Sunday of the Paralytic
In the Gospel appointed for today, we heard about the healing of the paralytic. Our Lord had come to Jerusalem to observe one of the Jewish feasts. Near one of the gates of the city was a pool which had healing powers as an angel of the Lord would come to stir up the waters. The first person into the waters at the time of this stirring would be healed of their illness. Surrounding the pool lay a multitude of sick people – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. Among these was a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. He had been coming to the pool in faith and hope for many years, but each time the waters were stirred, another person would make it into the waters before him. Our Lord had pity on the man and, after asking him if he would like to be made well, told him to take up his bed and walk. The man was immediately cured and went on his way carrying his former sick bed. I would like to draw our attention to four important lessons from this Gospel passage… an honest assessment of our spiritual health, the virtues of patience and perseverance, complete and wholehearted trust in God, and responding to the call of God.
First – we need to take a realistic look at ourselves and acknowledge our lack of spiritual health. We were created by the generous love of God to bear His image within ourselves. That image, that icon of Christ, is meant to shine brightly within each one of us. We are meant to participate in that self-giving love which is the Grace of God, experiencing and shining forth that Kingdom of God which is within us. Is this how we behave? Is this how we think? So often it is not… that image, that icon gets muddied over with the cares of this world and with our own selfish pursuits. The work set before us in the process of salvation is ‘icon restoration’… cleaning and renewing that image of God we were meant to be.
So, we must recognize that we are spiritually ill and we must begin to do something about it. When we are suffering with some physical illness, we are acutely aware of it, it completely preoccupies us, and we long for nothing other than to have good health. Many go to great lengths to find a cure! If this is so with our physical well-being, how much more so should we have this desire and determination to achieve spiritual health! We need to recognize our spiritual sicknesses and have zeal to attain good spiritual health! Let us acknowledge our need for spiritual health and let this acknowledgement be with the same hope and faith we see demonstrated by the paralytic in today’s Gospel.
Secondly – We must have patience and perseverance. The paralytic was in this sickly condition for 38 years! What a model of patience and perseverance we find here! For 38 years he continued to endure his cross and did not give up seeking and hoping for a cure. We live in a time of instant gratification and tremendous impatience. It is often the case that we can fall prey to depression and frustration if we do not see the progress or results that we expect within a short timeframe. We may come to Confession with frustration that our list is always the same. We might as well laminate our list of sins and leave it there for weekly reference… While it is good for us to have sorrow over the persistence of our sinful condition, we must also not give in to despair. Our life is a struggle, a spiritual warfare against those persistent sins that plague us. Our hope and our trust must be in God… not in our ability to overcome them. We must take a lesson from the paralytic who patiently and persistently kept coming to the pool. Because of his endurance and patience, he was there when our Lord walked by. If he had given up in frustration and despair, he would never have been cured. We too, must have endurance – continuing to struggle against our sins, and faithfully coming to the pool of repentance in patience and hope.
And this brings us to the topic of trust in God. God’s ways are not our ways. God’s perspective is eternal; our perspective is temporal and earthly. When we are sick or struggling in some way, it is natural and appropriate for us to seek healing and resolution. But if days and months and years go by and we feel that our prayers are not being answered, we must not let this lead us to despair. We must have the patience and perseverance of the paralytic in today’s Gospel, AND we must also have complete and utter trust in God. Of course we pray for our healing, of course we pray for relief from our suffering – but our ultimate prayer and understanding must be that God’s will be done. We have to have enough love and trust in God to believe that He loves us and will do whatever is best for our salvation. If it is to our salvation that our suffering comes to an end, then glory be to God. If it is to our salvation that we must endure this suffering, then glory be to God. This is the deeper and higher prayer of acceptance of God’s will. This is the prayer demonstrated for us by Christ Himself in the midst of His deepest suffering in the Garden of Gethsemene when He prayed that God might take the cup of suffering from Him, ‘yet not My will, but Thine be done’. Our Lord also asks for relief and release from His sufferings and sorrows – but He trusts that His Heavenly Father knows best and He submits Himself to whatever God has planned.
Lastly – When our Lord does come to us, we must heed the Lord’s call to rise and walk. Our Lord offers us many opportunities for healing and repentance – certainly the Mystery of Confession is a powerful opportunity of grace and blessing from God; a blessing to which we, as Orthodox Christians should avail ourselves. We must come to this Mystery with a sincere and resolute heart to make a change in our life. And, having received absolution from our sins, we must take the model of the paralytic who did not hesitate when our Lord told him to take up his bed and walk. He did not assume that, since he had not been able to move before, he would not be able to move now, using old habits as an excuse to wallow in his sins – instead he immediately rose up and moved forward, trusting in the Lord. This we must do as well… repenting of our past mistakes, trusting in God and drawing from His strength, and having the patience and perseverance to keep moving forward… even when we fall, to fall forward, keeping our eyes toward God, dusting ourselves off, and always moving ahead toward our heavenly homeland.
May God grant us the grace and wisdom to recognize our own sinful state, to have zeal and determination tempered with patience, to love and trust in God enough to surrender to His Holy will for our lives, and may we always hear and heed our Lord’s call to rise up and walk!