The Story of Five Friends
We met together late that afternoon, as the sun began to sink behind the Galilean hills. It was a chance meeting as we came in from fields and lake having completed the various tasks that we had done that day. At least, we thought it was chance – but now I am not so sure. Perhaps there was more to it than we thought at the time.
We had been friends since we attended the synagogue classes in the village – and some of us had known one another even longer than that. We had celebrated our Bar Mitzvah, our coming of age, together in the same year, amidst much jubilation from our assorted families. We had become men together and had an easy camaraderie with one another.
But there was one who was not there that evening. Simeon had been helping his father fix the flat roof of their house several years before, replacing the broken reeds after a violent storm had swept across the lake. He was still young, but was always willing to give his dad the help he needed. Crouching down near the edge of the roof, he pulled too hard on some of the reeds and they gave way in his hand. He tumbled over backwards, and fell onto the rocky uneven ground below. He hurt his back somehow and he never walked again. He could still use his hands and spent his days carving bits of wood that we found on the beach or in the fields. He helped his mother with weaving or plaiting baskets too. Women’s work.
To start with we had visited him often, but then life got in the way. Although we never forgot Simeon, he was not an intimate part of our lives anymore. One by one our parents arranged marriages for us and now we all had children of our own, taking pride in their achievements and their growing.
But not Simeon. He still lived at home with his parents. His brothers and sisters were all gone with families of their own. Sometimes I wondered what his future held. What would happen to him when his parents were too old to care for him – or were no longer living? Who would care for him then? At these times my heart was sad for my old friend, and I would go to see him. Even though we had drifted apart, there was still as deep a feeling of affection between the two of us as there was between those of us who were together on that evening.
Jacob asked us if we had heard that the Healer was coming through the town. He had lived here for a while, this Healer, but had gone on his travels with some friends. I had seen him around, but then I saw a lot of people in my work as a fisherman – most of the villagers came to buy fish from me at some time or another. He was nothing special to look at – just like anyone else in the village really – except for his eyes … I had never seen eyes that spoke to you like his did. He was an interesting man and I had often wondered what sort of a friend he would make.
We had heard stories – of course we had. There were people whose lives had been changed as they spoke to him; people who had been healed. One or two of them were related to some of our own friends. The stories were a bit too good to be true. He must have had a good following of friends who were trying to build him up in other people’s eyes. They were doing quite a good job of it too, for the Healer attracted crowds wherever he went.
Jesus was his name. And this Jesus was coming to stay here again on this night. As we chatted about this – it was after all quite an exciting event if it was going to draw a crowd to our quiet village – Jacob suddenly said one word to us:
We looked at one another – and understood at once what he meant. Of course, Simeon! If this man was such an amazing healer then we had to get Simeon to him. My throat had a lump in it as I looked around at these men who still cared for the friend we had almost lost.
We turned as one and headed for Simeon’s home. They were about to eat supper when we burst in, forgetting all our manners and entering before we were invited to do so. The family – Simeon and his parents, Rahab and Zaccheus – looked up in surprise at this unexpected intrusion on their evening meal. Simeon’s mother smiled and rose to greet us.
‘Have you eaten, boys?’ she asked, ‘There is plenty. Come and join us.’
I chuckled to myself as she called us boys. To our mothers we never grow up, even though we have young ones of our own.
‘No, thank you, Rahab,’ Jacob said. ‘We have come to fetch Simeon – we want to take him with us right now.’
We could have said that we had caught fish in the Dead Sea at their reaction! Simeon had not been out with us for many years – and now we burst in on them and demanded to take him with us. Without delay we explained why and they helped us to lay Simeon on a bed that we could carry.
We tied ropes to the corners of the bed and carried him out into the street – one on each corner. We could hear the loud voices of people talking to one another. The excitement level was high! When we rounded the corner of the synagogue we could see the crowd clustered around the door of a house just up the street. It was not possible to carry the bed through that crowd. They were too eager to see for themselves and would not want to step aside for us.
Joseph summed up the situation. Always a quick thinker he said,
‘We must go down the side ally to the back entrance. Quickly!’
There were people round the door here too, but not as many as in front. As we put the bed down Joseph eased a way through the crowd. He looked thoughtful as he turned back.
‘There are too many people for us to go inside the house.’
He stopped to think for a moment and we looked at one another in disappointment. How were we going to take Simeon to Jesus?
‘I know,’ Joseph cried,’ Let’s climb up to the roof!’
To the roof? I was not sure how that would help, but we were game for anything! Joseph and Samuel walked up the steps in front, and Jacob and I raised our arms at the back so that Simeon stayed level and we carried him up the stairs taking care that we did not slide him off the bed.
Now this roof was also flat and made of reeds and we made quick work of breaking through. The people below were covered in a shower of dust and bits of roofing. When we looked down at them they were all looking up at us with their mouths open. If we had not been so serious about what we were doing I think we would all have been clutching our sides laughing at the sight! I saw one Pharisee turn and spit into the dust having had a piece of reed fall into his mouth. This had better work or we were going to be in deep trouble!
We grasped the ropes tied to the corners of the bed and began to let it down through the hole. There was a scurrying of feet as people beneath us pushed others away to make room for the bed. For some reason I looked straight at the Healer and he was looking up at me – and he smiled – and I knew from that moment that it was going to be alright. Something happened to my insides. It is difficult to describe the feeling, but I relaxed and was no longer worried that we were making fools of ourselves.
Simeon’s bed touched the ground and there he was, lying there, looking up at the Healer, who was now smiling at him.
The four of us on the roof held our breath. What would happen next?
The Healer spoke, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’
What? How could a man forgive Simeon’s sins? What sins had he committed? He had not been out of the house for years. And anyway, what gave this man the right to forgive sins? Surely only God could do that! I was not the only one to think this, although I kept my thoughts to myself. The religious scholars sitting around (looking rather pompous, I must say) were not so shy.
They spluttered, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
The Healer looked at them and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’’
The Pharisees looked at each other, none of them being too eager to come forward with a reply. I knew what I would answer. It was easier to say ‘I forgive your sins,’ because nobody would know if they were forgiven or not. But to say ‘Get up and walk,’ was a different matter! Once again, I kept my thoughts to myself. I could see that Jacob, Joseph and Samuel were thinking the same thing – and keeping their thoughts to themselves too!
The Healer spoke to the silent, uneasy crowd,
‘But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’
He looked down at Simeon and, smiling, continued in a voice so full of love that it made the hair on my arms stand up on end,
‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’
And Simeon did!
He got up, gave Jesus a brief hug of thanks, grabbed his bed, glanced up at us grinning widely, and walked out with everyone watching him.
We clutched each other, speechless. We nearly fell into the hole ourselves. But then with a communal whoop, like the boys we had been, we tore down the steps round the house to the street where Simeon was leaping and dancing in the moonlight. We grabbed each other in a huge hug, oblivious of people around us.
But they were not watching us. They were all staring at this man, this Healer, who had come to the door to see us go. And then they began to praise God, declaring they had never seen anything like this before!
Laughing and crying, leaping and singing, we ran to Simeon’s home. Rahab and Zaccheus came to the door to see what all the noise was about. More laughing and crying! One by one we slipped home to fetch our families and within an hour there were people everywhere, singing psalms and hymns of praise to God – our God – for the gift of healing.
Who was this man? How could he tap into God’s power like that?
Was there ever a day like that in Israel? Yes, there were many. I encountered the Healer from time to time. At last I began to follow Him, captivated by his personality and his message. And then there was one evening which was even better than that day! For some years later, when I sat in silence and sadness in an upper room in Jerusalem, mourning the death by crucifixion of my dear friend, Jesus, the Healer –he came through the locked door, alive, and said to those of us gathered there
‘Peace be to you’ and showed us his hands and his feet.
But that’s another story …