Jerusalem. A cacophony of sounds. A myriad of colors. Bursting with life. Everyone from everywhere comes to her. Romans. Greeks. Egyptians. Jews. All claiming her grand walls. All seeking her fortunes. Bringing goods to sell or trade. For the Jews, another festival; they come to worship God, to offer sacrifice.
We, the small crowd of followers, dash and dodge through the people, as we hurry to keep up with the Rabbi.
“Where’s he going today?” the woman keeping pace next to me asks. They’ve accepted me now. Somewhat. At least, they acknowledge my presence without chasing me off. And even offer me bits of food now and then. I’m grateful.
We pass through the sheep gate but the crowds do not thin. If anything, they grow thicker. People, rich, poor, nobles, common. We approach the covered porches surrounding the pools and beyond the porches lies the shrine to Asclepius.
“It’s shabbat. Why are we here? Why are we not going to the temple?” another asks.
“He seems to have a purpose.”
I agree. The Rabbi’s stride does not change. He makes for one of the arches leading into the pool area. His disciples, and the rest of us, follow. The cool shade offered by the covered porches battles against the press of human body heat. Everywhere, seekers of healing swarm. They camp along the outer walls, they mill about the wide porticos, they sit on the stone steps leading down to the pools, they wade in the shallows of the ruddy waters, they even dip themselves in the depths.
As we survey the crowds, the Rabbi seems to ignore them all. He makes his way toward whatever destination he has in mind. In this place, unlike the towns in Galilee, no one recognizes him, no one gives him a second glance.
Around us, voices cry out to the heavens, to the waters, to whatever they believe will heal them. Prayers to Asclepius. To angels. To Jehovah.
Next to the steps, near one of the thick columns, the Rabbi stops. At his feet lies a grey haired, grey bearded, man on a dingy, tattered mat. An equally dingy, thin blanket covers the man’s legs. With so many people about, the man doesn’t notice the Rabbi. His eyes are fixed on the waters. His face is lined with sadness, resignation, hopelessness.
Shouts and cries burst from the crowds and the man’s eyes widen. I turn and look. At the far end of the pool, bubbles erupt the murky surface. People surge forward. pushing and shoving each other as they scurry to the water. Several actually swim toward to the stirred up area. At the feet of the Rabbi, the man frantically claws at the stone floor as he tries to drag useless legs toward the water’s edge.
The frenzied activity stretches for long minutes and suddenly ceases with the last bubble. In the relative hush that follows, several shouts of joy echo off the walls and columns.
Throughout the entirety of the commotion, the Rabbi’s gaze never moves from the man. The man, having crawled barely a few inches, sinks back onto his mat. He quickly pulls the thin blanket back over his thin, twisted legs. He finally notices the Rabbi and his tortured eyes looks from the Rabbi to the waters and back again.
The Rabbi had offered the man no assistance. He squats down next to him. They stare at each other.
“Do you want to be healed?” the Rabbi asks.
The man’s mouth drops open. His eyes dart again to the now still waters, save for the areas where people wade. “I have none to put me in the pool when the water is disturbed.” A simple statement. An unspoken accusation.
Another cry of joy nearby. A woman’s voice. She’s well dressed. A nobleman’s wife, I’d guess. She holds up her hands for others to see. Comments of awe and praise to Asclepius.
The Rabbi shakes his head, but his eyes remain on the man.
“When I try to get there,” the man pauses and looks at his dirty, raw, fingers, “someone goes in ahead of me.”
The Rabbi stands. He holds out his hand toward the man. “Get up.”
Confusion covers the man’s face. He opens his mouth, then gasps, staring at the blanket covering his legs. He looks back up at the Rabbi’s extended hand. He reaches out his own and takes it. The blanket falls away as the man jumps to his feet, his legs straight and muscled. He lets go of the Rabbi’s hand and laughs, a ringing sound of delight. Weary lines slip from his face, replaced by awe. He wiggles his toes and his eyes twinkle with delight. “Praise Jehovah,” he whispers.
The Rabbi smiles. “Pick up your mat. And walk.”
The man scoops up his mat and blanket and rolls them up, tucking them under his arm. He takes a tentative step. Then another. And another. His own cry of joy echoes off the walls. I watch as he stops every person in his path, points to his legs, holds up his mat. Then on to the next who will listen. Someone must have asked how, who. Because the man turns back to where he left us.
He scratches his head, a puzzled look on his face. It’s then I realize, the Rabbi has slipped away in the crowd.
Grace & Peace