May 10, 2020
Christ is Risen!
This morning we heard the reading from the Gospel of John, chapter 5, concerning the paralytic who was miraculously healed by our Lord Jesus Christ. A few pages further, in chapter 9, we will read about the healing of the man who was born blind. On this occasion, that is the healing of the blind man, the disciples had asked the Lord: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” The Saviour replied: “Neither hath sinned this man nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” In other words, the affliction, or the blindness, was not a result of sins committed by the blind man, nor a punishment brought upon his parents because of their sins. This was simply a “natural” occurrence; natural in accordance with the nature of this fallen world. Neither he, nor his parents, did something, committed some offense, which resulted in God visiting blindness upon the son. I don’t want to say too much concerning this because we shall hear more about it two Sundays from now on the Sunday of the Blind Man.
But what about the paralytic in today’s Gospel? We heard that after his miraculous healing, the Lord went and found him in the Temple, and said to him: “Behold thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” What can we learn from this? Lots of things, but first of all we must come to grips with the reality that his illness came as a result of his sins. “Sin is a fearful thing,” says St. John Chrysostom, “fearful and the ruin of the soul. And oftentimes, in excess, it overflows and attacks men’s bodies also” (Hom.38 on St. John).
In Deuteronomy 28 we hear a chilling list of maladies that might afflict people who sin, who disobey God’s commandments. Some are: plague (oooh that sounds familiar!), tuberculosis, fever, inflammation, the boils of Egypt, hemorrhoids, festering sores, and “an itch, from which you cannot be healed.” We can see clear examples of this in the Bible too. For example, for the sins of disobedience, lying, deception, covetousness and avarice, Gehazi (Γιεζι), the disciple of Elisha, was covered with leprosy and forced to depart from the Prophet's presence (2 Kings 5:27). For the sin of disbelief, Zachariah, the father of St. John the Baptist, was struck dumb, unable to speak (Luke 1:22). For the sin of daring to touch the Ark of the Covenant, which the Law strictly forbade him to do, plus the sin of not trusting God’s ability to prevent the Ark from falling off the cart, Uzzah dropped dead on the spot. (2 Samuel 6:1-7; 1 Chronicles 13:9-12).
It’s not that God does evil things to us or wants to hurt us. No, not at all! He loves us. But sometimes God allows physical afflictions to bring about our repentance, a change in our minds. Thus, St. Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, turns the incestuous - adulterer over to Satan for the destruction of his body, that in the end his soul might be saved ( I Cor. 5:5). And happily, in Second Corinthians, we learn that the man repented and was, eventually, restored to the Church's communion (2 Cor. 2: 6 -7).
So we see by these examples that sometimes illness or infirmity can be a means for our deliverance from sin. This was surely the case for the paralytic in today’s Gospel. He was a wicked sinner in his youth, and as a result, he was afflicted with some type of paralysis for 38 years! What was he lacking? Repentance. After the Saviour healed the man, He later went out to show His disciples what became of him. And where does He find him? In the Temple. “This” says St. John Chrysostom, “is an indication of his great piety; for he departed not to the market places, or the promenades, nor gave himself up to luxury and ease, but remained in the Temple, in spite of being attacked and harassed there by so many. But none of these things persuaded him to depart from the Temple” (Ibid.).
But what was the nature of the paralytic’s sin? What had he done, that required such a strong medicine to effect his cure? The Gospel does not tell us. We only know that he sinned, and that Christ tells him to sin no more, lest something worse should come upon him. By worse He does not mean a worse physical affliction, but eternal damnation, the death that is worse than death.
So, beloved, “let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us,” as the Apostle says (Hebrews 12:1). Let us be alarmed at our weakness and our susceptibility to its infections. Let us take courage in the healing words of the Saviour and “sin no more.” When we are once again permitted, let us run continually to the Temple and meet Christ here, and gain healing, salvation, and eternal life from Him.
Christ is Risen!