Matthew 9:1-8
Beloved, this morning I’m going to concentrate on just the first two verses of this morning’s Gospel reading appointed for today, Sunday.
1. “So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city.”
The Lord and His disciples didn’t NEED to take a boat. The walk was a fairly short one. But sometimes Jesus just needed to get away. You know? Just get away from the crowds that constantly thronged Him. Sometimes He would go off alone to a mountain top. Sometimes He would just vanish from their midst (See Luke 4:30). And sometimes He would take a boat and sail away. And why was that? So that His whole time on earth would not be taken up with miracle-working. St John Chrysostom says:  "It was His will not to be always doing miracles, so that He might not take away from the revelation of His humanity." Next it says:
2. “Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed.”
Who are the “they?” The Gospel doesn’t tell us, but we can suppose that they were the friends and/or relatives of the paralyzed man. They are carrying him on a bed, which can mean like a pallet or even a dining couch or some other type of furniture. Not an easy task. It shows serious dedication.
Verse 2 continues: “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”
According to the Church fathers, the paralytic, as well as those who brought him, exhibited great faith. All of them, together. The Gospel says: "When Jesus saw their faith." And this brings me to an important point. It wasn’t all that long ago that we had an election. Many folks wondered why Hillary Clinton lost, as she was clearly expected to win according to the media and the polls. Many theories have been offered, blaming this or that. I’m not here to get into any of that. It has no place here. But one of the criticisms was about her message, and especially her campaign motto: “Stronger Together.” Some suggested it was weak. I will let the pundits and the DNC and the media analyze that criticism, but I have to tell you, that as an Orthodox Christian, I found that motto to be very compelling. That motto resonated with me. Why? Because these words are exactly what we believe about ourselves. I’m not talking about politics here, but just what those words mean: We are stronger together! “Unity” was the Gospel that Christ preached, and was the prayer that He prayed to His Father: “that they may be one as we are” (John 17:22). And as the Russian theologian Alexei Khomiakov pointed out, “If anyone falls, he falls alone. But no one is saved alone.” We, therefore, are saved together. So, it wasn’t just the prayer of one paralyzed man that brought about the miracle, it was the collective prayer of several faithful people that caused Jesus to “see their faith” and heal the man. This is why we need the Church. No one can be a Christian alone. As John Donne rightly observed:
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
We are part of a whole. If we stand alone, we are like a branch disconnected from the tree, or as St Paul prefers, a “member” separated from the body. But when we are gathered together, that’s when we are the Church: when we are united as the Body of Christ, that’s where our prayers find the most power. We are stronger, and our prayers are stronger, when we are together! So, no!, praying in the woods is not the same as praying in Church; praying on the mountain top is not the same as praying in Church; praying at the beach is not the same as praying in Church. Praying alone is important, even salutary. But praying together is essential. Besides, when we are praying together in the church, the prayers of all the saints and angels are joined together with ours as well!
The next thing that Jesus wanted His disciples, and the rest of the people to observe was how powerful prayer is when accompanied by faith. In fact, in another place He tells them: "All things you ask for in prayer, believing, you shall receive" (Matthew 21:22).
So let's discuss this Gospel verse a bit. What do you say to the person who says: "I prayed and prayed, and I really had faith, I really believed, and yet still my granny (or whoever) died."  Some people who are disappointed by such outcomes, believe that they are faced with two equally unhappy conclusions: 1.) My faith was too small, or, 2.) God's promises are empty. So, how would we answer them from the Bible?
James 4: 2b-3 "You do not have because you do not ask, or you ask and do not receive, because you ask incorrectly."
1 Kings 3: 11- 12  "Then God said to (Solomon): “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies, but have asked for understanding to discern righteousness,  behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart.”
In other words, we should always pray but preface our prayers with “If it is Thy will!” Why? Because we don’t often know exactly how to pray or what to pray for. It’s not that my faith was too small. Perhaps it’s because I just didn’t know how to pray correctly. Perhaps I am praying for Granny to live because I selfishly want her to stay with me. But maybe that’s not what’s best for her! Solomon did not pray selfishly, so God granted his request. Additionally, God knows everything and sees everything. Perhaps Granny would have suffered horribly if she did not pass away; or maybe her faith might have been shaken and she would have begun to lose hope. God knows everything, and we don’t. God knows her better than we know her, and God loves her more than we love her. God always answers our prayers, but often not the way we want Him to answer them. God always answers our prayers, but often not according to the timetable we would like. When we pray, we should always seek God’s will, and not our own.
So dear ones, let us be bold like the paralytic and his friends and approach Christ and ask Him for help. Let us ask in faith, believing that He is God and can do all things for us, but let us also pray humbly, that all things be done in accordance with His holy will. Amen.


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