We all know what it’s like to want to stay in bed in the morning. We’re sleepy, comfortable, and warm; we would like to turn off the alarm clock and go back to sleep. Now it’s fine to do that every once in a while when we really don’t need to get up and get going. But if we get in the habit of sleeping in, we’ll probably lose our jobs, neglect our families, do poorly in school, and be less than the people God wants us to be.
And if we’re tempted to stay in bed sometimes, imagine how the paralyzed man in our gospel reading felt. He had probably stayed in bed his whole life; he could move only if people carried him. But Jesus Christ not only forgave his sins that day, He gave him the ability to stand up and walk. In fact, He commanded Him to “arise, take up your bed, and go to your home.” He was to get on with living the new life that Christ had given him.
We don’t know how this man felt; he was probably profoundly grateful to the Lord for changing His life. But think for a minute about how hard it may have been for him to obey Christ’s command. He knew how to live as a paralyzed person, how to be dependent upon others. That’s probably the only life he had known and all of a sudden that changed. I imagine that that could be pretty unsettling and scary.
Sometimes even people who know that they have ruined their lives are often terrified by the possibility of living differently. They may not like how they’ve lived so far, but at least they know how to live that way, they know what to expect. They’ve become comfortable with their lifestyles at some level, no matter how miserable they are. The same may have been true of this paralyzed man. So it was probably with fear and trembling that He got up, picked up his bed, and walked home.
In this season of Great Lent, we are all called to see ourselves in this paralyzed man. For we have become too comfortable with our own sins, our own habits of thought, word, and deed, even though they have weakened and distorted us. Despite our best intentions, we live like slaves to our self-centered desires: pride, envy, anger, lust, self-righteousness, fear, laziness, and gluttony so easily paralyze us. Sin has put down roots in our bad habits of how we think, act, speak, and relate to others and to God. We often can’t even imagine what it’s like to live free from the domination of our own passions and sins. And we certainly can’t heal ourselves of these spiritual sicknesses by will power. At a deep level in our souls, we find it almost impossible at times to practice self-control.
The good news is that we can all still do what so many truly repentant sinners did when they encountered Jesus Christ: In humility, they opened their lives to His mercy. They touched the hem of His garment and fell down before Him; they cried, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” from the depths of their hearts; they left their nets, gave their goods to the poor, and literally gave up their lives to be His disciples and apostles. Like us, they were weakened by their sins and afraid of what the new life in Christ would entail. But they still obeyed—with fear and trembling—our Lord’s command to: “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Despite their fears and weaknesses, they moved forward, they stepped out, they pressed on in the journey to the Kingdom.
In Lent, we pray, fast, give to the needy, and mend our broken relationships with one another; as we prepare to celebrate the joy of Christ’s resurrection, we should turn away from any sin, bad habit, or unhealthy relationship that isn’t pleasing to God. If we take Lent seriously, we will often feel like someone recovering from paralysis or in physical therapy. We will struggle, become uncomfortable, and wrestle with fears, frustrations, and doubts. Often we will be tempted to stay in bed, to give up and take it easy. How tragic it would have been for the man in our gospel lesson to have done that, to have disobeyed the Lord’s command to embrace His healing and move forward into a new life. And how tragic it will be for us if we choose the false comfort of our sins and passions over the glorious freedom of the children of God.
But how truly wonderful it will be for us to use Lent as a time to wake-up, to recognize that it is through the challenges of repentance that we open our lives to the healing and peace of the Lord. Let us use these few weeks to turn from the weakness and slavery of sin to enter more fully into the strength and blessedness of life eternal that shines so brightly at Pascha. For the Lord’s command also applies to us: “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” In other words, accept and live the new life that Christ has given you. This was good, though difficult, news for the paralyzed man to receive; now it’s our turn to follow his example, to trust that the Lord really can heal us, and to obey His command to get on with our lives to the glory of God.