On a trip to the United Kingdom, our family visited a castle. In the center of the castle garden sat a maze. Row after row of shoulder high hedges, leading to one dead end after another. Successfully navigate the labyrinth and you’ll discover the door to a tall tower in the center of the garden. Were you to look at our family pictures of the trip, you’d see four of our five family members standing on the top of the tower. Hmmm, someone is still on the ground. Guess who? I was stuck in the foliage. I just couldn’t figure out which way to go.
It’s terrible to be stuck. You may have never been stuck in castle hedges, but you know what it’s like to feel stuck. Lodged between a rock and a hard place, unable to escape. Stuck with parents who won’t listen or employees who won’t change. Stuck with a harsh boss or a stubborn addiction.
The man near the pool of Bethesda didn’t use the word stuck, but he could have. For thirty-eight years near the edge of a pool, it was just him, his mat, and his paralyzed body. And since no one would help him, help never came.
Jesus was drawn to the stuck, and on one particular day he was drawn to the pool of Bethesda. As Jesus approached, his eyes landed upon the main character of this miracle, a man who “had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, ‘Would you like to get well?’” (John 5:5–6 NLT).
What an odd question to ask a sick person: Would you like to get well? Why would Jesus pose such a question? Doesn’t every sick person want to get well?
Well, the response of the man at the pool makes me think otherwise.
“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” (v. 7 NLT)
Really? No one will help you? Someone else always gets ahead of you? In thirty-eight years you couldn’t inch your way down to the pool? Persuade someone to give you a hand? 38 years and absolutely no progress?
Christ’s question takes on a firm tone: Do you want to get well? Or do you like being sick? You have a good thing going here. Your tin cup collects enough coins to buy the beans and bacon. Not a bad gig. Besides, healing would be disruptive. Getting well means getting up, getting a job, and getting to work. Getting on with life. Do you really want to be healed?
That’s the question Christ asked then. That’s the question Christ asks all of us.
Do you want to get . . . sober? Solvent? Educated? Better? Do you want to get in shape? Over your past? Beyond your upbringing? Do you want to get stronger, healthier, happier?
Life feels stuck when life makes no progress. When you battle the same discouragement you faced a decade ago or struggle with the same fears you faced a year ago. When you wake up to the same hang-ups and habits. When Bethesda becomes a permanent mailing address. When you feel as though everyone gets to the pool before you and nobody wants to help you.
If that is you and you want to get unstuck, pay close attention to this promise: Jesus sees you. And Jesus has better vision than you.
While I was wandering around in circles, stuck in the foilage of the castle hedges, I finally heard a voice from above. “Hey, Dad.” I looked up to see my daughter Sara, peering through the turret at the top. “You’re going the wrong way,” she explained. “Back up and turn right.” I didn’t have to listen to her. I could have trusted my own instincts and wandered a while longer, determined to figure it out myself. Or, I could have pretended that I wanted to be admiring hedges, or I could have sat and pouted and wondered why God would let this happen to me.
But do you know what I did? I listened and followed her instructions. Her vantage point was better than mine. She was above the maze. She could see what I couldn’t. Don’t you think we should listen to Jesus’ instructions? Can he not see what eludes us? Doesn’t he want to get us unstuck and bring us home?
This Bethesda of your life does not have to be your landscape forever. Jesus has a new destination for your life. He says to you what he said to the man at the pool: “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” (v. 8 nlt).
Stand up. Do something. Take action. Write a letter. Apply for the job. Reach out to a counselor. Get help. Get radical. Stand up.
Pick up your mat. Make a clean break with the past. Clean out your liquor cabinet. Throw out the junky novels. Quit hanging with the bad crowd. Drop the boyfriend like a bad habit. Put porn filters on your phone and computer. Talk to a debt counselor.
And walk. Lace up your boots and hit the trail. Assume that something good is going to happen. Set your sights on Jesus, your north star, and begin the hike. Getting unstuck means getting excited about getting out. Heed the invitation of this miracle: believe in the Jesus who believes in you. He believes that you can rise up, take up and move on.