Sunday, April 29, 2018

Healing Demands Humble Obedience: Homily for the Sunday of the Paralytic in the Orthodox Church

Acts 9:32-42; John 5:1-15
            Christ is risen!

In this glorious season of Pascha, we continue to celebrate our Lord’s victory over death in His resurrection on the third day.  Today we proclaim that He liberates us not only from the grave, but also from the paralysis and weakness that keep us from living with the freedom and strength of His sons and daughters.  Our hope for sharing in the joy of the empty tomb is not reserved exclusively for the eschatological future, but includes our healing today from the diseases of soul that keep us stuck in suffering and pain.

            The man in today’s gospel reading was certainly stuck, as he had been waiting for 38 years for someone to put him in the pool where he could be healed.   Perhaps because it is possible to get used to just about anything after such a long time, the Lord asked what seemed like an obvious question, “Do you want to be healed?”  After a lifetime of being one of the blind, lamed, or paralyzed, a person might simply accept that that is who he or she is and try to make the best of it.  The Savior challenged the man by asking that question because he would have to obey the command “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk” as soon he was healed.  The Lord did for him what he could never have done by himself, but the man had to respond faithfully in order for that great blessing to become effective in his life.  It is clear that this fellow really wanted to be healed, for he obeyed even as he was criticized by legalists who said that it violated the Sabbath laws to walk around carrying a bed. 

            In order for us to find healing as those who are spiritually blind, lame, and paralyzed, we must embrace the good news of our Savior’s resurrection, of His victory over death and the corrupting power of sin.  We proclaim His resurrection not merely as an abstract truth or a unique event long ago, but as the very meaning of our lives.  We must learn to hear our Risen Lord asking each of us, “Do you want to be healed?”  Do you want to be set free from bondage to your sins and how they have weakened you throughout your life?  Even as we cannot raise ourselves from the grave, we cannot make ourselves participants in God’s holiness simply by trying really hard on our own terms.  But because of what Christ has done by conquering the tomb and the enslaving power of sin, we may share personally in the restoration of the human person in God’s image and likeness that He has worked. Like the paralyzed man in today’s gospel reading, we may embrace liberation from the corruptions of sin by responding to the Lord in faithful obedience.

            The good news of Pascha is that we do so, not by our own ability to fulfill the legal requirements of a religion, but by humbly uniting ourselves to Christ. He has triumphed over death and the paralyzing power of sin.  He has emptied the tomb.  So already as we live and breathe in this world, we may know the joy of His resurrection by rising up with Him into a new life of holiness.    

            Our own paralysis is probably not as obvious as was that of the man in today’s gospel reading, but it is equally as real.  We may be so used to the disabling power of our passions that we are hardly even aware of them anymore.  To the extent that we are aware, we may have given up hope for finding healing from them.  Perhaps for more than 38 years we have been beset by pride, anger, lust, envy, slander, or a refusal to forgive those who have wronged us. Perhaps we have found ways to become comfortable with our sins or simply to accept them as our personality traits. Perhaps we have tried to justify indulging our passions as a way of being true to ourselves; if so, we have chosen paralysis over true freedom.   

            The hard truth is that we cannot enter into the liberating joy of our Lord’s resurrection as long we refuse to rise, take up our beds, and walk.  To refuse to accept His healing is to refuse to embrace the good news of His resurrection.  Remember that the knowledge of God is personal and experiential.  We do not simply think, speak, or have emotions about Him, but truly participate in His life by grace.  In order to know Him, we must turn away from our addiction to sin in all dimensions of our lives.  That requires the humble obedience of getting up from our comfortable beds of sin and moving forward in a life that is truly human, that embodies what it means to live as one who bears God’s image and likeness.

            The paralyzed man surely struggled with fear and doubt as he stood up and began to walk around.  He had to give up what had become second nature to him in so many ways.  He had to think and act differently than he had throughout the course of his entire life.  He had to hear the criticism of those who told him it was wrong to walk around carrying his bed on the Sabbath.  He had a difficult road ahead of him as he learned to live in a totally different way than he was used to.  He may even have thought at times that it would have been easier to remain paralyzed.

            We have a lot to learn from his good example of obedience despite fear and discomfort.  Every step that we take for the healing of our souls presents similar challenges.  We are so accustomed to catering to our own weaknesses that we may be terrified at opening them to the healing strength of Christ.  It hurts to strengthen muscles that have become weak; the same is true for stretching those that have become tight.  In the Christian life, it is unfortunately much easier in the moment to remain weak and paralyzed than it is to do what is necessary to become healthy and strong. 

            It would not be surprising if the formerly paralyzed man actually stumbled and fell down at times, for he was not at all used to walking around.  We should not be surprised when we fall back into familiar sins of thought, word, and deed.   That is when we must commend ourselves to  the Risen Lord in Whose strength we are always able to rise up and take another step into the joy of the Kingdom.  The One Who rose from the dead provides the strength that we need in order to advance in the healing of our souls.  He graciously enables us to share more fully in His eternal life and to know the joy of His resurrection.

            This Pascha, let us turn our attention away from what we think we cannot do and toward what our Lord can do in us.  Let us stop defining ourselves by our own brokenness and weakness, and instead embrace the Savior’s victory over sin and death as the deep truth of our lives.  Regardless of our fears, worries, and lack of self-confidence about finding healing for our souls, let us simply offer ourselves to Him in humble obedience, time and time again.  That means turning away from the power of the grave and toward the blessedness of the Kingdom as we struggle to rise up from our sins into a new life of holiness. 

            The alternatives are clear.  To continue in sin is simply to weaken ourselves further, while to rise up in obedience is to embrace the holy strength that conquers even death itself.  If we believe in Christ’s resurrection, let us live the resurrection as we open ourselves to a liberating strength that can enable even a lifelong paralytic to walk around carrying his bed.  This man shows us how to receive healing from even the most debilitating sins:  humble obedience in response to the unfathomable mercy of the Lord.  And since Pascha manifests His mercy so powerfully, there could be no greater call to embrace the healing of our souls than what we celebrate in this blessed season—for Christ is risen!    

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