St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

On the Sunday of the Paralytic

Sermon preached by Fr. Philip Begley on Sunday, May 6, 2012

In the Gospel reading we heard earlier; the Evangelist John describes how a paralyzed man had been lying beside the pool of Bethesda waiting for the stirring of the waters by an angel so that he could be healed. His wait lasted not for an hour, or a few days, or even a few years, but Thirty-Eight years. As amazing as this man’s patience and perseverance may have been, perhaps what stands out even more is the fact that no one –- not a single person during the course of all these years had compassion on him and helped him into the pool. This aspect of the story is often forgotten, but it is important for us because we must never ignore the fact that situations of great suffering always exist in the world today. Countless people suffer everyday from different afflictions and many have no one to care for them. So for us, this Gospel message must be a call to action: We are all made in God’s image and as such, are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. All of us, therefore, are responsible for one another. This is part of our mission as followers of Christ.

But in caring for each other we must also be aware that a person’s suffering may not be as outwardly obvious to us as the affliction of the paralytic. If we imagine ourselves out and about during a regular day, and we look at the people around us---we have no way of knowing how broken they are, how much pain and agony there is in their lives, or how many broken hopes, how much fear and rejection and contempt bring them down. But even if we can’t see it, there is a illness inside them—a spiritual struggle, which we all share in common: The same disease, which is sin. So we can say then, that suffering is not only the outward physical, but the inner, spiritual pain suffering. And Spiritual sickness is especially terrible because it harms our relationship with others and ultimately with God.

If we are to answer this call to help others, we must do some housekeeping of our own. So before we are able to help the other, we must first examine ourselves and see what sins are plaguing us. And it takes great courage to look inside, because when we do, we find things that we don’t like or don’t want to accept. When we examine the causes of our own sufferings, we frequently try to find causes outside of ourselves. In short, we might try to place blame on someone or something other than ourselves instead of taking responsibility for our sins.  But the truth is that the cause is inside us and cannot be avoided. And we must find the strength to face it, with God’s help. We must also realize that in fighting our spiritual battles, our sinful problems will not change overnight. Change takes a number of things: One is patience:

Consider the Paralytic, who after 38 years of suffering, could have complained when Christ arrived asking him “What took you so long?” but he didn’t. Instead of an angry, bitter response to the Lord’s question: Do you want to be healed? The paralytic responded, calmly and patiently. He was struggling, but never gave up hope. And we cannot give up hope either. In our darkest moments, when things may seem hopeless, we must never forget that God is with us and that he loves us. The paralytic suffered in loneliness because he had no one to help him. He could not bring about healing through his own efforts. So what did he do? He waited patiently for Christ. And we too, must follow this example, but do so when dealing with our afflictions. 

The second thing change requires is a little work on our part. When the Lord commanded the Paralytic to “Rise, be made whole, take up your bed and walk” he was giving the paralytic a command. Taking up bed and walking involves obedience and work. A command, which we all received at baptism when we received the Holy Spirit enabling us with the ability to follow the commandments and to become pure. Taking up the bed is like taking up our cross; it is our mission, to follow Christ’s example and how he lived. A mission that we must continue to say “yes” to throughout our lives in spite of our times of spiritual struggle.

Third, it is necessary to trust in God by taking our free-will and submitting it to God by pacing our hope in Him— then we can begin to see our sufferings turn to healing and we can also help others who suffer, by letting Christ work through us. It is only then, that we can look at one another with a true understanding and with proper attention, so that we can reach out to each other and truly love our neighbor as ourselves.

Finally, the Gospel closes with a warning: which Jesus expressed to the Paralytic after his healing, but also to all of us:

Jesus says: “Sin no more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” In other words, now you have been healed, be careful not to practice a sinful life, in order that nothing worse happens to you.

This is a warning to us:

If we show no sign that we want to be healed; if we try to hide from our sins instead of facing them and taking responsibility for them…if we don’t place our trust and hope in God and don’t obey the command to rise and carry our cross, then we too will continue to lie in sickness, or fall into a worse spiritual sickness, which may make the Paralytic’s 38 years seem like a short time.

So what is the way out? What is the solution?
As a wise priest once wrote: The answer is given in today's Gospel. The way out is Christ, He who healed the paralytic. And we must be ready to receive him as did the paralytic. To trust God and let him work through us. For Christ can heal physical illness and spiritual illness not only because He overcomes sin, but also because He can overcome the ultimate consequence of sin - death itself.

Christ is Risen!