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Only the Wounded May Serve

A Thornton Wilder play called The Angel That Troubled the Waters is based loosely on John 5:1-4. A physician comes periodically to the pool of Bethesda, hoping to be the first into the moving water after the angel's visit, and so be healed of his depression. Some of the more obviously afflicted individuals waiting by the pool are alarmed at the doctor's presence, for he seems inclined to compete with them in their rush to the healing waters.

The angel himself blocks the doctor from stepping into the water:

THE ANGEL: Draw back, physician, this moment is not for you.

THE NEWCOMER: Angelic visitor, I pray thee, listen to my prayer.

THE ANGEL: Healing is not for you.

THE NEWCOMER: Surely, surely, the angels are wise. Surely, O prince, you are not deceived by my apparent wholeness. Your eyes can see the nets in which my wings are caught; the sin into which all my endeavors sink half performed cannot be concealed from you.

THE ANGEL: I know.

THE NEWCOMER: It is no shame to boast to an angel of what I might yet do in love's service were I but freed from this bondage.

THE MISTAKEN INVALID: Surely the water is stiffing strangely today! Surely I shall be whole!

THE ANGEL: l must make haste. Already the sky is afire with the gathering host, for it is the hour of the new song among us. The earth itself feels the preparation in the skies and attempts its hymns. Children born in this hour spend all their lives in a sharper longing for the perfection that awaits them.

THE NEWCOMER: Oh, in such an hour was I born, and doubly fearful to me is the flaw in my heart. Must I drag my shame, prince and singer, all my days more bowed than my neighbor?

THE ANGEL (Stands a moment in silence): Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very remorse that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In love's service only the wounded soldiers can serve. Draw back.

- Thornton Wilder, Donald Clifford Gallup, A. Tappan Wilder, The Collected Short Plays of Thornton Wilder, Volume 2 (Theatre Communications Group, 1998), pp. 73-74.


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