|Homily 6th Sunday after Pentecost Healing of the Paralytic Matt. 9:1-8|
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen; glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In a short eight verses, today we have heard a wonderful distillation of the Gospel! In the healing of the Paralytic we get a glimpse at the order of our salvation. ..and it works on many different levels.
In the very first line, “So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city,” St. Gregory Palamas sees the incarnation, the resurrection and the ascension. That’s a lot to load on one sentence, but let us look at what he means. In getting into the boat, St. Gregory sees our Lord taking on human nature. He crosses over, that is, He passes through this life , dies and is resurrected, and then came to His own city…that is, He ascended to heaven and sits down at the right hand of the Father. St. Gregory even saw meaning in the fact that the Lord is not described as leaving the boat, but simply coming to His own city. By this the God-bearing Father saw an intimation of the bodily Ascension. Our Lord took the clay of humanity and brought it into the very heavens and in his incarnate, resurrected flesh, sat down at the right hand of the Father.
The next sentence has men carrying the paralytic man to Christ. In this image, St. Gregory sees the Apostles and Evangelists carrying the Gentiles to Christ who have been paralyzed by their sinful ways. Each one of these former pagans is brought to Christ and the weight of their sins which paralyzes them and holds them down is forgiven them and taken from them. Even more, we are, as St. Paul put it, made heirs with Christ. We become children of God, which we hear in the word, “Son, be of good cheer…” What a glorious way to look at the Gospel. It is a wonderful way to see the image of our own salvation brought into sharp focus. What is more, when (not if) we fall into sin after our baptism and chrismation, we can be carried by the Apostles to Christ again and when we repent we can hear again those words, “Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.” The paralysis of our souls can be abolished.
The pattern of our salvation found in this passage of the Gospels can also be uncovered in a slightly different way as well, though, and this is the order in which our healing takes place. According to St. Symeon the New Theologian, with the Incarnation, with the Son and Word of God taking on flesh, our souls were healed. If we look at how we fell from grace in the Garden of Eden, we will note that it was through our soul, through our will, that we first sinned. The consequences of this were a darkening of our spiritual eyes and then the corruption of the body. So the soul, the will, sinned first and the body bore the consequences of that sin. So in the Incarnation the soul of man is healed first and then the body is healed by the Resurrection and the fullness of our salvation, the deification of human nature, is shown by Christ ascending to heaven in the Resurrected body, resurrected human nature, and sitting down at the right hand of the Father.
In the healing of the paralytic we have this same order of redemption: the man is forgiven his sins and then his physical body is healed. Indeed, this same order is preserved in the manner in which people are brought into the Church. First their sins are forgiven in the font of baptism. At that time we are made co-heirs with Christ and children of God. Finally we will all be raised in a radiant resurrection body and we will no longer know pain or suffering or travail.
This is the pattern of redemption: the Lord heals the soul and then the body. Of the two, the healing of the soul is the most important in this life. One can be free in the Lord and inherit eternal life even in a broken body. With a broken soul, an unrepentant and unhealed soul, even the body of a supermodel or top athlete will not save us.
The Lord healed many people and the pattern was to forgive sins and then to heal. Sometimes sin and sickness go hand in hand. Disease of the soul can reach out and manifest itself in the body. This is one of the reasons for the words of forgiveness from the Lord before he healed the body. Though our maladies are sometimes the result of sin whether of immoderation or in the indulgence of hurtful things, at other times they are not the result of sins, but simply our environment or some unknown reason. None of us will get through life without some suffering.
At times, though we suffer, we will not be healed. Sometimes we will not be healed in this life, though we will all ultimately be healed and raised in the Resurrection. There will be times when some of us ask to be delivered from an illness or an affliction and the answer will be no. This can be a hard cross to bear, but how we bear it can have eternal consequences.
If we have had our request for healing denied, we will find ourselves in good company. There have been scores of saints who have borne illness or ill fortune with joy because it is through this they can share in Christ’s suffering and so rise with Him as well. One saint comes to mind who endured an affliction and was denied healing for a specific reason. This saint called his affliction a “thorn in the flesh,” and he wrote, “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.” These are, of course, the words of the Apostle Paul, arguably one of the greatest of saints. What was his answer? “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” These are hard words to hear, but St. Paul needed to hear this so that he would not become proud of his spiritual experiences. His infirmity was meant to keep him humble. Paul said about this, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distress, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
St. Paul knew that if he had no infirmity, he would be proud. In his pride, he would fall and be spiritually weak. If, however, he could not rely on his own power, whose power could he lean on? He could lean on the Lord’s power. Knowing his own powerlessness, he knew he had access to the greatest power there is. When he was weak, he was strong. The same is true for all of us.
One of the hardest things we can do is to accept our own suffering with joy rather than fear. Harder still is suffering when we don’t understand why God would allow us, or anyone, to suffer. But we must remember that there are things we can never understand because of our limited abilities and that God’s wisdom and love are different than what we understand. That our pain can be for our salvation doesn’t always make sense, but the Lord knows why He permits something to happen. We don’t see the Big Picture, but He does. The Fathers teach that everything that is permitted to happen comes from the Love of God. This is His providential care for us.
The Church Fathers teach us to embrace our suffering. In some cases, as in fasting and vigils, and long bouts of prayer, we afflict ourselves. This self affliction though is not enough to free us from sin. It does train us to resist sin, but without involuntary suffering, as in Paul’s case, the voluntary trials can lead to pride. The Church Father Ilias the Presbyter writes in the Philokalia that voluntary suffering must be wed to involuntary suffering (which takes the form of sickness, material losses and slander among others) so that the sword of the soul will be tempered by both fire and water….otherwise it will be shattered by the events of life. The fire is voluntary and the water is the involuntary suffering. As I understand his writings, the soul unused to voluntary suffering will fall to temptations that may come along, but the soul unused to involuntary sufferings of various kinds will not know how to rely on God when the really big troubles come. Finally, it is the same as what Paul is told by the Lord, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
In the end one must put suffering into the perspective it deserves. It is nothing compared to the glory that we shall receive from God. The Paralytic was physically healed so that those present would know that the Lord had the greater power which was the power to forgive sins and heal the soul. One kind of healing has only temporal significance for us. It can only last for part of our lifetime (because we are all mortal and we will all die of something), the healing of the soul will last an eternity.
On this our independence day, let us remember that our true independence from sin and corruption lies with our dependence on God. Let us, in our weakness, hear the Lord call us His children and say that we are forgiven our sins! As Saint Paul wrote to the Romans:
15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.
© 2010 Fr. Philip Kontos