Arising to Newness of Life: Three Narratives and Our Story (Sun. May 15)

The word of the day is “arise.”  The Lord has the power to lift the fallen and to command those who are lying prone in sickness, sin, and death to arise.  Today on this Sunday of the Paralytic, we learn about three incidents when those who are bound to their beds heard the command to “Rise up.”  Two of those who heard the order to arise were paralytics, one in our Gospel and one in our Epistle reading.  The last and most spectacular example was the beloved believer Dorcas who had died.  In our reading of Acts 9:32-42,  Peter said, “Tabitha, arise,” and she opened her eyes, looked at Peter, and sat up (OSB vs. 40).

Today as we hear of the command to “arise,” we think of Paul who also speaks of arising from death to life.  The apostle wrote in Romans, “Awake, you who sleep.  Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (OSB Ephesians 5:14).  When we compare Paul’s words with the events of our readings from Acts and the Gospel of John, we learn that the Lord calls us to rise up from “spiritual death.”

Miracles of Rising from Death to Life

The three miracles that we recall today are part of a set.  The healing of Aeneas, the paralytic in Acts (vs. 32-25), parallels the Lord’s healing of the person with paralysis at the pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem (John 5:1-15).  And the raising of Dorcas (vs. 36-42) parallels the raising of the daughter of Jairus in the Gospels (e.g., OSB Luke 8:40-42; 49-56).

All these stories use terms that refer to arising from death to life.  Peter’s commands of both the paralyzed Aeneas, and the deceased Dorcus use the Greek word (anistémi).  This term is derived from the term “to stand up.”  It denotes a change of position from lying down to rising to an upright state” (Strong’s #450, 27).  As you know from our Easter greeting in Greek (Christos anesti), it is the key term to describe Christ’s resurrection.

However, for the paralyzed man at the pool and the daughter of Jairus, the term that the Gospel writers use is (egeiró), whose basic meaning is to “wake from sleep” and, thus, to “wake from the dead” (Strong’s #1453, 74-75).  Thus, the same descriptions are used for the miracles of being raised from physical death and raised from paralysis.  We can conclude that paralysis is a metaphor for death and that all these stories are stories of the resurrection to life in Christ.

Resurrection from Spiritual Death

Certainly, these wonders confirm the promise of our resurrection from physical death on the last day (John 6:4).  Yet, they also remind us of our resurrection from spiritual death.  Remember that St. Paul writes that we once were “dead in trespasses and sins” (OSB Ephesians 2:1).  Our worldly desires paralyzed us, and our disobedience subjected us to the loss of spiritual life.  We were as flat on our backs as the paralytics that we hear about today.  And we were as lifeless as Dorcas, whose body lay in the Upper Room in Joppa.

But Paul proclaims that we experienced a resurrection from the dead.  He declares, “God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ…” (OSB Ephesians 2:4-6).

Be Upright, Awake, and Alive

Accordingly, we can apply these stories of the call to arise to ourselves just as they applied to the two paralytics, to the daughter of Jairus, and to Dorcus.  They urge and encourage us to stand upright, to keep awake, and to come alive as we live out our baptism in this world.

In this vein, St. Paul urged the Romans to love their neighbor and to “do this knowing that now it is high time to awake from out of sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (OSB Romans 13:11).  And the apostle referred to Isaiah when he urged that we should awake from sleep and arise from the dead so that Christ can give us light (Ephesians 5:14).

Therefore, Paul teaches us that we should shake off any drowsiness of worldliness.  We should resist any return of the spiritual paralysis of ungodly habits.  We should listen to the command of God and rise up from the deadness of disobedience of His will and indifference to the prompting of the Spirit.

For Reflection

The Gospel reverses our unenlightened understandings of what is life and what is death.  St. Maximos wrote, “The Holy Gospel teaches men to reject life according to the flesh and to embrace life according to the Spirit” (G.E.H. Palmer 1981, 176).  This early writer of the Philokalia, the Orthodox manual on asceticism, only echoes St. Paul’s admonition:  “Reckon yourselves dead indeed to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (OSB Romans 6:11).

In the same vein, the Word of God commands us to arise today.  When we answer this charge, we rise up from death to life.  We are raised once again just as we were lifted up in our baptism.  As St. Maximos wrote, “Those who are aroused to newness of life no longer “live their own life but have Christ living in the soul alone” (Gal. 2:20) (G.E.H. Palmer 1981, 176).

We Are Dead… And Alive

Those who let God lift them up are dead to sin, dead to the Almighty’s judgment, and dead to spiritual death.  But they are alive to what is good, alive to what is righteous, and alive to what is godly.  They live to know and serve the Risen Lord and their Redeemer.

So if any part of our life in Christ is still stricken with paralysis, and if we are still stricken with the spiritual death of sinfulness, let us hear the Word of God today and let us arise.  Let us shake off the slumber of corruption and let the Holy Spirit raise us to the Life of Christ living in us, the life to which we were raised in our baptism.

Works Cited

G.E.H. Palmer, et. al. Trans. 1981. The Philokalia: the Complete Text Vol. 3. New York: Farber and Farber.

 

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