In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, brothers and sisters, on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent — the day on which we celebrate and commemorate St. Gregory Palamas — we have before us a man who is paralyzed, and who has friends that care for him and bring him to the Lord to be healed. Now, as in all scripture, we should be careful. Read the scriptures slowly and carefully. See what the Lord says to you, see where you fit into this scripture, see where you have vices — or perhaps where by the grace of God, God has helped you in some thing and you have some virtue — not of your own worth, but because God has helped you. This is how we should read the scriptures. This is not just history, and something that happened a long time ago; this story is given for our edification. The Lord healed many thousands of people, and we don’t have very many records of His healings. So there must be something important about the way this man was healed for us to take note of.
He comes to Capernaum, and He is very popular in these days; this is still in the – shall we say, the honeymoon period; all the common people Him. The scribes and the Pharisees didn’t like Him, but they couldn’t move against Him, and even some of them were somewhat taken by Him because of all the buzz that was around Him. Everyone was saying, “Can you believe what’s happening? Everyone is being healed, and this man is speaking with such authority…” At the beginning of His ministry, there were many who loved Him and wanted to throng about Him (who would later leave Him, and even be accessories to His being slandered and murdered), and this is the case today. There are so many about Him that people can’t even fit in the house where He is preaching. They are all about, outside the door, and He preached to them.
There is a man who is paralyzed, and he has asked his friends to help him. He has four that will take him on his bed, and want to bring him to Christ. Because of the press (the crowd of people), he couldn’t get to Jesus.
What is this press, brothers and sisters?
This "press" is often mentioned in other healings; this press is the obstacles that we encounter in our Christian life. We encounter great obstacles. Now in the case of this man who was paralyzed, he wouldn’t have the strength to press through a group of people on his own, and even with help it would be immensely difficult; how can you carry a stretcher through a huge crowd of people? It is not possible.
So what did they do? They overcame the press by climbing onto the roof.
A roof is high above all things. The scripture uses this analogy just as it uses mountains sometimes, to say that this is how we should be in our Christian life. We should look up — we should be thinking of spiritual things, not of carnal things, not of just daily things — and we should elevate our mind — to contemplate pure things, and things that God wishes us to know. These people got up on the roof. So of course it was a practical act to get up on the roof, so that they could break the roof tiles and let him down, and it was rather ingenious actually. But it is also an indication of how we should be, brothers and sisters.
You know, we encounter the press, and we stop in our tracks. Let’s face it: this society is a very difficult one for a Christian to live in, because there is such coldness, and it infects all of us. There is such materialism, there is such hardheartedness, there is such wishy-washy-ness as far as what to believe. And even among the Orthodox, there is this sort-of mixing of the world with holiness — and, of course, what becomes of hot and cold? It becomes lukewarm. And the Lord hates lukewarm.
The whole world is lukewarm. And we live in this difficulty. This is the press. It’s quite hard for us to live in this world.
In fact, I was reading something from Fr. Anatoly the younger, who was a martyr, one of the last Optina elders. I can’t quote it well, but basically the inference, the gist is of what he was writing is that Christians in the last age won’t do great miracles, and their faith won’t even be that great, and their purity won’t be that great. But, because they have endured in a time which is the worst of all times, God will give them a crown for even being Christian during this time. Indeed, because it is a difficult time. It is a time of unbelief, it is a time of lukewarm-ness, and we are surrounded by it, and we are infected by it.
So it is difficult for us to get past the press. And why should we get past the press? Because we’re paralyzed too. We have spiritual paralysis. We have spiritual blindness. If any man can look inside himself with any amount of honesty at all, he sees that he is really broken inside, incomplete. There are terrible sadnesses that happen in our life. There are terrible things that we just can’t cope with completely.
And I say, if any person thinks that life is easy, and that things are really okay, than I say that you should really be afraid, because God is far from you. According to the fathers, if we’re not tempted, then we’re not being saved. Because we ARE incomplete, and we are weak creatures. Oh yes, we have the image of God within us, and God has promised that He will be with us until the end, that He will complete the good work which has begun in us. But in the meanwhile, as we are approaching that goal, there is so much about us that is so pitiable. And we must get past the press if we are truly to get any kind of relief. You know, the press makes a lot of noise, and there is a lot of distraction, and this very well describes the Christian life today.
So how do we get past the press? Get up on the roof.
Not just get up on the roof, but there must be labor involved in the Christian life, brothers and sisters. You know that one of my pet phrases, or pet ideas, is that the greatest heresy of all time is that the Christian life can be fought without labor, that salvation can be gathered and garnered without labor. This is the great heresy of our age — it has been around now for quite some time — that we can actually be saved without labor. Oh no, it takes great labor on our part to be saved; it takes effort for us to push by the press; it takes effort for us to get on the roof, to elevate our minds to things above, not to things below, not to carnal things, not to just day-to-day living.
I think day-to-day living is like a narcotic in our day; it is easy to lose track of holy things, to say “I haven’t read scripture for so long, I forget my prayers, I have the wrong ideas, the wrong motivations,” and to just sort of flow through life. We must fight through these things, get on the roof, have our minds elevated and break through the roof tiles — which is effort. There is great effort involved in breaking through a roof.
So then, after these men had broken through the roof, they let the man down. What a spectacle that must have been. This man was not afraid to make his disability known to all. There must have been some people who thought that this was really craziness, and who might have laughed. But he was unafraid, because he wanted to be healed.
So when the Lord saw him, because of his efforts, He said “My son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” Well the man came because he was palsied — he couldn’t walk — and the Lord said “Thy sins be forgiven.” He did this for a reason.
Of course, what is the source of all of our ills? Our sins!
So the Lord heals that which is the man’s most pressing need first. And of course, he knew that the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the hypocrites, would think in their minds, “How can this man forgive sins? This is blasphemy,” and they would chalk it up in their notebooks and think, “We’re going to get this man.”
The Lord then said something quite interesting, something you should take note of. It seems sort of obvious in one way, but there is a very deep meaning in another. “Which is easier to say: ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ or ‘Take up thy bed and walk?’” Well, it’s easy to say “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” or something that you can’t see internally, but if you say “Take up thy bed and walk” — well, the man had better get up, or else Jesus would be exposed as a charlatan. Well, that’s rather obvious, but there is a deep meaning here, brothers and sisters. Not an obvious meaning; you have to think a little bit.
The Lord raised the man up from his bed – “Take up thy bed and walk, and go unto thy house.” The reason he did this is to show that He, indeed, has power: He can raise the palsied man, He can give the man without eyes sight, he can cause the deaf to hear, he can raise the dead. These are tangible things that we see. The Lord did this because of our weakness.
We cannot see our sins being forgiven. It’s not something that you can have evidence of. Sometimes there is evidence of the Lord healing a man in terms of, let’s say if a man is an alcoholic and he is able to no longer have the demon of drunkenness, or some other such thing, but for the most part, when our sins are forgiven, the Lord knows, and we know, but it is not an obvious thing. That’s why the Lord said “Which is easier to say: ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ or ‘Take up thy bed and walk?’” He was trying to show us “I can do both.” Yes, I can say “thy sins be forgiven,” and it is not an obvious thing, but I can also raise up the palsied man.
There is another meaning as well. The man’s sins were forgiven AND his body was made whole. Jesus Christ’s resurrection affects the whole man. Every aspect of our personality is affected by the resurrection. This is why a Christian should not feel defeated by anything in his life — because the resurrection applies to everything. Now this is not to have some sort of Pollyanna view of the world and think that because we’re Christians we’ll be rich, famous, athletic and handsome. That might not be the case.
But Jesus Christ is interested in anything that goes on in our life. We must bring all the difficulties of our life to him. We as Christians don’t do this very much; we suffer with our worries, our concerns, and I know many of you and I know that your concerns are not frivolous ones, they are not worldly concerns; they are spiritual things. But you must believe in the resurrection, and the one who truly believes applies the resurrection, with all of its implications, to himself, and his life’s circumstances.
If Jesus Christ can raise up the palsied man, certainly all the other things that He says must be true — not just that He can raise the dead at the end of the age; He’s going to make you alive now. The kingdom of God is within you. Now, not later. This is the meaning of having the man be healed both of his sins and of his palsy, of his bodily ailments.
Now how do we attain this healing, brothers and sisters? By effort. There is no substitute whatsoever for effort.
If a Christian does not struggle, does not strive, does not point himself to Jerusalem and not look back, does not try to ascend, as it were, to the roof, and labor, then he will not be changed. Or, perhaps, he’ll bear fruit, but very little.
May God grant that we would labor, past all of the difficulties in our lives, past all of the frustrations, all of the distractions, all of our sinfulness, all of our bad habits that are so difficult to change, all that press, all that crowd — that we labor past all that, and set our minds on things above, on holiness, on the purpose of our life, which is intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ.
And this intimate knowledge is only possible if we become like Him. We must become like Him to know Him.
This is why we must labor, brothers and sisters. Not because there are the Ten Commandments, the Law and all the rest; this is not the reason we must labor. The reason we must labor is that Jesus Christ wants us to know Him, intimately, He wants us to be healed of every single palsied condition, of every blindness, of every black spot in our souls, of every imperfection, so that we can gaze upon Him, not through a glass, darkly, but face to face – and not in shame, but in indescribably joy. This is how He wants us to know Him. And the only way to know Him is to become like Him. This is why we labor for virtue.
May God help us to labor, and for the rest of this Lent also to struggle so that when we come to the Pascha, the Lord would touch us in a very special, unique way that we can’t even imagine and understand, and strengthen us. May God help you.
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