The Weak Receive Strength Through Obedience: Homily for the Sunday of the Paralytic in the Orthodox Church

Acts 9:32-42; John 5:1-15

Christ is Risen!

On the previous two Sundays, the Church called us to focus on how particular people responded to our Lord’s death and resurrection.  Thomas did not believe until he saw and touched the wounds of the Risen Savior.     Joseph of Arimathea took Christ’s body down from the Cross and, with the help of Nicodemus, buried Him.  The myrrh-bearing women went to the tomb very early in the morning in order to anoint their dead Lord as a final sign of love for Him.   That is how they became the first witnesses to His resurrection.

As we continue to celebrate His glorious rising on the third day, the Church directs us to a very different event:  the Savior’s healing of a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years.  The man, whose name we do not know, was in the pathetic situation of being right by a pool of water where he could be healed, but due to his paralysis he was unable to enter it before someone else received the miracle.  It may be hard for us to understand what this man’s circumstances and healing have to do with celebrating Pascha.

A key point to keep in mind is that the Savior died and rose up in order to heal fallen humanity, spiritually weak and sick, and enslaved ultimately to death.   In such a corrupt state, we lacked the strength to fulfill our calling to become like God in holiness, and certainly could not overcome the ultimate paralysis of the grave.  The man in our gospel lesson was near the Temple in Jerusalem, for the pool provided water for washing lambs before they were slaughtered. The scene occurs at the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which commemorated Moses receiving the Law, which had been given by angels. Both the Old Testament Law and the sacrificial worship of the Temple foreshadowed the coming of Christ, but they lacked the power to heal the soul from the ravages of sin, including bondage to the grave.   He fulfilled them both as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.  He took upon Himself the wages of sin, death itself, from which He liberated us in His resurrection to become “partakers of the divine nature” by grace.  He conquered death in order to heal, strengthen, and restore the human person in God’s image and likeness.

The paralyzed man represents us all who lack the power to move ourselves to complete healing of body, soul, and spirit. He did not call out to Christ to help him or even know the Savior’s name.  Instead, the Lord graciously reached out to him, asking the seemingly obvious question, “Do you want to be healed?”  Why would anyone who had endured thirty-eight years of paralysis not want to be made well?  Think for a moment, however, about how easy it is to adapt to our habitual sins such that they become second nature to us. In order to be healed, we must stop wallowing in our comfort zones and instead struggle to obey the Lord’s command: “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.”  That means we must trust in His liberation of the human person from slavery to the fear of death by rising up in obedience.  That is the only way to open ourselves to receive His gracious divine energies for our growth in holiness as we come to share more fully in the eternal life of our Lord.  Doing so is never as easy as lying comfortably in bed, for we must stop resting content with whatever forms of corruption have taken root in our souls and reorient our lives to God. That is what repentance is all about.

The man in today’s gospel reading would never have found healing had he chosen to remain as he had been for thirty-eight years. Lying still for a long time makes us weak and unable to move on our own.  The same will be true of us spiritually if we do not embrace the struggle to cooperate with the mercy of the Lord by serving Him as faithfully as we presently have the strength to do. The more accustomed we become to any sin, and especially the more we accept the lie that embracing that sin is somehow part of becoming who God calls us to be, the less spiritual strength we will have to receive the healing that the Savior died and rose again to bring to the world.

Working weak muscles makes them tired and sore and tempts us to give up, but when we do so, they remain weak.  In order to become stronger, we must push the limits of our weakness.  That is true both physically and spiritually.  That is how we open ourselves to receive His healing, regardless of how weak we have made ourselves.  Doing so may well seem difficult and scary.

After a lifetime of not moving, the paralyzed man could not have found it easy to obey Christ’s command to stand up, pick up his bed, and walk.  He had learned how to survive as an invalid, but now the Savior was directing him to a very different life, the challenges of which he could not predict.

We may feel the same way, for all too often we have become comfortable with living as people enslaved to passions which are fueled by the fear of death.  If we think that the measure of our lives extends no further than the pleasure we can find before we die, then the temptation will be great to indulge ourselves in whatever makes life more bearable and distracts us from despair about the ultimate pointlessness of our existence.  Because of the good news of the resurrection of the Savior, however, we do not have to continue in the weakness that comes from doing whatever it takes to distract us from anxieties caused by the fear of the grave. The joy of the empty tomb calls us to do the hard work of reorienting our lives to share more fully in the ultimate healing of the human person in God’s image and likeness that our Risen Savior has accomplished.  We must live as those who already know the blessedness of life eternal as we look for the coming fullness of the Kingdom of God.  That is the only way to gain the strength to become more truly ourselves in His image and likeness.

We celebrate Pascha by participating personally in the Lord’s victory over Hades and the grave, and there is simply no way to do that which does not require obedience to the command that Christ gave to the paralyzed man.  By His resurrection, the Savior enables us all to rise up from our comfortable beds of sin and bear witness that something radically new has come into the world through the Cross and empty tomb.  Not by our own power, but by humbly accepting His, we may all know healing and strength beyond our present ability.  All that we must do is to take the steps we can to embrace the life of our Risen Lord through obedience.  That is how we will come to know our weakness and open ourselves to receive His strength, which we can never earn or deserve.  That is how we will encounter the Savior as truly as did Thomas, Joseph, Nicodemus, and the myrrh-bearing women.  We must want to be healed in order to move forward in obedience as we share more fully in the good news that “Christ is Risen!”

 

6 comments:

  1. Another wonderful sermon. Well prepared and thought out. I would add though that we have the responsibility not to function as people who enable a lack healing in others. We need to enable all that is good in people and not what is unhealthy in them.

    1. Andrew:
      Christ is Risen!
      You are absolutely correct. Enabling others to remain immobilized and weak does no one any good at all.
      Thanks very much for your comment.
      In our Risen Lord,
      Fr. Philip

  2. Fr. Philip LeMasters,

    Christ is risen!!!

    Another great Sunday sermon blog post which focuses on quality rather than quantity of posts.

    Thanks

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