Pain, Suffering and the Paralytic

John 5:1-15 –    +  εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ Πατρὸς  + καὶ τοῦ Υἱοῦ  + καὶ τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος

Gospel for the Sunday of the 4th Sunday of Easter – Sunday of the Paralytic

“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.’”

“Do you want to be made well?”   “I have no man to help me…”  Jesus said to him: “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”  Today in our hearing, today in this Gospel, the Man has come, the Son of Man, who is the Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, has come, is present and will come again.  The good news about this day is we, like the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (the House of Mercy) have come to this House of Mercy, and we like he, have been made well, for we have come to the table of plenty, we have seen the true light we have received the heavenly spirit, we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity… today we rise and walk, for the very Body and Blood of Christ dwells within us, healing us even now, even at this moment.  The paralytic of 38 years had no man; he had no friends as did the other paralytic in the Gospels, those men who dismantled Peter’s roof in order to lower their friend to Jesus.  In this case, not one person, not even one, for 38 years cared enough about this man to help him, except this One Man, Jesus.  But the question remains:  “Do you want to be made well?”   Do you see it, do you hear it?  Synergia! “Work together” – Jesus will never force, coerce, or compel anyone who does not want to follow Him, in the truest sense through the work of the Holy Spirit, we cooperate in the Divine energies: we come, we bow, we prostrate, we hear, we receive, we eat, we drink, we believe, we are healed… we rise and we walk…  St. Maximus gets to the very heart of matter:

“In the same way in which the soul and the body are united, God should become accessible for participation by the soul and through the soul’s intermediary, by the body, in order that the soul might receive an unchangeable character, and the body, immortality. And finally that the whole man should become God, deified by the grace of God become man, becoming whole man, soul and body, by nature, and becoming whole God, soul and body, by grace.”

Make no mistake.  Jesus’ objective on that day, at the pools of Bethesda, where the spotless and unblemished lambs were washed before being brought to the Temple for sacrifice, was to announce through the might of His spoken word that He is the Lamb of God who alone takes away the sin of the world, He is the Lamb of God who heals the blind, and the paralyzed, and He is the Lamb of God who restores union… sacred communion…the oneness of God and man who was lost in the Garden by Adam, is now restored in the Garden tomb by the new Adam Jesus for He has conquered sin, death and the devil, once and for all.  What Christ was after in healing this paralyzed man was not simply that he might walk in the dusty streets of Jerusalem for a few more days, but that he and all of the others who witnessed the miracle might come to saving faith, and walk forever in the streets of paradise where moth and rust does not destroy.

There are so many deep and beautiful truths in this Gospel, and one is hard pressed to know even where to begin.  This the 3rd sign of St. John’s 7 signs… all sacramental signs, the Kingdom of God has come – is here!  Weddings, Water, Wine – Bread, Eating, Healing – Seeing, Walking Living.  The sheep gate water is limited, it can only heal one person, presumably once each year, as the angel stirs the water, a limited grace, a limited healing is offered, a partial participation is granted to the outcasts, but in Christ, by his incarnation, He is Lord of angels, His word joined with water brings life from death, we die to rise, and His grace is sufficient for all who will come, unlimited grace, a table of plenty laden with meats and cheeses and wines for all.  But every person has a choice:  “Do you want to be made well?”  You see the gates of hell are locked from inside.  But today I want to focus on one thing:  38 years of infirmity.  Jesus knew he had been in that condition a long time… He lay there with a broken palsied body, no wife, no children, no family, no worship in the Temple, day after day, month after month, year after year, with no one to help him…  How often is it that we lose hope and patience after 38 seconds, or 38 minutes, if we are lucky?  How often do we complain at the slightest affliction to our bodies, or our financial situations; like children we squirm, squeal, cry, complain, shake our fist to heaven; and yet it is exactly through the afflictions, the pain, and in the sufferings of this life, that God shows His love and mercy to us the most abundantly and beautifully.  We must not run, nor cower, nor fear suffering and affliction but we must learn to embrace it, love it, live in it, and persevere through it – “…indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be afflicted…”  The challenge is not when we will be afflicted – but rather how we will respond.

I have been reading a good deal these days the ancient wisdom of the Desert Fathers, and the beautiful counsel of holy monastics.  One in particular, Elder Ephraim, offers wisdom that heals souls, gives power to run the race, and provides words of holiness to help us to sin no more.

“The comfortable life is very hazardous for eternal salvation.  It is not the Spirit of God that dwells in those living in comfort, but rather the spirit of the devil, for this reason, in this life’s sorrows we must have patience and thanksgiving in all things for God is well pleased with both of these virtues.   Since you follow the Savior Christ your greatest duty is to bear all suffering, whether it comes from nature, indolence, sins, or people.  Shall we not cry out like the blessed Job, ‘As it seemed good to the Lord, so it has come to pass?  Blessed be the name of the Lord?’  So whenever you are in pain and are afflicted, call to mind Him who was crucified and then you will find much relief.  For who could gaze at the Crucified One and reflect on His passion which He suffered for us and not find balm for his wounds, whether spiritual or physical?  Look up, my child, there on Golgotha, there where the Holy Lamb triumphed victoriously in order to wash the wounds of our sins and passions with His Blood.  His compassion is great; never lose your confidence in Him who was crucified for you.  Therefore, let us struggle; let us make our souls keen by working them over the whetstone of patience, in order to carry out a work pleasing to God.  Afflictions, illnesses, distresses, trials – none of these will separate us from the love of Christ.  For we have already been taught that narrow and difficult is the way which leads to life… for this reason my child, endure everything with gladness, for a crown is being woven invisibly for the head of each one of us.  Winter is bitter, but paradise is sweet.  Endure the frost of trials that your feet may joyfully – dance in heaven. 

And may we, through patient endurance in all our sufferings, trials and disappointments, dance one day, with our brother Jairus the paralytic, who dances even now in the presence of the Master who commanded him to rise and walk, whose Word compelled faith that bore eternal life.  May the Lord give us much patience in our life’s sorrows, so that in everything we may thank the Giver of good things who provides for us.  “…take heart for in this world you will have tribulation but I (Jesus) have overcome the world…”

+ Anaphora

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