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Sunday, 5 May 2013

Choices for change

Have you ever felt stuck? A classic image for being stuck is of sinking into quicksand. There are at least 35 different movies in which a scene of that type features and we can all, no doubt, easily conjure up in our minds an image of someone stuck in that way. The Hammer Horror film of The Hound of the Baskervilles with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing is one such, with Watson escaping the quicksand in Grimpen Moor before Cecile Stapleton succumbs to the quicksand after Sherlock Holmes has uncovered her murderous plans.

Quicksand isn't actually as dangerous as it is made to look in the movies. Because your body is less dense than quicksand, you can't fully sink unless you panic and struggle too much. So, although you are to some extent physically stuck, your attitude of mind is also vital to your survival and ability to get free. If you panic you can sink further, but if you relax, your body's buoyancy will cause you to float.
Something similar may have been going on with the sick man in today’s Gospel reading (John 5. 1 - 9). This man was stuck. He had been lying beside the Pool of Bethzatha for the best part of 38 years. Along with all the others by the Pool, he was waiting for an angel to stir up the water as, when the water did move, the first sick person to go into the pool was healed from whatever disease s/he had. This man was never the first to make into the Pool and, therefore, had never been healed.
So he was stuck. He stayed by the Pool because he thought it was his only chance of being healed but he knew, in his mind, that he was never going to be the first one in and so would actually never be healed. Although he was unwell and, therefore, was to some extent physically stuck, his attitude of mind was also vital to his problem and was contributing to his feeling of being stuck.

When our health is being affected by both our mind and our body we call that psychosomatic. “Psychosomatic means mind (psyche) and body (soma). A psychosomatic disorder is a disease which involves both mind and body. Some physical diseases are thought to be particularly prone to be made worse by mental factors such as stress and anxiety. Your current mental state can affect how bad a physical disease is at any given time … treatments to ease stress, anxiety, depression, etc, may help if they are thought to be contributing to your physical disease.”

It is this issue – his attitude of mind - that Jesus seems to address when he speaks with this man. I say that because the first thing that Jesus asks him is whether or not he wants to get well. That seems a strange question for Jesus to ask, although it is one that he also asks others who come to him looking for healing.
Jesus is, perhaps, recognising that we all have the ability to adapt to our circumstances; that, maybe, after years of being stuck and years of disappointment, the man is subconsciously thinking that he is better being where he is than trying to change anything about his situation. After all, he is surrounded by other people – so there was a sense of community and support by the Pool – and, presumably, other people charitably brought food regularly to those who could not move from the Pool – so, they were not starving. We can end up accepting a situation which we don’t like because the prospect of change seems to involve a greater sense of risk. 
“Do you want to get well?” Jesus asks. The man’s answer is that he is stuck – he can’t get in the water first, therefore he can’t be healed. He is saying that he can’t see any alternative. He has no options, he is stuck.

So Jesus gives him an option - an alternative, a choice – by saying, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “I have healed you so get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” There is no mention of healing before the man gets up and moves. Instead, what Jesus did was to make it clear to the man that he had a choice and he had options; he could stay by the Pool and be stuck or he could get up and move away, in which case he would no longer be stuck.
When we are stuck, we often feel as though we have no choices and no options; there is nothing that we can do. This is, for example, commonly how people who get into significant levels of debt feel. We have all heard the stories of how levels of interest rapidly rise so people find themselves owing far more than they earn or will ever earn. In that situation, people feel swamped, overwhelmed by the extent of their debt and think that there is no way in which it can be repaid. But, if the person were to sit down with an adviser whether from the Citizens Advice Bureau or Christians Against Poverty or some other reputable organisation, a plan can be devised that will enable the debt to be paid bit by bit and the person enabled to move beyond it rather than be stuck in it.
While we feel like there are no options when we get stuck, the reality is that there are usually choices which we can make some of which may well help to rectify and change the situation. Jesus gave the man a choice, an option, an alternative - “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” It is only when he chooses change, gets up and walks away from the Pool that the man is said to have been healed.
So, this is not simply a story about a physical healing. Instead, it is about a change of mind which comes about as we see that we have options and actively choose to do something different. In the story, it is Jesus who helps the man see that he has choices. Jesus doesn’t provide a readymade solution for the man’s problem instead he comes alongside and helps him to choose change. It maybe that when you are feeling stuck that is what Jesus will offer to you too.
We often want and pray for the instant solution instead of looking at the choices we have and allowing Jesus to be alongside and supporting us as we choose. If we accept instant solutions we remain dependent on those who gave them to us. If we are helped to make choices, then we can continue to change and mature ourselves. As the proverb says, Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.’


Switchfoot - Dare You To Move.

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