Summary: A homily regarding the miraculous healing of the Paralytic by Christ. Given on the Fourth Sunday of Paschal (Sunday of the Paralytic) at the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension.
Dear brothers and sisters, today's Gospel reading in chapter five of the testimony of St. John tells us a wonderful story about love and forgiveness and profound healing. It is not a mushy type of story. It is not one that everyone will understand either. It is the story of a humble man who has been paralyzed and lays upon a cot beside of a pool with mysterious healing powers. We are told that at this pool, every now and then the waters are stirred up by an angel and that the first person who enters into the pool at the sign of the stirring will be healed of whatever it is that afflicts them.
Of course the man is not the only one who sits by the pool waiting for the angel to stir the waters. There are many more. In fact, there are so many that the man has trouble getting to the pool in time to benefit from his healing properties. The man has a loan for he says he has no one to help him get to the edge of the pool. This is a sorrowful tale of this person's inner loneliness and despair.
Saint Cyprian of Carthage once said, “Everyone falls alone, but we are being saved in the community”. In a way we see instantly that this man and his state of affairs can tell us a little bit about ourselves and about salvation and how is the understood in the Orthodox Church. The man who is paralyzed is alone by himself, and in utter despair. He has no helper and no sense of hope left with him. Yet, he still sits by the pool unable to move forward and unable to carry himself home. How many of us can see this picture and view ourselves in the same predicament? How many of us by our own efforts can save themselves?
Later on in the narrative, we are given a clue to help us see the nature of the man's illness. We are led to the understanding that his illness and his state of being are caused by sin. This fact is incredibly important and actually is the hinge pin upon which we can use to fully understand the deep truth is being shown to us.
It is none other than Christ Himself, who comes to the men's aid. He asks a very simple question. "Do you wish to be healed?" it sounds simple on the surface but it implies a much deeper meaning! Let him who has ears hear the truth and understand it. That if the man's unrepented sins have caused him to be in such a helpless situation, does he now, in the depths of his affliction, wish to repent? He answered as I suppose anyone of us would answer. Of course! I wish to be healed! What Christ says next is amazing. He says "Take up thy bed and walk home." Any other person saying this to a paralyzed man would have been thought to be cruel and perhaps even a bit of a fool. But this was Jesus the Christ saying this. For it was given to Him to heal illnesses and to forgive sins.
And so the man got up, having instantly been made whole, picked up instead and WALKED towards his home. Another miracle! This man who could not walk before could now do so! But the bigger miracle still was in the forgiveness of the formerly unrepented sin. The sickness of the soul had been healed and with it, the body as well.
But of course, this was all lost upon the Pharisees. All they saw was a man performing labor on the Sabbath. They stopped man and ask him why he was performing labor on the Sabbath when it was forbidden. The enormity of the situation was utterly lost upon them. All they saw was a breach of the law and to them the law was everything and that there was nothing above the law. But by the miracle of the healing and forgiveness of the man's sins, Christ proved that His grace is above the law.
You see, the law is useful in as much as it shows us what is right and what is wrong. It teaches us to fear punishment and in a way, to fear the source of the law (*i.e- God). But it is through Grace that we are ultimately healed. Grace teaches us to do that which is right because of our love for Christ. That love for Christ is merely a reflection of the incredible love that Christ has for us. Because of this love that he has for us, Christ came to this man who could not come to His healing upon his own volition. It was through His grace that God sought out the paralytic, in the same way He even now seeks us out in the depths of our deepest sins. He has come to heal us. As He did with the paralytic, it is through His love and our acceptance of it through repentance that He has placed us upon our feet and through such healing, we can walk forward towards our home with the Father.