody does know it. We just ignore the fact.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“What do you mean, it doesn’t matter?”
“That happened ages ago.”
“But he’s a Greek god.”
“Yeah, he’s a Greek god, and the Greeks all love him. But we’re Jews.”
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Bard throws his arms up and proclaims, “Raphael, the crippled teacher of the law.”
I ignore him. “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them. You’ve heard it a million times, just like I have.”
“We’re not bowing down to other gods.”
“We are if we expect them to heal us instead of the Lord.”
“I’m not expecting anybody to heal me. I’ve got my head screwed on right. You’re the one who throws himself into the sea of madness, not me. You’ve got to stop it.”
I carefully feel my face. It’s now bearable to touch my right eye. The bleeding has stopped, but it’s still throbbing, and I know the area around it is badly bruised. “Then how am I going to get healed?”
“You—are—not—going—to—get—healed.” He slaps the ground with each word. “Accept your lot.”
“The Lord is going to send the Messiah, and he’s going to heal people.”
“Maybe he’s already sent him.”
“What do you mean?”
Bard lowers his voice. “Maybe the Greek god was the Messiah. He heals people.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Come on. Waiting for the Messiah is worse than waiting for the angel to stir the water.”
“If there’s no hope, I might as well find myself a nice, long, sharp knife like that old man.”
Bard scrambles to his feet. “You’re depressing me. I’m going to find some food.” As he stumbles forward, he shouts to warn the unfortunate people in his path of his imminent approach.
Perhaps he’s right. How can an uneducated cripple dare to question the wisdom of the hundreds of people around me? If I keep talking about bad angels and Greek gods, I’ll be ostracized. Everybody here worships the angel of the pool and praises his wonderful works of healing. I have no choice but to stay here. I have no family, no friends apart from Bard and the other rejects.
And if I lose hope in the angel, how can I bear to live in constant pain?
A word of Scripture stirs in my mind. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, _][_who is _][_the health of my countenance, and my God.
“Is it the scribe and his admirers?” Bard has heard people approaching, and the crowd has quietened.
“Oh, good,” he whispers. “I’ve almost forgotten what a miserable sinner I am. I need reminding.”
The scribe stands in his soft, fine clothing and unrolls the scroll in his soft, fine hands, as he does every Sabbath. He lifts his strong, proud head and begins to read, his voice projecting over the now silent crowd.
“If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the _][_Lord _][_thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the _][_Lord _][_that healeth thee.”
He closes the scroll and glares at us. “You have not kept the Lord’s commandments, and here is the result.” He waves his hands over the wretched crowd. “You have broken the Sabbath. You have not given your tithes. You have not offered the sacrifices required by the law. Repent. Behold, your sins will find you out.”
“I thought he was educated,” whispers Bard, “but he can’t do maths, can he? He’s welcome to my tithe. Ten percent of nothing is nothing.”
The scribe turns to leave. He has done his duty to warn us miserable sinners. Now he will go find a worthier audience. But he stops in his tracks when a brave soul calls out from our group of blind and lame evildoers. “Teacher, have you heard about the rabbi from Galilee? They say he can make the lame walk and the blind see.”
The scribe’s smirk reminds me of the angel. “I’ve heard rumours, but he sounds like a pestilent fellow. He’s uneducated and does not follow our law.”
“But if he can heal, he must be from God, right?”
Another voice rings out from the crowd, addressing his fellow sufferer, “How does he heal? Does he have a pool like ours?”
“He uses mud and the Pool of Siloam.”
“But they don’t have an angel,” calls a third man.
The scribe raises his hand to reassert his authority over the common rabble. Only his opinion counts. “This man is a maverick. He is not authorized by the Sanhedrin. Do not put your hope in such a man.”
“But if he can heal—” repeats the first heckler, but the scribe cuts him short.
“They say he can heal, but remember there are tricksters out there.”
“But he opened the eyes of one born blind.”
“If that is the case, which I doubt, he is using witchcraft, like the sorcerers of Egypt. Not all healing comes from God.”
The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. “Then how do we know our angel is from God?”
There are gasps of horror and shouts of, “Get him out of here.” Before I know what’s happening, rough hands have picked me up and are carrying me further away from the pool. I’m dropped onto the hard earth, and I scream as excruciating pain ripples through my body.
“Where are you?” Bard’s voice calls out.
“Bring my mat and cloak,” I shout back.
I hear the scribe and his followers leave. I give way to despair. I try to control my sobbing because it shakes my body and makes the pain worse. But pain is my life. There is no hope of relief.
For once, Bard holds his tongue. He sits beside be as I lie on my mat and weep pitifully.
According to Scripture, God heals those who listen to him and do his commands. The scribe says I’m a sinner and that’s why I’m lying here in pain. He says I don’t keep the Sabbath. How have I broken it? I can’t walk, let alone work. I can’t work any day of the week. I rest on the Sabbath as I do every other day.
He says I don’t tithe, but Bard is right. Ten percent of nothing is nothing. I don’t make sacrifices, but how can I? I can’t afford a turtle dove, let alone an ox. I have never tasted meat.
Surely the Lord would not expect me to do the impossible. He wouldn’t demand I make bricks without straw. So what does he want from me?
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
That is the first commandment. Clearly, worshipping only the Lord is more important than tithes and sacrifices and keeping the Sabbath. Is that my sin? Am I putting a Greek god before the Lord? Is that the reason for my pain and suffering?
What am I saying? I look around as if other people can read my thoughts. I’m a beggar. The lowest of the low. I have no learning. If you give me a scroll, I’ll burn it to keep warm in winter. That’s the best use I could get from it. Who am I to question the scribe and my fellow partners in The Great Wait?
I don’t know who the man is.
He’s simply dressed, but has a mass of followers crowding around him, even more than the scribe. He’s coming in my direction. I look behind to see where he’s going, but he stops in front of me and politely asks how long I’ve been in this miserable state. I struggle into a sitting position and answer—thirty-eight years. He asks if I want to be healed. By now the crowds have stopped to listen to the conversation. There’s a buzz of expectation among his followers. The pool crowd are watching curiously.
I consider my answer carefully. Yes, I do want to be healed, but I now have my doubts about the angel of the pool. To express those doubts again could get me stoned.
The man waits patiently. Unlike the scribe, he has a quiet air of authority without intimidation. Eventually, I simply reply that I have no one to help me into the pool. I have spoken the truth without offending anybody.
His next words stun me. “Rise, take up thy bed and walk.”
I almost want to laugh at this, but the man’s followers aren’t laughing. They gasp and stare at me expectantly with their eyes wide and their mouths open.
Someone behind me helpfully informs the man, “He’s a cripple. He can’t walk, and it hasn’t been that long since the angel came. We’re not expecting him for a while.”
Bard leans forward and whispers, “Is he talking to you? Telling you to stand?”
I open my mouth to explain the situation to the man, but I’m distracted when my left foot twitches. I look down and see the cause. A bee is crawling over my big toe.
It takes me a moment to register the significance of this. My foot twitched because I could feel the bee. I could feel it. I have feeling in my foot.
Before I can express my astonishment, I feel a warm pressure starting from my feet and creeping up my legs. My toes, ankles, knees and hips start popping and swelling. But it’s not the kind of swelling caused by a bee sting. My actual flesh and bones are expanding. All my joints straighten. I can wiggle my toes on both feet.
My shoulders pull back as my back straightens and my head lifts. I lift my arms. They are strong and flexible.
All pain is gone.
My fellow sufferers haven’t noticed all this. They are now chatting among themselves. But the man’s followers are gesturing to me, indicating that I should stand up.
Stand up? How?
I start to experiment, bending and lifting my legs. It’s so easy. They are so free and light. But I’ve no idea how to achieve such a magnificent feat as standing up!
One of the man’s followers helpfully gets down on the floor and demonstrates jumping up again without even using his hands. He smiles at me as if I should copy him. I shake my head. He gets back on the floor, but this time, he rolls over onto his hands and knees like an animal. That looks more feasible. I try it. It’s easy. My arms and legs support my weight.
My guide brings his foot forward and puts it flat on the ground, his knee to his chest. I copy him. I’m in a daze. This cannot be happening. I cannot be doing this. Next, he puts one hand on his knee and pushes with that hand and the hand on the floor until he is standing.
I hesitate. It’s daunting. How is it possible for my hands and body to leave the ground and to stand on my feet alone? The man’s followers start to encourage me. “You can do it.” “We’ve seen it a thousand times.” “Put your trust in the Lord.” “Come on.” “Don’t be afraid.” Someone comes forward to take my arm and help me up, but another man stops him. “Let him do it himself.”
I take several deep breaths and muster all my courage. In one great leap of faith, I push with my hands and feel the muscles in my legs tighten and take the strain. Power ripples through my feet, legs, hips, back and shoulders as my whole body works together to lift me from the ground.
And I stand. Nothing supports me. I sway and, for a moment, feel like I’m going to fall, but my new leg muscles automatically work to keep me balanced.
I’m actually quite tall. I look into the faces of the people around me. Our eyes are on the same level. It’s incredible. The man’s followers applaud as Bard shouts towards my feet, “What’s happening?” “I’m standing,” I reply and his head jerks up, following my voice.
Someone points to my mat, and I remember the second part of my instructions. Take up thy bed.
The ground now feels a long way away. How do I get back down? My guide indicates I should squat. I bend my knees, and I’m astonished at the control I have over my body. My heels leave the ground, and only my toes support me. How is that possible?
By now, I have confidence and faith. Miracle of miracles, I am whole. I can roll up my mat and push back up to a standing position. It’s so easy I don’t understand why I couldn’t do it before.
And now, the moment has come.
The man’s followers part and make a path for me. I know what I have to do. I lift my right foot, but I’m horrified when I realize I’m standing on only one leg, and I quickly put it down again. Come on, Raphael. It’s unbelievable, but it’s true. You can do this.
I try again. This time I bring my right foot slightly in front of me before putting it down. Automatically, my left heel leaves the ground. I hesitate. “It’s easier if you just do it and flow with the rhythm,” says my guide. “Trust me. A week ago, I couldn’t walk either.” He gives me a reassuring smile, and I decide to throw caution to the wind.
Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Faster and faster. I’m doing it.
Eventually, I stop and turn round to thank the man and ask him his name, but he’s gone. The crowd has swallowed him up. His followers have gone with him, no doubt anxious to witness the next miracle. I can see Bard staggering round, frantically calling my name. I start to walk towards him when I hear a familiar voice.
“It is not lawful for you to carry your bed on the Sabbath.” I turn to see the scribe. For a second, I feel intimidated as usual. But then he recognizes me and gasps.
“He told me to carry it,” I explain.
“Who did?” he asks.
“He that made me whole.”
I guess not many people in the world know what it’s like to have degenerated bones and muscles regenerate. I’m one of them, although in my case it took months and years and came about through diet and medical nutrition. I tell my story in my first novel I’m Sorry, Oliver.
My second novel An Untimely Birth explores in more detail the clash between the early church and the cult of Asclepius.
Raphael has been confined to his bed of suffering for over thirty years. With hundreds of other crippled and maimed hopefuls, he lies by the Pool of Bethesda, waiting for an angel to stir the water and bring healing to the lucky person who reaches the pool first. But he starts to question whether his hopes and beliefs are in keeping with the God of the Scriptures. Then one day, a stranger arrives and gives him an incredible command; Rise, take up thy bed and walk. A short story based on the healing at the Pool of Bethesda in John chapter 5, told in a new and original way.