4th Sunday of Pascha
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the holy Spirit Amen.
Today we see a man who is healed … twice. The man’s healing was completed in stages, as it is for us also. And we Orthodox Christians must recognize how God heals us, and how that obligates us. As Christians we fall far short of the mark. We are very poor at giving thanks to God, we are very poor at remembering His mercies. We are very poor at changing our priorities, at arranging our schedules. And because of this, we too often fall far short of receiving the SECOND healing.
The paralytic could not walk, his legs were not strong. He hoped to be healed, and so he waited, lying on his bed, by the sheep’s pool. And he waited a long time. Thirty eight years is taken by the Fathers to be an indication of a lifetime – maybe not a lifetime now but very near an average lifetime then. And this lifetime indicates everything that is wrong with a man – all sins, all infirmities, all incompleteness, everything that is lacking in us. Any man who has any honesty in his heart knows that he is incomplete, and longs to be changed.
For the paralytic, the first healing was of his legs, so that he could be able to stand. For us, this first healing is bringing us into the church.
Now the second healing is when the man was enlightened by Christ. Our Lord saw him in the temple (which was a good place for him to be, and the reason why he received the second healing), and He conveyed to the man Who he was. And Jesus told the man something very important: "Thou art made whole – sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee". In other words, now that you have been made whole, and I have forgiven your sins, live according to the commandments!
I want you to understand the true nature of this second healing. In the story, it is mentioned once, but we know that our ascent to wholeness and perfection occurs during our whole life. We will not receive this second healing in full measure without us forcing our will to struggle to follow the commandments. This is why the place where Christ found the man is so significant. He was in the temple, praying, giving thanks. God provides the grace, but we must supply the effort.
We Orthodox Christians are very poor at remembering these things that the Lord says, such as "sin no more". God’s mercy is linked very strongly to our responsibility to think to act, to breath as Christians. We are very poor at fulfilling this responsibility. It is very strange that the time of the worst church attendance is after Pascha. This is the time when people often tell me in confession that they have hardly said their prayers. Satan steals away the grace from us, like the birds steal the seed away from the ground by the wayside, because it has not taken root.
This story really is present at this time of the year not for this message that I am trying to give you now, but instead to further focus us on how the resurrection changes and enlightens a man. We will see this again and again during this post Paschal period, how God enlightens and how the resurrection is applied to our life. We will see it in the paralytic, and the blind man, and the Samaritan woman. But we also must see a sidebar to these healings and these enlightenments that we will look at, even if only briefly, on a Sunday. We are obligated.
Every year I wrestle, and I think I lose the wrestling match each year, but my pastoral conscience compels me to emphasize the Lord’s words given to the paralytic after his first healing, which we do not take enough heed of: "Take up your bed and walk!"
You must look in the mirror and judge yourself, am I living as a Christian? Am I fasting with care, am I coming to church when I can, or only when it is convenient to me? Am I saying my prayers or am I just making the sign of the cross as I bolt out the door into my car, in order to immediately turn on the radio and immerse myself into the secular minutia of the day? Am I struggling against my passions? Is this struggle my chief aim of my day?
We are obligated brothers and sisters. And this obligation is not a rule God requires that is enforced with an iron fist. God wants to give you every blessing, and I as a minister of the gospel am charged with making everything possible available to you, that I as a mortal who has been given the responsibility and the ability to deal with the immortal, can do. But you must TAKE it! You must grab it! You must pray. You must fast. You must come to the services. You must take up your bed and walk.
Perhaps I will win this wrestling match some year, and only speak of the joy of Pascha and the enlightenment that God gives. But so far I have lost, because my heart is heavy this time if year. Take up your bed and walk!
You have been healed, you have been put in the waters of baptism, and emerged a new creature. That is what the troubling of the waters in this story means. This theology is a lot more important than the movie of the week you know. We should know these things. The troubling of the water indicates baptism, but only man was healed a year, when the Archangel Michael went down into the water. You should know the angel’s identity from the evening vigil service. Archangel Michael troubles the water. This is not mentioned in the scriptures, but our Holy tradition knows this. One man only was healed! But Christ can heal the whole man, and He can heal everybody.
This is exciting news. But when the God-man says "Take up your bed and walk", He does just tell you to do it. He gives you the ability to do it! Who are we, to languish in inconstancy, and laziness, and in falling headlong in to the narcotic stream of life, when we have been directed by our Savior to work, and He has given us all things to fulfill his command. When we remain unchanged, we are not recognizing the mercy of God. And you will miss the grace. It streams by you, and you do not catch any of it, or only catch a small amount, because the grace of God which He bestows is retained only by the active, who are, carrying their beds, that is struggling in the Christina life. And still have all of your sins, and all of your passions and all of your problems, and the grace of God is right there for you to use!
We have the oasis only within a few steps and we are thirsting to death. A heavily laden table full of sweet meats is nearby, and we are hungry! Pick up your bed and walk! You still have time in this blessed period between now and Pentecost, when God wants to revel in a very significant extreme way, His enlightenment. We must to be here to listen. Not just "here" in this building, but in our prayers, in our reading, in all these things that are necessary for our souls. Not for my sake, for your sake.
I pray that next year I will win this wrestling match, and I will speak to you about what I really want to talk about – exciting news. But this kind of news can only be shared by people that are of the same mind striving together. Let’s be of the same mind, about the living of the Christian life. Struggle with me. I am not a very good struggler, and I need a lot of help and support. Let’s struggle together. Make up your mind you are going to fast better, that you will say your prayers in the morning , and not just a minutes worth. If you always have a habit of listening to Paul Harvey at 12 noon, and always remember that, then you can remember 5 minutes of prayer in the morning, or fifteen. Lets start with five. And five at night. And read something holy each day.
If you do this you will expand! God will fill you with knowledge And some of the problems that have been assailing you will start to be washed away. The process if agonizingly slow for most Christians ands they see very little progress, because they have not added enough EFFORT to God’s grace! So may we take up our bed and walk. Some of us can run, some of us can fly like eagles. Some of us can only crawl. I can only crawl, but if that is the case for you as well, then let’s crawl together.
May God help us to take up our bed and walk, to struggle with all the things in the Christian life for our benefit. God has much to give us, and we don’t see it, even though it is right here! Do you realize the angels are present right now? They are right here, among us, but do we see them? No, because our eyes have scales on them. We do not see what God wants to give us. This is a tragedy – that we don’t see the angels, that we do not feel the fullness of what is happening right now.
May God enlighten us! It will be as little bit at a time, small steps. He is not asking you to pray in the air tomorrow . He is asking you to respond to his grace, like a flower responds to the sun and grows towards it. The flower never turns away from the sun, and yet the Christian does. Let us not be like the world. Let us focus our lives on what matters, the salvation of our souls, so that we can see what God wants to show us. There is exciting news, incredible news concerning what God has in store for those who struggle. May God bless you and help you. Amen.