Sunday of the Paralytic, May 15, 2022
Acts 9:32-42; John 5:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Christ is risen!
As we continue in the joy and freedom of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we hear from the Scriptures how Christ healed the paralytic lying by the Sheep’s Pool, related by the Apostle John in the fifth chapter of his Gospel. I want to talk about this story by starting with something that happens at the end.
In John 5:14, we read this:
Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”
When we hear Jesus say this, it puts a frame over the whole story that we did not have up until that point. If you look at what some Church Fathers say who comment on this passage, they affirm that Jesus’ words mean that the paralytic was in the state he was because of his sins, thus, Jesus says: “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”
If we read this with a very surface reading, understanding this saying of Jesus with what we might think of as “pop theology,” then our take-away is that if you do something bad, then God will punish you. Jesus heals this guy, letting him off his punishment, but warns him that he will be punished again if he sins again, and it will be worse this time – basically, He’s letting him off on probation.
And it’s understandable that people think this way. They see people do good things in the Scripture, and God blesses them. They see them do wicked things, and God sends them punishments. At least, that’s how it appears.
But let’s go deeper.
We read at the beginning of the passage how at this Sheep’s Pool at a certain time an angel would descend into the water and heal whomever stepped in first. And this man lay there for thirty-eight years, desiring to be healed, but he had no one to get him into the water first. This could have been his cure, but he couldn’t access it.
Now, we do not know what this man did that brought him into paralysis. The Scriptures do not tell us. But we do know that he did sin and that that sin led to his paralysis.
Note that Jesus did not say to the man, “Sin no more, lest God punish you even more.” Rather, He said, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”
The reason why sin leads to disease and other distortions of the human person is that sin is not natural to us. It is not what we were made for. It is not inherent to the human nature that God created for us. So when we sin, we are making use of what can be called rightly an “alien power.”
And where does that power come from? Not from God, Who cannot sin. Rather, this dark energy is demonic in origin. When we sin, we are using the powers of demons. And because it is alien to us, it destroys and distorts human nature.
We see this distortion in a number of places in Scripture, expressed particularly vividly with people who are deeply involved with demons directly—they live among the tombs, they have become sub-human. In the Old Testament, we see King Nebuchadnezzar become bestial in form, like a wild animal—almost a werewolf.
Now, I am not saying that everyone who gets sick is sick because he is demonically sinning. We see that saints become sick and even die from that sickness. But some sickness distorts the human person and darkens him and makes him sub-human, and we do not see this with the sickness the saints suffer. The dehumanization effect comes because of sin. We become demonic by living like demons. This man is paralyzed because of his sins.
This effect is what the Lord Jesus was referring to when He said to some of the leaders of the Judaeans in John 8 that their father had become the devil. They are like the devil because they act like the devil.
Again, we do not know what sins this paralytic committed, but we do know that his paralysis was bound up in sin. And being “bound up” is an appropriate way to refer to someone who cannot move. It is also appropriate to refer to someone who has descended into sin—he is captive, unable to function as a true human. He is paralyzed. And therefore, forgiveness of sin is often described in the Scripture as being “loosed,” that is, set free.
Notice that in this passage the paralysis of sin is set in juxtaposition to being involved in healing angelic energies—the angelic power in the Sheep’s Pool. The paralytic is very close to the possibility of participating in angelic power, but instead he is bound by the demonic power he had brought upon himself through sin. So, on the one hand is freedom through the ministry of angels but on the other side is paralysis through participation with demons.
Jesus comes to the man and asks him if he desires to be healed. Does he give his consent? He gives it. And Jesus heals him and commands him to take up his bed and walk. He takes it up, proving that he has been restored to health, to his full humanity.
Some of the Judaeans object—it is the Sabbath, so he shouldn’t be working by carrying his bed. But he was being faithful to the command that the Lord of the Sabbath had given him, so what he did was lawful. He was faithful to Jesus, so he was strengthened. And when he finds out Who had healed him, he goes and tells others what God had done for him.
In this Scripture we see the effect on the human person of both sin and holiness. With sin, we become distorted. And the more we sin, the greater the distortion gets. As Jesus said, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” We have all had the experience of developing a sinful habit, and its effects on us get worse and worse the deeper we go. It gets harder and harder to break that habit. And we can become paralyzed in sin.
With the encounter with what is holy and our assent and participation with it, we are restored to our humanity as God created us to be. In this story the man did not have the encounter with the angel’s power, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. It was real and had been sent by God. But in this man’s case, His encounter with the holiness of God, with God’s healing energies, was directly from the Person of the incarnate Jesus Christ Himself.
The Christian life is not easy, but it actually is simple. When we clearly understand what sin and holiness are, then our choice to turn away from sin and be holy becomes clear, too.
As we are tempted to sin, we should remember the words of Jesus, that our sin will bring us into paralysis and worse, because sin is participation with the alien demonic power that destroys human nature.
And as we see opportunities to be faithful to the holiness of God, then we see that this faithfulness becomes for us the conduit of the healing grace of God. Through faithfulness, we participate in the energies of God, and the human person is restored and elevated.
Our Savior Jesus Christ, the first-fruits of those that slept, has gone on before us in resurrection and ascension. The saints are following Him by their faithfulness. So let us join their number.
To the risen Lord 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!
When you hit the nail on the head, like you did, it resonates and answers questions you didn’t even know you had. Outstanding! (From Fr. Philip and Kh. Tamera Pelikan)
I feel like on some level I’ve known this intellectually – that sin distorts and paralyzes us. But I’ve had an intimate experience of it recently having allowed myself to be captured by some habitual sins for a period of time. My perception of reality and of God became increasingly distorted. It only became vividly clear following Confession and repentance. I could see how my viewed God, His love and my desire for Him and His kingdom, was marred and diminished. In retrospect it was a truly frightening experience. “That we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let’s us ask of the Lord!”
I get your point about sin distorting and paralyzing us. However, as someone who has suffered acutely from a panoply of autoimmune diseases, I find this entry disturbing. Those of us who suffer for decades must fight the inclination to believe we did something wrong in our own self care or in some other way to deserve having our lives decimated in such a way. Each disease and each worsening is like an amputation of another aspect of our lives (e.g., I was very athletic. Now, I never know whether I’ll be vertical on any given day, so, besides the inactivity, I’m basically homebound. I can’t sign up for anything that requires attendance on a certain day & time. ) I have lived as closely to Jesus’s principles as I possibly could all my life. Kindness, charity, and mercy have been my guiding principles. I’ve prayed to see some point in this tremendous amt of suffering and find none. Again, I get your point, but the chronically ill do not need any add’l discouragement. Also, the idea of demonic power runs contrary to much of my Orthodox study. God gave us the power and choice to be close to Him or to reject him. Demons do not cause us to sin. We make those decisions by our own human free will and nature. This talk of demons smacks of the ultra right wing fundamentalists and not our beautiful Orthodoxy.
1) My text is explicit that not all illness results from the sin of the person suffering. Indeed, we should recall the man born blind, whom Christ explicitly says was not blind because of his sin or even his parents’. In any event, just because A results in B does not mean that everywhere we see B that it must be the result of A. Not all effects have a single cause. That means that just because you see illness doesn’t mean that someone sinned. But sin can indeed cause illness, and the only reason illness is even in the world at all is because of sin. Our sins affect and harm each other.
2) I also did not say that demons cause us to sin. But demons are certainly involved in sin, as is very explicit in Scripture, starting from the first sins we see in Genesis. And even Christ Himself referred to sinners of his time as children of the devil. Sin came into the world because of demons, and when humans sin, we’re joining them in their rebellion against God. This isn’t some “right wing fundamentalist” thing. This is just the Bible, and it’s also what we see throughout the rest of Church history, in which the saints, our liturgical texts, etc., all refer to the spiritual life as a battle against the enemies of God, who are the demons. Christ Himself came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Demons are mentioned hundreds of times in the Scripture and everywhere in our liturgical tradition. Indeed, casting them out at baptism is what begins the Orthodox Christian life. Pretending like demons don’t exist and/or can’t affect us is not Christian at all. Demons are real, and battling against their influence is a lot of what our life as Christians is about.
I respectfully suggest that you pay much closer attention to the Scripture and the hymns of the Church.
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