Obedience to the Risen Lord Overcomes the Paralysis of our Souls: Homily for the Sunday of the Paralytic in the Orthodox Church

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

Christ is Risen!

During the season of Pascha, the Church calls our attention to how particular people responded to our Lord, Who rose from the dead on the third day. 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 became the first witnesses to His resurrection when they went to the tomb very early in the morning in order to anoint the Lord’s dead body as a final sign of love for Him.

The gospel reading on this Sunday of the Paralytic is very different from those, for it focuses on 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 tragic 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.  At first glance, we may wonder what these events, which happened before the Lord’s Passion, have to do with celebrating Pascha. Those who view the Cross in legalistic terms about satisfying justice or paying a debt will be especially confused about why we are commemorating today the healing of the paralyzed man. But when we focus on how, through His victory over death, Christ heals and delivers us from the corruption, weakness, and despair of being enslaved to death, which is the wages of sin, we will see the connection clearly. Before His resurrection, we lacked the strength to fulfill our calling to become beautiful living icons of God’s holiness, and obviously could not overcome the ultimate paralysis of the grave.  During Pascha, we enter into the joyful blessedness of the One Who brings life to the dead and liberates us from paralysis in all its forms.

The paralyzed man was near the Temple in Jerusalem, right by the pool that 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. The Old Testament Law and the sacrificial worship of the Temple foreshadowed the coming of Christ, but they could not provide healing from the degrading ravages of sin, including bondage to the grave.   The Savior fulfilled both as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.  Our Great High Priest offered Himself on the Cross as He entered fully into death itself, from which He liberated us by His resurrection to become “partakers of the divine nature” by grace.  He did so in order to restore and fulfill us in God’s image and likeness as He set us free from the paralysis of sin and death in all their manifestations.  We were radically sick and needed the care of the Great Physician that shines from the empty tomb.

The plight of the paralyzed man shows us the common condition of fallen humanity.  None of us took the initiative in bringing salvation to the world and this fellow did not ask Christ to help him or even know His name.  The Lord graciously reached out to him, nonetheless, asking the seemingly obvious question, “Do you want to be healed?”  The Savior’s words should challenge each of us because we often become so comfortable with our weaknesses, desires, and habits that we do not think that we need healing at all.  We so easily accept the lie that being “true to ourselves” means defining ourselves in terms of our passions and acting accordingly.  To do so, however, is to deny the truth of our Lord’s resurrection, for He has destroyed the enslaving power of sin and death, making us participants in His healing, restoration, and fulfillment of the human person.  Instead of embracing personally His great liberation, we too often make the tragic choice of living as though He were still in the tomb.

Apart from uniting ourselves to Christ, we all lack the ability to find healing for our souls every bit as much as the paralyzed man who could not move himself into the water of the pool.  In order to accept the Lord’s merciful healing and strength, we must recognize the painful truth about ourselves as we take intentional, if faltering, steps to obey His command: “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.”  No matter how great the struggle, how weak we feel, or how scared we are of an uncertain future, we must rise up in obedience in order to participate personally in His victory over the paralysis of sin and death.

Embracing His healing will never be as easy in the moment as resting content with whatever forms of corruption we have allowed to dominate our hearts and become second nature to us.  After a lifetime of not moving, the paralyzed man could not have found it easy to obey Christ’s command to stand, pick up his bed, and walk.  He had learned how to survive as an invalid, but the Savior called him to a very different life, the challenges of which he could not have known or predicted.  He must have been at least a bit afraid about what would lie ahead. We can become paralyzed with fear when we come to see our spiritual infirmities, and the grip that they have upon us, more clearly.  It may then seem unimaginable that we could ever truly find healing and be set free from their grasp.

When we are tempted to such fearful despair, we must remember that the man in today’s gospel reading would never have been able to walk had he insisted on remaining as he had been for thirty-eight years out fear, habit, or any other motivation. Lying still for a long time inevitably makes us weak and unable to move.  The same will remain true of us spiritually if we do not undertake the struggle to receive the healing 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 freely becoming our true selves, the weaker we will become before it.  The longer we insist on remaining enslaved to our passions, the less inclination we will have to offer the deepest desires of our hearts for purification through the Savior Who died and rose again.  As the God-Man, Christ Himself is the healing, restoration, and fulfillment of the human person. Entrusting ourselves to Him requires that we refuse to remain paralyzed before our sins and instead take the tiny steps that we can today to open ourselves to the holy strength that has overcome even death itself.

Instead of obsessing about fear of the unknown, we must mindfully entrust ourselves to the mercy of the One Who is healing and strengthening us in ways we cannot fully understand as we struggle to reorient our lives to Him, even in very small ways.  We must also take to heart the Lord’s words to the man after his healing: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befalls you.” He calls us not to stop doing this or that, but to enter into the holy joy of Pascha as a truly eternal journey, sharing ever more fully in the healing mercy as we become more like Him in holiness.  The only way to do that is to rise, take up our beds, and walk each day of our lives in obedience as best we can.   That is the only way to participate personally in the liberation from the paralysis of sin and death that He has brought to world.  That is our calling every day of our lives in becoming truly human as beautiful living icons of God, for “Christ is risen!”

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