Today we celebrate Christ raising the paralytic at the pool by the Sheep Gate. The sheep gate was the deep pool by the Jewish temple, surrounded by 5 sides, where the sacrificial lambs were washed before they were slain by the Priests. There is great foreshadowing in having the very pool where the lambs were washed before being sacrificed for the sins of the people become a source of great healing. The healing waters are enclosed on five sides representing the 5 books of the law of Moses. The stirring of the water for healing symbolizes the renewing grace of baptism. All that Christ, the Lamb of God touches is transformed, redeemed and healed. All through the Old Testament we find Christ!
In today’s Gospel, the Paralytic had been waiting for healing for 38 years. The first thing that Jesus asks the man is; “Do you want to be made well?” Why did Jesus even have to ask? Seems like a bit of a given that after waiting for 38 years for healing the man wanted to be healed. But, Christ sees that this man, after such a long time, like most of us, has become rather comfortable in his situation, and has resigned himself to his fate. Of course, he wanted to be healed or he wouldn’t have with such great persistence continued to come to the pool. Yet his faith that he would be healed had obviously been eroded over the years, as God’s timing and his expectations didn’t line up. So, when Christ asks if he wants to be healed, rather than an enthusiastic YES – the paralytic explains why this simply isn’t realistic. He has no help after all. After 38 years, he has almost given up.
Unfortunately, the reality is that we all tend to get very comfortable in our own paralyses. The longer we stay in our broken and wounded condition, the more comfortable and familiar it becomes. We get very good at making excuses. We may even start to get resentful of those who love us and push us to deal with our wounding’s, and to seek Christ’s healing embrace. Do we really want to change? When is the last time we truly sought forgiveness and repentance, rather than justifying and blaming others for our actions and attitudes? We Are told to forgive others and ask forgiveness for choosing to stay hurt and resentful. This is not optional, dependant on how badly we feel we have been treated. This is everyday basic Christian living. The problem is not that we are wounded as we go through life. None of us get to coast through life without being hurt. Our friends and family especially will cause us to be hurt, often unintentionally but sometimes even intentionally as they lash out in their wounded state. No, the problem is not that we are wounded, but that we choose to stay wounded. Nursing and even growing our pain as we allow our minds to continue to feed on how we were so mistreated and/or misunderstood. “Do you want to be healed?” Christ asks each of us and He honours our choice. Without our willingness we should not expect Christ to heal us. Healing often comes in the form of grace and love, empowering us to choose to forgive and even to love and be thankful for those who have hurt us. We then need to choose to accept and act on this gift. But we often want God to change the situation and the other guy’s attitude as we put our narrow and limiting definition on how God should respond to our prayers.
We are here on this planet for our very short visit – for one essential reason; to work towards an ever-closer union with Christ. We commonly forget this and start to coast. Christ in His love for us, often allows some circumstance to shake us out of our complacency. He truly loves us and wants what is good and beneficial for our salvation – not necessarily for our bank account or our pride. This is why we are to give thanks in all things, as He is faithfully giving us every opportunity to grow in love and humility and child-like dependence upon Him, often through pain and adversity.
The paralytic agrees he wants to be healed. He is willing to be changed even if it means a great leap into the unknown; and he then experiences Christ’s great forgiveness and healing. When we accept the ever-available grace which God is so faithfully offering to us, in every circumstance, we too can find healing. He never forces, but always awaits our willingness. The number of completion is 40 so at 38 years, we are just 2 years short of this man completing his life without receiving healing and forgiveness of his sins. As long as we have breath it is not too late to call out to Christ in repentance and forgiveness. However, we do not know when we will be taking our last breath, so the time for repentance is always right now. After Christ heals him He tells the man to, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you” indicating that in this case, his infirmity was connected to his own personal sin. He was now to follow a new path, establishing new habits on the road to salvation. He would have to continue to show that he wanted to be healed, choosing either the helpful or the destructive thoughts and actions throughout the day.
This is the human journey. Every day, every hour, as St. Herman said even every minute we are to train ourselves to choose the path to God rather than the path of laziness and selfishness. Our thoughts turn to someone who has done us wrong, we immediately get to choose whether we pray for them or curse them. We are tired at the end of a work day. We get to choose if we pick up our bibles or a good book or podcast, or switch on the TV for another dose of the world’s confused, vengeful and immoral values in our favorite drama. Someone needs our help, are we just too tired and comfortable to make the effort? How about making the sacrifice to attend Church, even for a Saturday Vespers or a feast day? Is it worth it or do we need to isolate and conserve our energy for work? (Rom. 12:2) “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” The Church offers you a refuge of transformation, come and be renewed!
The Fathers teach that while personal sin can result in physical, and more often psychological illness, there is no clear indication of when this might be the case. While all suffering is connected to the sinful state we find ourselves born into, it is never the punishment of a wrathful God. There is certainly much suffering that would not be connected to personal sin and would even be redemptive and of spiritual value. It may be that our own unloving thoughts, leading to sinful actions may initiate illness; but it is our lack of repentance which keeps us sick. When you read the lives of many of the Saints, they are very grateful for their physical suffering. Indeed, a read of the Martyrs lives would show unparalleled suffering coupled with great joy in the midst of it. Paul says in 2nd Corinthians (12:10) “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Yet no-one would conclude that all of St. Paul’s trials were a result of his personal sin. By worldly judgement it can appear that those of questionable morality sometimes greatly prosper, while the just often seem to suffer. God is concerned with the eternal development of our soul and spirit and there is always much more going on than we are aware of. We need to learn to trust God, even when we don’t understand what it is He is doing in our lives. God is God and we are not. Athletes are fond of saying “short time pain for long term gain” and when we see this earthly journey as short term and all of eternity as long term, the perspective is much different.
Christ Himself is very clear when He says in Matthew (16:24) “Whoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Every time I vest, this is the prayer that is given, as I put on my cross. And how often will this, the cross which we are told to take up willingly in our own lives, NOT involve suffering?
Being healthy, wealthy and well looked after is great; but a great many able bodied and wealthy people are miserable, and a great many physically handicapped and poor people are full of the joy of the Lord. We will all be able bodied, and whole in soul and spirit as well, rich in any way you want to calculate this, when we are Risen with Christ, and this is what we always look to. In the meantime, God mercifully allows suffering and sorrows to come to us, that we may re-awaken to our continuous need for Him, and to bring us to remembrance of eternity and our true home where we will all be joyously re-united, and sickness and sorrow will be no more.
So, let us give thanks in all things, and tenaciously hang on to our Paschal joy! Let us renew our prayer and cry out as the Paralytic to the Jews, that it is Jesus that has made us well! Let us ever choose to go and repent and sin no more, sharing with all we meet that… CHRIST IS RISEN!