How To Treat The Hopeless
It was bad enough to contemplate suicide as his wife had done several years before. As painful as that was, he understood. That he understood was the source of his anguish because he couldn’t understand anything else. The dull blob of numbness in his heart bobbed lifelessly in the Dead Sea, tossed about carelessly on the waves. Sometimes he would hold his son tightly as he sat exhausted on the shores during ferocious storms, wishing the waves would sweep both of them away. He envied the peace she must’ve felt as she sunk to the bottom after her last instinctive breath filled her lungs with water.
He shuddered, held his son just so, stroking his hair as his body violently spasmed. When his son was a toddler, he nearly killed him by holding him too tight. He knew to allow it — whatever this was — to run its course, to hold his son loose enough so his nose, eyes, and mouth didn't fill with sand, nor allow his bones to be broken as his muscles and ligaments became taut wires, violently throbbing in his father's bruised frame. He, the father, he looked exactly who he was, beaten and badly bruised. His nose was broken a few times, his left eye was badly bruised by a flying elbow and hadn’t worked very well in years, so he held his son in a certain way to protect his right eye.
When the violent episodes subsided, he loosened his embrace, lifted his wineskin of water to his mouth for a sip before pulling his son’s head closer to allow him to drink. He sprinkled a little bit on the bread so he wouldn’t choke for it was almost too hard for even himself to eat. He would breathe a few deep breaths, hold back the tears again, and talk to his son.
“Hi...ummm...” He scanned the beach, “There are more people coming out to to where we are. You will see them. The Romans aren’t around today so we might have more food.”
Although his son stared slack-jawed and expressionless, father still looked him in the eye and always made sure he could see his hand before he stroked his hair. He was always stroking his hair, imagining he could sweep away whatever was in his son, just sweep it away with the wind, sea, and sand.
He was born this way. His mother nursed him between the violent bouts. He seemed possessed, and the Rabbis who looked at him a week after his birth declared him unclean and demon-possessed. Their friends, already on edge by the murderous Roman occupation, offered curt sympathy at first, then became ghosted silence. Shunned by the Rabbis, shunned by their friends, their world fell apart.
They prayed together until interrupted once again by the thrashing of their baby boy. She nursed when she could, but as the fits increased in frequency she could no longer cook. In desperation her husband sought out his best friend in the middle of the night to avoid Roman detection. “Please! I beg you,” as he got on his knees and bowed his head, “Please bring us food! I will pay you, I am not a cook and she must attend to him at all times!”
“So be it,” his friend hissed in the dark of night while grabbing the money out of his hand. His door still open, his wife brought him bread and a few slices of cured meat. He bowed silently as the door closed, and then swiftly snuck back home.
That was years ago, maybe even a lifetime ago, a dream that lost its significance, back when he was hopeful that somehow, some way his son would be healed.
He sat exhausted on the sandy rocky shore, watching a few people pass by when suddenly his wife, it seemed, sat next to him.
“Berel...Berel, can you see me?” Startled, he wept at his wife’s voice.
“Maya! Maya! Oh...,” he sighed.
“No, Berel, it’s me, Hannah.”
He squinted, looking up at his best friend's wife, his spirits sagged seeing it was not his wife.
“Hannah, where is Benyamin? Why is he is not here?”
He could tell by her look that he was dead, hanging on a Roman cross. He pulled her next to him and they cried. He wept even harder when he felt his son try to lift his hand to his father’s face. She noticed it too, and pulled away slightly.
“Berel, you must come with me now! We must go over to where there is more food. Berel, do you understand?”
He nodded slightly. She stood up, and with what was left of her strength helped Berel to his feet as he held his son Doron. Together they walked, the Spring sun still concealing the heat of summer yet to come. As they trod over sand and stone, Hannah spoke of men who were doing miracles. Berel was too tired to care, the years had taken their toll on his body and hopes. She talked through Doron’s seizures, unusually enthusiastic for a widow. Still, she was here, her company lifting his spirits up until he refused to let himself feel disappointment again. Getting his hopes up was forbidden because his son’s life depended on him regardless of circumstances and the ebb and flow of this so-called life.
Abruptly they came across excited people, some of whom were shouting with joy, some were weeping aloud, a few others who looked serious.
“I can see!”
“I can walk!”
“Oh! I feel so good!”
A man on his knees sobbing with joy as family hugged and shouted.
Suddenly one of the serious-looking men came over to him. Instantly Doron began thrashing more violently than ever as the man began muttering. Doron thrashed out of his arms onto the ground and Berel tried to control him so he wouldn’t injure himself. Hannah and the others looked on in horror. The serious man was crestfallen, and sadly mumbled “Jesus...” while pointing northwards. As he moved away, Doron’s seizure’s subsided and Berel was able to tend to his injuries. Hannah, weeping from disappointment, poured water onto her robe and wrung it out over Doron’s wounds. At her gentle behest, she gestured ‘food’ and pulled Berel up to his feet as the crowd watched in shock that a woman would help a man, let alone touch him.
They walked for another 20 minutes, coming across a larger, louder crowd at the bottom of a small valley. Hannah paused, her frown turned radiant as she watched several healings take place. She beamed, turning to Berel, "This is the man we've heard so much about. Go," she said, stepping aside as others did the same.
The crowd knew this man, they'd seen this father for years, always horrified by what he had to endure, always wanting to somehow reduce his suffering but for the Rabbis and the Romans. And yet here he was, maybe 100 steps from the man who turned water into wine, who healed an unclean woman when she merely touched him in a crowd, whose followers themselves performed miracles on a daily basis far away from the prying eyes of Rabbis and Romans. If anyone was going to be receive a miracle, it was this man and his wretched son.
"But..." he stammered, fear rapidly overwhelming his heart. "Oh, Hannah..." he wept and fell to his knees. Once again she helped him to his feet. The silent crowd turned and watched, eager to see what would happen next. As the Rabbi called Jesus stood there with his arms slightly out to the side Berel felt his body moving forward regardless of his inner resistance, all of the feelings, the anguish, the sadness, the shame, the fear, the anger, all of resistance melted out of his soul until he fell down at the feet of the Rabbi.
Doron began violently writhing on the ground. The crowd gasped and the disciples looked down in shame. They had done miracles in the name of the Rabbi, but this, this was out of their league altogether.
Jesus squatted down, put his hand on Berel's shoulder. Instantly Berel felt Jesus' power wash away all the nagging thoughts Berel felt since Doron's birth, it was like he imagined drowning in the Dead Sea would feel, calm, soothing, no more struggling, just unconditional surrender without bargaining of any kind. No more 'ifs' such as 'if I pray more diligently', 'if only Maya', 'if...'
He lifted his head, his body shaking, his lips trembling, and with tears streaming down his face splattering on his son and onto the ground, he told the Rabbi the situation that everyone in the crowd had witnessed or heard about. "My son is possessed by demons. Your disciples could not cast him out".
Jesus looked back at his disciples with a mixture of disgust and frustration, wondering how long he could endure their failure to grasp such simple things. And then looked at Berel. "This type comes out only by prayer," he said matter of factly, resisting the urge to wink at Berel knowing how much he had suffered.
The moment Berel heard the word "prayer" he felt a tinge of shame that he might not be good enough to receive a miracle because he stopped praying a long time ago, just coping with the daily challenges while accepting food from others, some of who were looking at him right now, tears welling in their eyes. Berel looked around at the crowd, then picked up his son, shocked that he hadn't thought to do so sooner.
"Help us you can—" he whispered as his body trembled at what might happen next.
"If?" Jesus said, his eyes lovingly looking straight into Berel who was on his knees, holding his son for the last time. Jesus looked up and scanned the crowd, tears streaming down his face. He looked back at his disciples and again said "If?"
He turned back to Berel and sighed, "All things are possible for him who believes."
No longer able to contain the power of his spirit rising up in his soul, Berel shouted, "Help me in my unbelief!" Suddenly Doron went limp in his arms and Berel felt relief well up from inside his heart and rise upwards, tingling the top of his head. He sensed someone in the crowd wonder if Doron was dead. No, he's just finally resting. He felt Doron's heart beating through his emaciated body as Jesus stood up and lifted both Berel and Doron to their feet.
Hannah had stepped over by their sides, hugging both while beaming at Jesus who silently spoke to the three of them, "Anything is possible for him who believes."
Jesus turned to his disciples and began walking away. His disciples followed behind him silently talking among themselves what they had just witnessed, wondering again why they had healed others but not this boy. As they walked, Jesus remained silent, enjoying the peace of being in the desert, far from the cacophony and misery that was Jerusalem.
A short while later they came across the fig tree Jesus had cursed the day before.
"Look master! The fig tree you cursed is dead!" Upon inspecting it, they noticed it was withered from its roots. What!? How is that possible!? they wondered.
Sensing their wonder, Jesus sighed and sharply stated, "Anything is possible. You can tell this mountain 'be removed and cast into the sea' and if you don’t doubt, it will be done for you. " As he had done for Berel, he also did for the disciples, revealing his prayer that healed Berel who at that moment understood the prayer.