Sunday, May 19, 2019

Overcoming the Paralysis Caused by the Fear of Death: Homily for the Sunday of the Paralytic in the Orthodox Church

Acts 9:32-42; John 5:1-15
Christ is Risen!
We all face difficult circumstances in our lives that we are tempted to think will never change.  Sometimes we lose hope of gaining health and strength when we have been sick and weak in body or soul.  Problems in marriage, family life, or other relationships may seem beyond healing or repair.  Before the difficulties of our lives, let alone the persistent problems of the world, we can easily feel helpless.
In today’s gospel lesson, the blind, lame, and paralyzed people who waited to be healed at the pool of water outside the Temple certainly felt that way.  Most probably despaired of ever being healed, for they lacked the ability to move themselves into the water at the right time.  The man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years had no one to help him get there, and he obviously could not move himself.  The Jews had a Temple in which animals were sacrificed, and the pool provided water for washing lambs before they were slaughtered.  This scene occurs at the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which commemorated Moses receiving the Law, which had been given by angels.
Fallen humanity, however, remained spiritually weak and sick, and enslaved ultimately to death.   In such a corrupt state, we lacked the strength to fulfill our calling to become like God in holiness, and certainly could not overcome the ultimate paralysis of the grave. The Law was surely both a blessing and a cause of frustration for the Jews, for it lacked the ability to heal the soul. The sacrificial system of the Temple foreshadowed the great Self-Offering of our Lord on the Cross, for He is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.  It did not, however, deliver anyone from bondage to death, the wages of sin.
The paralyzed man represents us all who lack the power to move ourselves to complete healing of body, soul, and spirit. He did not even call out to Christ to help him; instead, the Lord reached out to him, asking what may seem to be an odd question, “Do you want to be healed?”  Why would anyone who had endured thirty-eight years of paralysis not want to be made well?    Recall, however, how easy it is to adapt to our maladies and passions, to become accustomed to whatever forms of corruption have become second nature to us.  To be healed requires something very different, for we must obey the Lord’s command: “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.”  That means cooperating with the gracious divine energies of our merciful Lord as we rise up in obedience such that we are transformed personally to become more like Him in holiness.  Doing so is never as easy as lying comfortably in bed.  To receive personally our Lord’s healing requires getting out of our comfort zones.
The man in today’s gospel reading would never have found healing had he chosen to remain as he had been for thirty-eight years. Lying still for a long time makes us weak and unable to rise up and walk on our own.  The same will be true of us spiritually if we do not embrace the struggle to cooperate with the mercy of the Lord by serving Him as faithfully as we presently have the strength to do.  That is how we open ourselves to receive His healing, regardless of how weak we have made ourselves.  The paralyzed man would have rejected his healing had he refused to accept the struggle of standing up, carrying his bed, and walking.  After a lifetime of not moving, doing so must have been difficult and quite scary.  He had learned how to survive as an invalid, but now the Savior was directing him to a very different life, the challenges of which he could not predict.
Perhaps we look at the prospect of a life of obedience to Christ as being difficult and scary, for we have become accustomed to living as people enslaved to self-centered desire fueled by the fear of death.  If we think that the measure of our lives extends no further than the period of our physical existence on Earth, then the temptation will be great to indulge ourselves in whatever pleasures make life more bearable and distract us from despair about our ultimate fate.  But because “Christ is Risen!,” we must not continue in the weakness that comes from doing whatever it takes to distract us from fear of the grave and the insecurities it produces. Instead, we must do whatever it takes to share more fully in the ultimate healing of the human person in God’s image and likeness that our Savior has accomplished through His glorious resurrection on the third day.  We must live as those who already know the joy of life eternal as we look for the coming fullness of the Kingdom of God.
We will open ourselves to the healing and strength necessary to live in the joy of the resurrection by participating in the life in the Church, which is the Body of Christ.  In our reading from Acts, St. Peter heals a paralyzed man and commands him to get up.   He even raises a woman from death.  Peter did not do this by his own power or authority, but because the Risen Lord was working through him.  He said to the paralyzed man, “Jesus Christ heals you…”  Throughout Acts, we read of how the Lord works through the Church to enable people to participate personally in the new life brought by His empty tomb.
In baptism, Jesus Christ heals us as we die to sin and rise with Him into a new life of holiness.  In the Eucharist, the Risen Lord nourishes us with His own Body and Blood as we participate already in the Messianic Banquet.  In every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, we enter mystically in the eternal worship of the Heavenly Kingdom.  Because we fall short of fully embracing the healing and holy joy of His resurrection, the Savior forgives our sins when we humbly repent in Confession.  By offering our time, energy, and resources to support the ministries of the Church and participate more fully in our life together in Him, we find liberation from the isolation of self-centeredness and enter more fully into the abundant generosity of the Lord. He shares His life with us through the Church and we must share a common life in Him as we love, serve, and forgive one another.  In order to gain the strength to move forward in a life of holiness, we must unite ourselves to Christ in His Body through regular, conscientious participation in the Holy Mysteries and doing all that we can to strengthen our common life.
Apart from the Lord’s resurrection, there would be no Church, and it is through our participation in the Church that we may enter more fully into the eternal life of the resurrection.  We celebrate Pascha by participating personally in the Lord’s victory over Hades and the grave, and there is simply no way to do that which does not require obedience to the command that Christ gave to the paralyzed man.  That is how we will find healing from our maladies of soul that are driven by slavery to the fear of death.   Because of the resurrection, we may all rise up from our comfortable beds of sins and provide the world a sign that something radically new has come into the world through the Savior’s Cross and empty tomb.  Not by our own power, but by embracing His, we may all find fulfillment and transformation that we could never give ourselves.  All that we must do is to want to be healed, to unite ourselves to the Risen Lord in His Body, and to move forward in holiness as we serve Him in the world as a sign that “Christ is Risen!”

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