Saturday, March 15, 2014

Experiencing God's Healing: Homily for the Second Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church

        Did you know that the origins of the hospital are found in the ministry of St. Basil the Great, whose divine liturgy we celebrate on Sundays in Lent?  Not only did St. Basil stress God’s merciful healing of suffering humanity in his Eucharistic prayer, he also lived out the divine mercy by giving away his wealth to establish institutions that cared for the sick, hungry, and homeless.  Of course, he was simply following the example of Jesus Christ Who restored the sick, such as the paralyzed man, to health as a sign of what God’s salvation means for people like you and me who are weakened and sickened by our sins and those of the entire world.   
        Notice the change that occurred in the paralyzed man in today’s gospel lesson.  He goes from having to be carried around on a bed by others to picking up the bed and walking by himself. No wonder everyone was amazed and glorified God.  You see, the Lord did not simply talk in general terms to him about either religion or medicine; instead, He enabled him to experience health, both spiritually and physically. At the root of all human corruption is sin, and the Savior showed His divinity by forgiving the man’s transgressions and enabling him to rise up and walk.
        On this second Sunday of Great Lent, we remember another great saint who also knew that our salvation is not in ideas about God, but in true participation in His life by grace.  St. Gregory Palamas lived in the 14th century in the Byzantine Empire.  A monastic, a bishop, and a scholar, he defended the experience of hesychast monks who in the stillness of deep prayer beheld the divine light of the uncreated energies of God.  In ways that go beyond rational understanding, they saw the divine glory as they participated personally in the life of God by grace.  Like the paralyzed man, they too experienced healing for their souls.   
        Against skeptics who thought that such things were impossible, St. Gregory insisted that we know the Lord by being united with Him in prayer and holiness.  Jesus Christ has joined humanity with divinity and dwells in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We become partakers of the divine nature when we know by experience the presence of God in our lives and our presence in His life.  That is what it means to know the Lord personally, not simply to have ideas about Him.  This healing also shows what it means to be infused with the gracious divine energies, for the paralyzed man experienced freedom from bondage and a miraculous transformation of every dimension of his life.  He did not simply hear words or receive a diagnosis, for the Lord healed him inwardly and outwardly.  He actually picked up his bed and walked.
        This miracle speaks to us all, of course, because we are sinners paralyzed by our own actions and those of others.  We have made ourselves so sick and weak that we do not have the strength to eradicate the presence of evil from our hearts. Just think for a moment of how easily we fall into words, thoughts, and deeds that we know are not holy or healthy.  Our habitual sins have become second nature to us; left to our own resources we are no more able to make them go away than a paralyzed man is to get up and move around. 
        The good news is that Jesus Christ comes to every single one of us with forgiveness and healing.  Too often, we are willing only to ask for forgiveness, but not to rise, take up our beds, and walk.  In other words, we fail to see that being filled with the gracious divine energies is not a matter of simply being excused from paying a penalty or declared not guilty; instead, it is truly the experience of becoming who we are created to be in God’s image and likeness.  It is finding healing from all the ravages of sin and shining with the light of holiness as we participate by grace in the life of the Holy Trinity.
        If we want to know Christ’s healing and strength, we have to obey His commandments, for He calls us all—like the paralyzed man-- to get up and move forward in a holy life.  In order to do that, we have to cooperate with our Lord’s mercy.  Think again of going to the doctor yourself.  You are glad to hear that there is a cure for our ailments, but that knowledge will do you no good unless you participate in the treatment.  We have to take our medicine and do our therapy if we want to benefit personally.  When we pray, fast, give to the needy, and practice forgiveness and reconciliation, or any other act of truth faithfulness or repentance, we do so in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, alive and active in us, Who effects the healing of our souls.        
        How sad it would have been for the formerly paralyzed man to have disobeyed the Lord’s command and simply stayed in bed.  How sad that we so often do precisely that in our refusal to cooperate with Christ’s healing and mercy by obeying Him.  As we continue our Lenten journey, let us remember that the Son of God has joined Himself to every dimension of our human existence and the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and souls.  We do not have mere signs and symbols of salvation, but God Himself alive and active in us.  The only limits to His presence, power, and healing are those that we stubbornly keep in place.  This Lent, it is time to leave our sick beds behind and do all that we can to participate more fully in the mercy that the Savior brings to each and every one of us.  There is no better way to open the eyes of our hearts to the glory of Christ’s resurrection, which heals us even from death itself.          

No comments: