Sunday of the Paralytic, May 7, 2017
Acts 9:32-42; John 5:1-15
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Christ is risen!
Do you ever wonder what it might have been like to be with the Apostles during those exciting days after Pentecost, when they were sent forth into the whole world to preach the Gospel? We see in the passage ready today from Acts a little of how amazing this must have been.
In the reading from Acts 9 appointed for this fourth Sunday of Pascha, Peter performs two miracles. In the first, he heals a paralyzed man named Aeneas, who had been lying in bed for eight years. He says to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; arise and make your bed.” And then Aeneas gets up immediately. And in the second miracle, Peter raises a woman named Tabitha from the dead.
When we see these miracles in Scripture, even if we believe that they really happened, we may be tempted to distance them from us. We might think: “Those things happened a long time ago. But they don’t happen now.” Or we might think: “The Apostles were so holy that they could do those things, but I’m not like that.”
And so we hear these stories of the great saints of old, and we may feel as spiritually paralyzed as Aeneas lying in his bed. Or as spiritually dead as Tabitha, who got sick and died.
We also read in the Gospel today the account of Jesus healing another paralytic. This one had been ill for thirty-eight years. He is lying next to the pool of Bethesda, which had five porticoes. In the porticoes were many sick people. He is surrounded by sick people. It’s not just the paralyzed but also invalids, the blind and the crippled. They are all there because there is something special about that pool.
At that time, at certain seasons, an angel would step into the pool and stir up the water. Then whoever got into the pool first after that happened would be cured of his disease. This was an amazing miracle, but the paralyzed man could not ever get into the pool himself when the angel came, because he was paralyzed and had no one to put him in. So he just lay there, watching other people get their miracles and wondering if his would ever come.
I sometimes feel like that paralytic, lying in the hospital of souls that is the Orthodox Church and its tradition, seeing so many amazing and powerful stories of miracles and profound conversions, and I wonder why they’re not more frequent, why they’re not the norm for life in the Church. When do I get to have my miracle? Why can’t I perform miracles like the Apostles and saints? Shouldn’t this be normal in Christianity? It sure looks like it in the Book of Acts.
There are several things we can say here. First, we should mention that what we might think of as “supernatural” miracles (though really we mean spectacular miracles, because we do have a miracle that happens here at least once a week as bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ)—these things still happen. Just a little over a week ago, with my own eyes I watched miraculous holy oil dripping spontaneously from a myrrh-streaming icon. This icon of the Virgin Mary is found at the Church of St. George in Taylor, Pennsylvania, which is only 75 miles from here. And the priest who is the keeper of the icon has literally volumes of stories about miracles associated with the icon. So these things do happen.
But we should also say that these kinds of miracles are not really the most important. St. John Chrysostom, for instance, is famous for having said that love is greater than raising the dead and that feeding the hungry in the name of Christ is greater than raising the dead. And if these “ordinary” things in Christian life are greater even than raising the dead, what does that mean for the kinds of miracles we should really be looking for? In my experience as a Christian and pastor, I might add that I think it is a greater miracle that someone’s spiritual heart should truly convert to Christ than that their physical heart should be cured of a deadly disease.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care when Peter heals Aeneas or raises Tabitha, nor that it’s not important that Jesus gave strength to the paralytic in the Gospel. Rather, we should look at these miracles in Scripture and in our own times—even spectacular ones—as the Lord would have us see them. So let’s look at the context more closely with all three of these miracles.
In the case of Aeneas, Peter comes to this paralyzed man in Lydda and says to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; arise and make your bed.” Peter doesn’t say, “Aeneas, I heal you” or even “Aeneas, be healed.” Peter tells him that Jesus Christ is healing him. And what happens next? The Scripture says, “And all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned back to the Lord.”
Then when Peter raises Tabitha of Joppa from the dead, he says, “Tabitha, arise!” We don’t read that Peter specifically mentions Jesus here. However, what happens after Tabitha gets up from the dead? The Scripture says, “And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.” Again, we get that detail—people turned to the Lord believed in the Lord.
Now let’s look at what happens when Jesus raises the paralytic in the Gospel reading from John. After he is healed, he is interrogated by some Jews there, because the healing had happened on the Sabbath. He doesn’t quite understand what happened to him, but he knows he can walk now. And he runs into Jesus in the Temple a bit later. Jesus tells him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” And then? It says, “The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus Who had healed him.” Again, people are being directed to Jesus as a result of the miracle.
So what is the point of these miracles? Is it really about relieving temporary suffering or death? Those are good things to do, but they are not the point. After all, everyone healed by Jesus or the Apostles eventually dies. So that was temporary. The point of the miracles is to point people to Jesus, so that they will believe in Him and follow Him.
When I saw that miraculous icon dripping beautifully fragrant holy oil, which seemed to come out of everywhere and nowhere on the icon, I was struck by how moving the experience was for everyone, especially as they were anointed with the oil. But what was most important was what the priest said after the service was done. He told us that we should be assured that God really does love us.
In other words, the whole point of this miracle which has been flowing from this icon for six years now, is that people should turn to the Lord Jesus, that they should believe in Him. Why? Because He loves them. His love raised Aeneas and the paralytic at Bethesda from paralysis. His love raised Tabitha of Joppa from the dead. And His love is given to us through every kind of love He shows us and that his followers pass on to us, even if we don’t think of it as miraculous. But it is miraculous. Love is always miraculous. Love steps out from selfish desire and leaves it behind.
And it was love that brought Him to the cross. And it was love that raised Him from the dead. And that is the miracle upon which the whole Christian faith is founded. Will that miracle have the same effect on us as it did on those healed in today’s Scripture readings? Let us also turn back to the Lord and believe in Him as the One Who loves mankind.
To the risen Lord of Love, Jesus Christ, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, be all glory, honor and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Christ is risen!