Healing of the Paralytic at the pool of Bethesda.
In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
Today is the Sunday of the paralytic, in which we hear the story of a man who'd been ill for thirty-eight years and was finally healed. We have much to learn from this story. Now, the reason why it's said now, or part of the reason, is because, as the services said last night, at “mid-feast”, Jesus visited this paralytic. It's almost mid-feast now, it is almost mid-Pentecost. Pentecost is a feast of 50 days, and we're in that period awaiting Pentecost. And the Jews celebrated Pentecost also; they didn't understand the same meaning as we do, it changed, but they had a 50-day feast. Jesus came about towards the middle of that feast - mid-Pentecost - and saw this man by the pool of Siloam, with five porches there.
We can learn many things from this short story. Certainly we can learn something about patience, endurance, not complaining about what is our lot in life, what's wrong with our life, what's going on that we don't like.
We complain constantly and incessantly, and our complaining is a stench that rises up to God. Because when you complain, you're showing a lack of faith, a lack of obedience, a lack of love - indeed, a lack of understanding of who the God-man Jesus Christ is. Who of all among us, if anyone, could complain and feel justified - our Lord is the only one. But of course He understood what his task was and He took it joyfully, and with obedience, in order to save us by living on the earth, showing us the way, teaching us and then backing up what He said with His actions and his resurrection from the dead after His crucifixion. Indeed, we can learn a lot about patience by seeing this man; he wasn't complaining, and he was there for 38 years.
We can also learn something about Who it is who can cure, and what it is that He really cures.
Whether a man is withered, lame, blind, or whatever infirmity a man has, it is small compared to the infirmity of the soul. Jesus healed this man not just of his infirmity of being palsied, but of the infirmity of his soul. How do we know this? Because later on we see after he was healed and the man was in the temple - which is a good sign, he was thanking God - Jesus explained some things to Him. Now listen carefully! In our society we don't like to hear this, in our society this is somehow not allowed, people don't like to admit this, they almost think you're crazy or reactionary to make the connection with sin that our Savior did when He said, 'Thou art made whole, sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee." Now the fathers understand - and if you just know English you can understand - that he's making a reference to his palsy, his being a paralytic was it some measure caused by his sins.
This is not always the case. In fact, one time Christ was asked, "Was it because of the sins of his parents or himself that this man was born without eyes, blind?" Christ said neither one; if was that the glory of God might be made manifest. It's not always because of sins that a person suffers some affliction, but most of the time it is because of sins. Either because sin causes the affliction - smoking, drinking alcohol to abuse, drugs, and promiscuity, there's a long litany of things, diseases, that are caused by our own stupidity, by our wanton abuses. You can see fractured families because people don't deal with their anger, or their lust, or their impatience, or their selfishness; sin causes many problems such as that in a direct way. But in an indirect way sin causes many other afflictions, because we're so thickheaded we don't see God. We don't see God in the good things, and we take advantage of those good things and fall into depravity.
So God, in His wisdom, in His love, in His mercy, chastises us in order so that we might cleave unto Him.
It's the same principle with parents and their children; sometimes you must punish a child to help turn him to the right way, sometimes you must let a child suffer grievously in order to let him turn to the right way. If someone has a child that, let's say, gets involved in extremely dangerous and illicit behaviors and goes to jail, sometimes it's best not to bail the child out. God does the same thing with us. Our sins cause our suffering.
This society doesn't like to say that - "oh, how can you say this?" It does happen, to all of us. So if you have any situation in your life you're not pleased with - whether it's a physical infirmity, whether it's a relationship, whether it's job, or neighborhood, or family or whatever it is, "Physician, heal thyself." Look the in mirror; look in the mirror of the soul. What's wrong with you? What's causing it? As I said before, it's possible that such things could be caused not through your sins at all, but because of something else. But for the most part, our sins cause our sufferings. And yet we complain, and we complain and we complain. But we always complain about that person and that person, but never ourselves. That's the person you need to complain about. Complain, ask God to help you with your sins, with that which fills you with evil.
I was reading from a wonderful sermon by Bishop Nicholaj Velimirovich, and he said "A Christian should expect to suffer." How about that for politically incorrect speaking! He expects to suffer, and he is surprised and glad and rejoices when he does not suffer. He expects to suffer because of his sins, just as you, if you were subject to a king and had killed the king's deer, you expect that the king is going to have you executed. You're not going to complain about that, you're going to be sorry and ask for forgiveness to the king. And if the king gives you forgiveness - but you know, he'll say “Don't kill any more of my deer, but I forgive you this time” - then you'll rejoice. Now we can do this with an earthly king, but with our Heavenly Father we don't do this.
We seem to think we're owed so much. We breathe it in the very air; it's so polluted with Western ideas that pollute us: "We're owed something." We're not owed anything in terms of your lot in life. All of our life is affected by Gods’ providence: some of it caused by God, and some of it allowed by God depending on your own ingenuity and your own abilities. But it all goes away in a vapor, how you lived, what you've done in this world. What matters is how your soul has developed, and if you're made whole.
I see that there are three things in this story that really jump out at me. Now you know that the water represents baptism, and that the person who was put in the water was made whole. Notice how it is says "made whole"; not just their infirmity was healed, but they were made whole, but only one person, at one time in the season.
Christianity is to make one whole. Baptism is for all men, not just for one man, at one time in the season.
And the man said to Christ, when Christ said, "wilt thou be made whole?" he said, 'I have nobody to help me." And he was looking at the Man who would help him; he was looking at the God-man who would help him, and he didn't know who He was yet.
Christ asks us this question continually. "Wilt thou be made whole?" And for the most part we answer him with a resounding "No." To some extent we've answered "yes"; we've come to the waters of baptism, we make an effort to fast, to come to the services - sometimes, unfortunately, a very poor effort to come to the services and I must mention that again. Don't lose your zeal; some of you are in very great danger of losing your zeal.
We make our small efforts, so yes indeed we say, to some extent,
"Yes, I want to be made whole, O Lord!"
But for the most part we say,
"No, I don't want to give up what I'm doing; I don't want to give up the sweetness of sin, or the sweetness of complaining, or the sweetness of excuses."
They're so sweet, aren't they? But they cover up bitter, bitter poison. So we must answer this question completely and totally,
"Yes, I want to be made whole!
“I want to be cleansed of all my sins, and I don't blame Thee, the Lord, or my friends, or my family, or anyone else for my sins and for my afflictions; they are mine and mine alone, and they are my fault. But Thou canst heal it; Thou art the man that can bring me into the water and can refresh me."
He is the One. We don't fully recognize that, either - oh, we believe it with our minds, with our lips, but if we really believed it we'd make much greater effort in living the Christian life.
And another thing jumps out, when Christ said:
"Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more."
Christianity is a constant process of becoming whole, but it involved two free wills - God's, who is perfectly free, and ours, which should be free but has become enslaved to passions and lusts and corruptible things. But we were made to be free. It was our purpose. God made us to have perfect freedom. You know the Gospel of John where it says: "he will go in and out and find pasture"? The sheep, being able to go in and out, go wherever they wish, perfect freedom, but freedom in godliness, freedom in purity, freedom in perfection.
This is the purpose of our life - perfect freedom!
So we have to answer Christ, when He asks us the question "wilt thou be made whole?", "Yes!" And any portion which answers "no" we must confess with bitter tears.
Stop making excuses for yourself. Don't make excuses for not being able to say your prayers, for not being able to come to church, for not being able to come to confession, for not doing this, for not doing that, for this reason, for that reason, for why you do this and why you do that. You know it’s all a lie. I know it is a lie in my own life, so I strive to be honest concerning these things also. It's a lie.
And every time you make an excuse, you are saying "NO." You're saying "I don't want to be made whole. I like laying in the gutter, I like laying in filth. I like wallowing in my sins."
Don't allow yourself to do this. That's why the church has an order. This order is not rules and regulations, it is for our benefit. That's why I must speak of it over and over, and especially during this season, because during this season is the most likely time for a person to fall away. Part of that is because God has given us such great grace on Pascha, and we hardly accepted it; we accepted a few things, we accepted some of the sweet meats, but we didn't accept and take into ourselves the resurrection. We couldn't bear it and so, because of unthankfulness, we're starting to fall away. I don't really know anybody who is honest who doesn't say that this happens to them during the Paschal season. It happens to me, but I struggle against it.
So I beseech you, my brothers and sisters, struggle against this; don't make excuses, don't let your life be in the way of eternal life. Don't let your temporal life impair you, don't make excuses, don't say NO.
If you understood what Christ is saying, and says, when He says "wilt thou be made whole?", you'd be begging me to serve daily Liturgies. You'd be begging me, because you wouldn't want to go away from the temple, if you knew what wholeness really is. So taste God more and more, and as you taste more and more of God, you won't want to taste depravity.
But if you don't continue to taste of Him, and to "mount up like eagles" as it says in the Scriptures, to struggle, then it'll be a gradual slide. It might not be anything you notice, it might not be anything I notice - and I tell what, I keep my eyes peeled because, although I'm unworthy, I'm called to be a shepherd here, so I watch and I worry and I wait and I pray. But you know, in the long run, I'm not responsible for your salvation. To some degree I might have to answer if my own sins have caused you to falter, but you are all responsible for your own salvation. In the context of living the Christian life in community and in obedience, you are responsible.
Think a little about what it means to be whole. Which do you prefer - the inconstancy, the depravity, the weakness, the infirmity of this life, or wholeness, completeness, perfection and freedom? You and I are paralytics to some degree, sometimes to a great degree, and tragically this is usually of our own making.
So when Christ asks you - and He's asking you today, He asks you every moment of your life - "Wilt thou be made whole?" You MUST struggle to say "YES" and then you MUST back up your promise with action, with effort, with desire. Then indeed, you will be made whole.
God help you!
Priest Seraphim Holland 1999. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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