• Menu

The Healing of the Paralytic

Fourth Sunday of Pascha—Sunday of the Paralytic / Virgin-martyr Glyceria / Acts 9.32-42; John 5.1-15

F/S/HS.  Brothers and sisters, this morning’s Gospel—the healing of a paralytic—is a joyful celebration of our Lord’s healing ways.  But it is equally a dire warning from mother church; a warning about believing that we are so right and correct in our faith, when in reality we are spiritually deluded.

We know very little about the central figure in this Gospel story.  We know that he has been paralyzed for thirty-eight years.  We know that he is often found near one of the five pools at Bethesda, where he awaits the stirring of the waters by an angel.  We know that he laments that he is never the first one into the waters once they are stirred, in order to be healed by that angelic stirring. 

And we know two more things about this man.  We know, first, that after he is healed by Jesus the man goes directly to the temple.  Says St. John Chrysostom about this easily overlooked fact: One’s healing by our Lord ought to send us into ecstatic gratitude and joy; it ought to send us to the temple, where we and everyone aware of that healing fall on our faces in thanksgiving and adoration for God’s healing ways amongst us. 

And second, we know that when Jesus and the man next see each other, in the temple, that Jesus alludes to the man’s paralysis being due to some prior sin in the man’s life.  See, you have been made well, Jesus says to him.  Sin no more, lest a worst thing come upon you (v. 14).

And now to the other persons in this morning’s Gospel, those who think they are so right yet reveal themselves as spiritually deluded. Noteworthy is that this story takes place early in John’s Gospel, very early.  The healing of this paralytic is only the third of Jesus’ miracles, the first being the turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana; and the second being the healing of a nobleman’s son, just before this morning’s Gospel story. 

Certain persons—well intended religious persons!—respond to these healings in ways that reveal their religion and their hearts to be cold to the ways of God.  These persons believe in God, they worship God, yet they are spiritually deluded, though they remain unaware of such delusion.  Over the next sixteen chapters of John’s Gospel, these same religious persons will repeat their spiritual delusion time and again, their hearts growing ever colder with each new miracle performed by Jesus.

Immediately following the man’s healing, our Gospel says, a group of religious persons emerge to berate the man.  Why are they so eager to pounce?  For the simple reason that the healing of this man took place on the Sabbath.  But not just any Sabbath.  It was the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, a feast that centers around the theme of the giving of the Law (the Ten Commandments) to Moses on Mount Sinai.  These religious persons are commandment keepers!

We can hear the bite in their voice, can’t we, a bite very much related to an interpretation of the fourth of those Commandments: Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.  V. 10 of this morning’s Gospel: It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed, a reference to the bed that the man had picked up from the ground and was carrying with him, after he was healed by Jesus.

Noteworthy again is that the idea of carrying one’s bed as being a violation of the Sabbath, a sin, did not appear in Jewish Sabbath law until decades, even centuries, after God’s giving of the Ten Commandments to God’s people.  By the time of Jesus, these Ten Commandments had morphed into over 600 sub-commandments, each one designed to enumerate various prohibitions of the original Ten. 

Regarding the Sabbath, you can labor around your home in certain ways only.  You can only go so far from your home.  You can carry certain things only, and only so much weight.  You are prohibited from associating with certain people.  Only certain business affairs are permitted.  On and on and on these Sabbath restrictions go.  And this man, this healed paralytic, had violated one of them—he was carrying his bed!  He is a sinner!

And the relevance to our lives dear ones?  Here is where I nearly beg of all of us to search our own hearts, our own ways with God, our own attitudes; search the Faith that we name as our Christian faith, and how truly Christian our faith is.

Such legalistic and juridical Pharisee-ism as exhibited by these religious persons in our Gospel story can show up in a multitude of ways in our own life, many of these ways so hideously subtle that they are barely detectible, so secret and hidden are they. 

There are the more obvious ones, related to fasting for example; where we overly scrutinize whether we can eat a certain food because a certain prohibited ingredient is third or fourth or fifth on the list of ingredients.  Ah, since its well down the list, now I can consume that product.  Or I can’t consume it.

Or how about our worship of God during our services, dear ones?  When we come to worship, God seeks our hearts to be full of praise and adoration for His healing ways amongst us.  Our Lord seeks our repentance and contrition and humility of heart, in preparation for partaking of the Holy Chalice.

Yet how often do we find ourselves during worship quick to note the transgressions of others related to their temple behavior?  The children are not quiet enough; they are moving around too much.  That person is not dressed appropriately.  They are not venerating in the correct manner, or making the sign of the cross properly.

Other areas where we are quick to pounce, whether in thought or word?  That thing you are into is too secular and worldly, and not sacred or holy enough?  That music you are listening to is inappropriate. That book or author is not okay to read.  That movie is not acceptable to watch.  You shouldn’t hang around or fellowship with that person.  That particular church music—Byzantine or Russian, or other—is better than other church music? 

On and on we could go, our hearts revealing how dangerously similar we are to the religious persons in this morning’s Gospel, who, though they believe in and love God, are ever ready to pounce in thought or word at the perceived transgressions of others.  Lord have mercy!

The tricky thing and the necessary thing, dear sisters and brothers, is that we do indeed need to arrive at certain criteria for adjudicating the correct practice and valuing of all of these areas of life and faith that I just noted.  Otherwise we have no baseline to guide us, no principles to adjudicate right from wrong in the beliefs and practices of our Faith.

Repeatedly our Scriptures and church fathers and mothers counsel that the best baseline and principles, the finest litmus test for discerning right from wrong, virtue from legalistic Pharisee-ism, is whether a life blossoms with the fruits of the spirit—with peace and love and joy, patience and kindness towards others. 

There are two extremes to avoid, counsels St. John Chrysostom.  The first is excessive leniency, where we tolerate to a fault the questionable behavior of another.  And the second is excessive legalism, defined by Chrysostom as where our heart is so quick to identify the perceived transgressions of others.  The royal path, the path of the virtues, always strives to avoid these two extremes.

But here is a central point of this morning’s Gospel, dear ones.  A man thirty-eight years stricken with paralysis has been healed.  He has a new lease on life.  Imagine, imagine the joy and ecstasy now consuming his spirit and his body.  He has been healed by the Lord of the universe.  Consequently there are those who celebrate and worship and praise God because of his healing.

Then there is a group of religious persons entirely devoid of such celebration and worship, praise and joy.  They can’t see an inch of beauty, an inch of God’s presence displayed in this man’s life.  A miracle has just occurred.  And all they can see is a violation of the Commandments; all they can see is sin.  No fruits of the spirit adorn their heart.  Instead, scrutiny and judgment, even wrath, bind them up in a legalistic and juridical straightjacket.  They are blind and spiritually deluded.  Lord have mercy on such a soul!

And may God grant us the wisdom to search our own soul and, where we see this similar straightjacket engulfing us, a similar delusion, may we fall to our knees and humbly cry out, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner and heal my cold heart.  Grant unto me a heart of repentance and contrition and humility; a heart of worship and praise and joy; a heart full of gratitude for your many healing ways in my life and the life of those around me.  F/S/HS