Have you ever been between a rock and a hard place? That is an old expression which really means you are stuck. Perhaps your life is at an impasse. Perhaps you are at a fork in the road and can’t make a decision. Perhaps you would like to move forward but for reasons beyond your control you are paralyzed, unable to proceed.
How do we get unstuck? How can we be free to move forward and get on with our lives?
It’s normally at this point when we say “if only.” If only I had enough money to buy that bigger house. If only I had enough funds to get an education. If only I could rid myself of that obstacle and be free to do something different. If only there was a miracle cure for my health problem.
The man in our story played this game. If only he could get to the pool of healing water, he would be healed of his paralysis. If only someone would just take him there. However, his source of hope was in the superstition that the waters in the pool of Bethzatha would heal him. We also do the same for we often put our hope in pills, quick fixes or lottery winnings, just to name a few.
When Jesus saw him he realized the man was stuck. But, instead of carrying him to the pool he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The man answered that he had no one to carry him. Jesus, however said, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” Rather than oblige the man by carrying him to the healing pool, Jesus challenged him to walk away from it. If the man wanted to be healed he had to quit focusing on a miracle cure and move in a different direction. He had to be led away from the thing that was giving him false hope.
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One way to get unstuck is to turn from those things in life that are easy fixes. We have been conditioned to believe that a pill exists for everything. Advertisers are constantly trying to convince us that all we have to do is ask our doctor for some specific drug. And, easy credit has made it possible to purchase whatever we want to make us happy. We constantly receive notices in the mail telling us that we have been pre-approved for a certain amount of cash. All we have to do is go out and spend it.
Jesus is saying we need to quit focusing on the things in life that give us false hope and focus on him. “Stand up,” he said. How could the man possibly know he couldn’t walk away unless he truly tried? The man had become a victim, waiting for someone else to rescue him. Jesus wanted him to do something for himself. Rather than perceive himself as a victim Jesus wanted him to see himself as a whole person.
In Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul there is a story entitled, “Miracle in the Gym.” Steve Schulten was the physical education teacher at Little Harbour School in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He was popular with parents and children. He was known for his compassion and his love of teaching. Schulten included children in his phys-ed classes who were in wheelchairs.
Elizabeth Ripley told his mother, Kimberly, something that really surprised her. One day she came home and said, “I got to push Tyler’s wheelchair in gym today.” The boy could not possibly compete with the other children, so how could he gain anything from gym class? One day Kimberly arrived early at school while her daughter was still in gym class. She peeked through the door and witnessed a miracle in the making. Elizabeth was pushing Tyler around in his wheelchair from one side of the gym to the other. Kids would say, “Way to go, Tyler,” or “Was that fun, Tyler?” The other kids hugged him and patted him.
Kimberly had no idea what Tyler was getting from the experience but she could easily observe that the other children were showing compete tolerance in a world of discrimination. They treated this mentally and physically challenged boy as part of the group. In addition to teaching the children about physical fitness and good health, Schulten was teaching compassion. Tyler was being treated as a whole person just as Jesus was treating the man in the story as a whole person.
God doesn’t see us as deficient people. God doesn’t want us to be stuck. God doesn’t want us to put our hope in things that give us a false sense of security. What gets us unstuck is God’s love for us and our focus on God, not instant cure-alls.
When Jesus encountered the man he said there was no one to help him. He had given up. He had resigned himself to a state of hopelessness. So what did Jesus do? He asked the impossible. “Stand up.” This almost seems cruel. How could an invalid stand up? Perhaps he was saying, “Quit feeling sorry for yourself.” Or, perhaps he was coaching him like he had never been coached before. Or, perhaps something else is going on here.
I believe Jesus told him to “stand up,” because he saw in him what no one else had ever seen; potential. Jesus saw him as a whole human being, like the kids in Steve Schulten’s class, who saw Tyler as a whole human being. In Jesus’ day, invalids were not considered a vital part of the community. But, Jesus sees everyone as vital. No handicap, no illness, no psychological disorder separates us from the love of God.
Jesus even takes it a step further. Not only does he tell the man to stand up, he tells him to take his mat with him. In other words, he doesn’t want him to return to his state of helplessness. As long as that mat remains near the pool, the man could have a relapse and return. In that case, all would be lost. Jesus cut off any possibility of him going back. If you have given up some self-destructing habit, like smoking for instance, the last thing you want is to have a pack of cigarettes in your dresser drawer. The only way to walk in a new direction is to eliminate the resource that would make it easy for you to return.
It would appear that this is just another miracle story, where a man who could not walk was healed by Jesus and was then able to walk. When you carefully read the story you will note that Jesus did nothing to cure him. He didn’t touch him, he didn’t say, “believe and you will be made well,” he didn’t even pray. What he did do was redirect the man’s focus away from the pool and toward God.
By focusing on God we become unstuck. The difficult decisions we need to make can be resolved when we focus on God. We will experience newness when we walk away from those things in life that are nothing more than a “Band-Aid” approach that make us feel better, but only temporarily. We can be healed of all bitterness, anger and worry when we “walk” toward God.
My weekly workout includes a one-mile run. But, recently I hurt my foot and I have to stay off of it for a few months in order for it to heal. Running helps me keep the weight off and I’m afraid that if I don’t run I will start to gain weight. Like all good Americans I asked my doctor for some anti-inflammatory medicine to ease the pain so I could get back on the running track again. My foot started feeling better and last Wednesday I attempted to run. After a half-mile run I had to quit. The pain was too great.
So much for anti-inflammatory drugs. But then I started thinking about this story. Am I any different than the man who focused on the pool for healing? For whatever reason, at the moment I need to walk, not run. My foot needs medicine, but it also needs rest.
When Jesus told the man to “walk” it didn’t make any sense. But it was exactly what he needed to do to get unstuck. The word, “walk” is what I need to hear too. My focus, like all of you, needs to be on what God wants for me, not some man-made source that can only give me false hope. The man’s hope, my hope, and your hope is when we walk toward God.