Live audio version
Sunday of the Paralytic: Gospel: John 5: 1-15 : Epistle: Acts 9: 32-42 May 7, 2023 fr andrew
I love this time between Pascha and Ascension when we great each other with great joy in Christ with this greeting: CHRIST IS RISEN! This really is the gospel in a phrase – as Paul says in Romans: “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit Who dwells in you.” Paul also says in 1st Corinthians: “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins …and you are of all men the most pitiable.” So when we say CHRIST IS RISEN! We are defining our faith, hope, love, and joy in Him, and in becoming sons and daughters of God!
Today is the Sunday of the Paralytic. In our Gospel we celebrate Christ raising the paralytic at the pool by the Sheep Gate. The sheep gate was the deep pool by the Jewish temple where the sacrificial lambs were washed before they were slain by the Priests. This week if you were reading the daily scripture readings the Church gives us, we read of the Holy Spirit directing Deacon Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch who controlled all the treasury of Queen Candace the Ethiopian Queen. The eunuch was puzzling over Isaiah 53 “He was lead as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before His shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth; In His humiliation His justice was taken away; And who will declare His generation; For His life is taken up from the earth…” Philip explains this refers to Christ and opens up the scriptures to show him Christ throughout all of the Old Testament prophecies, and at the eunuch’s request baptizes him and then is immediately caught up by the Holy Spirit and disappears, leaving the eunuch joyfully astonished. Every Liturgy these are the very verses which the priest prays as he removes the lamb from the Prosphora. There is great foreshadowing in having the very pool where the lambs were washed become a source of great healing. All that Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world touches, is transformed, redeemed and healed.
Perhaps this should be the Sunday of the Paralytic(s) however, as in the Epistle Peter says to a man paralyzed for 8 years; “Aeneas, (Ineeas) Jesus the Christ heals you…” There is also some very interesting symbolism appearing here with the name of Ineeas. This would be a very familiar name to anyone who knew Greek mythology – which would most certainly include most everyone living in the Greek and Roman cultures of the day. Ineeas was the name of the mythical son of the Greek Goddess Aphrodite and his human father Anchises. He was known as the co-founder of Rome, and Julius Caesar and Augustus would both trace their lineage back to him. On a symbolic level this healing would be an invitation to all of the many nationalities in the Roman Empire, to accept the healing, transformation, and new beginning here given by St. Peter through Jesus Christ.
In the 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 period of time, like most of us, has become rather comfortable in his situation, and has resigned himself to his fate. Even 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 paralyses. The longer we stay in our very broken and wounded condition, the more comfortable and familiar it becomes. We get very good at making excuses. We get wounded and hurt. The problem isn’t that we get wounded, we all get wounded, this is an inevitable part of life. No, the problem is that we choose to stay wounded. We are here on this planet for our very short visit – for one essential reason; to work towards an ever-fuller union with Christ. We forget this and start to coast. Christ in His love for us often allows unwelcome circumstance to shake us out of our complacency. Our time here is short; let us keep seeking to be ever more connected with He who is our life. Let us be quick to turn to Him and cry out Yes, Lord, I want to be healed!
The paralytic agrees he wants to be healed. He is willing to be changed, to learn new patterns of thinking and to give thanks in all things. To take a great leap of faith into the unknown. He then experiences Christ’s great forgiveness and healing. We must accept the grace which God is so faithfully offering to us, He never forces or even coerces us, but awaits our willingness. Jesus tells the paralytic to sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon him, indicating that his infirmity was connected to his own personal sin.
The Church teaches 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, there is certainly much suffering that would not be directly connected to personal sin, and would even be considered to be redemptive and of spiritual value. Those whom God loves He chastens. This is a sure sign that He loves us and is providing opportunity to work out our salvation. When you read the lives of the Saints, many 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: “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 we do not conclude this was a result of Paul’s 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. 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: “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 the cross which we are told to take up willingly in our own lives, NOT involve suffering? Christ then says, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life, for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul?” The kingdom of God is counter-intuitive to what we learn in the world and our culture.
In today’s epistle, Peter sees the man who has been paralyzed for 8 years, and knows this man wants to be healed. Immediately he and all who dwelt in Lydda and Sharron turned to the Lord. That is true healing. Being able bodied is great; but a great many able-bodied people are miserable, and a great many of the physically handicapped are full of the joy of the Lord. We will all be able bodied and whole in soul and spirit as well, 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 remember eternity and our true home.
CHRIST IS RISEN!!!