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John 5:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus asks the paralyzed man, “Do you want to be made whole, healthy, well?” The sick man answers Him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am struggling to get myself down into the water, someone else always gets in before me.” What this means is that year after year this poor, sick man is brought or somehow drags himself to this pool, and year after year he is disappointed. Why does he keep coming back? Is he insane, according to the popular saying, doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result? To understand his words, we first have to understand the man. St John Chrysostom helps us by asking: “What could be more sad than these circumstances? Do you see his heart, broken due to long sickness? Do you see how all violence within him is subdued? He doesn’t curse his situation. He doesn’t complain about his lot in life as many often do. He didn’t get angry at the question, nor did he say, ‘Have you come to mock me and all of us here with your question whether I desire to be made whole?’ No, not at all, but he replied gently, with great mildness, "Yes, Lord." He did not know who it was that asked him, he did not know that it would be He that would heal him, but he mildly relates all the circumstances and asks nothing further, as though he were speaking to a physician, and desired merely to tell the story of his sufferings” (Homilies on the Gospel of John, NPNF, edited by me).
So, why is this the case? What is it, about this paralyzed man, that makes him so remarkable? What is it about this man, that keeps him coming back, year after year? Answer: It is his faith in the miracle. Which miracle? Is it the miracle of healing brought by an angel? Yes, of course, but more importantly, he believes that if THAT miracle can happen, then a bigger miracle, a personal miracle, can also happen – a miracle for him. God is bigger than Bethesda’s pool. God is mightier than an angel’s touch. God is stronger than any men needed to lift him and put him in the pool. The paralytic believes that “where God wills, the order of nature is overruled, for He does whatever He wishes” as St. Andrew of Crete says. The paralytic is waiting for his own miracle. You might be surprised at this, but even the icon placed here for veneration testifies to the point. Now I know that most of you don’t read Greek, but at the top of the icon it says “Christ Heals the Paralytic.” Most of them have this at a title. But at the bottom it says “The Fourth Sunday of Pascha, the miracle of the Paralytic.” That’s right, the miracle of the paralytic!
Belief in miracles is fundamental to our Christian faith. Which miracles, you might ask? How about the miracle of Creation, the parting of the Red Sea, the bush that burned yet was not consumed? How about the miracle of God taking flesh and dwelling among us, the raising of Lazarus, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, His ascension into heaven? Don’t we believe in all of these things? We do! But we also know that these miracles go against all worldly logic, all earthly wisdom. For a believer, though, worldly, fleshly, and fallen logic have no place when it comes to divine things. St. Nektarios of Aegina said: “Miracles are not impossible from a logical standpoint, and right reason does not deny them. Natural laws do not have the claim to be the only ones, nor are they threatened with being overturned by the appearance of other laws, supernatural ones, which also are conducive to the development and furtherance of creation… Miracles are a consequence of the Creator’s love for his creatures.” Also, St. Augustine says: “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.” And I also like this quote from the Synodikon of Orthodoxy from the first Sunday of Great Lent: “To them who do not accept with a pure and simple faith and with all their soul and heart the extraordinary miracles of our Saviour and God, and of the Most Holy Theotokos who without stain gave birth to Him, and of the other saints, but who attempt by sophistic demonstrations and words to traduce them as being impossible, or to misinterpret them according to their own way of thinking, and to present them according to their own opinion, Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!” (Το Συνοδικόν της Ορθοδοξίας)
Miracles are not myths, they are not fairy tales. Miracles are not the pious imaginings of unsophisticated illiterates. They are real. We don’t need to explain them away. We don’t need to be embarrassed about recounting them. We don’t need to re-write them in order to make them more “palatable” for a skeptical, cynical, and fallen world. We need to confess them. Miracles are the reason that many came to believe in Christ, and miracles are the reason that many gave their lives for Christ. Miracles are an important part of the fabric of the Gospel. Why? Because they always point to something bigger than themselves. The late and saintly Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas wrote: “Miracles are signs that point to something – a truth – far greater and more important than the acts themselves, the restoration of all things to their pristine state, the way things were supposed to be, or should have developed, if men had obeyed God’s will in the first place” (The Miracles of Christ, pg 3-4).
Fr. Luke Veronis, in a moving sermon on the miracle-working and myrrh-streaming icon “Kardiotisa” located in Taylor, Pennsylvania (a copy of which is hanging right here in our church), concluded by saying: “Our God is a God of wonders and miracles. He is not bound by the very laws of nature which He Himself has established. Sometimes in our contemporary, secular and materialistic world we try to insist that science and reason are the only source of truth. The Church honors and appreciates science and reason, yet we know that the Creator of all stands above all. We can never try to limit or keep God confined within our own boundaries. The miracle of the Kardiotisa icon is just one small example of the unfathomable mysteries of life and of the Creator of Life, God Himself! Sometimes we can only observe in awe and wonder, and give glory to God for the way He reveals His majesty!”
The paralytic waited for God’s miracle, patiently, with faith and hope. He should inspire us today to follow his example. God loves us more than we love ourselves. He always wants to heal us, but the most important healing is the of our souls. The flesh passes away. God always hears us. He may answer today, or He may answer in 38 years. His timing is always perfect. God always wants what is best for us, best for our life; for our eternal life. The miracle of the raising of the paralytic today was not the most important miracle described in today’s Gospel, it was the encounter with Christ. The paralytic met God face to face, and today we sing together with him: “Praise God in His saints, praise Him in the firmament of His power. Praise Him for His mighty acts, praise Him according to the multitude of His greatness” (Psalm 150 LXX). Amen.