Ars praedicandi: Sunday of the Paralytic

Sunday, May 7, 2017
Gospel: John 5:1-15


Humankind is constantly at war with death. Regardless of the situation, when a loved one dies, a wound forms that appears to never completely heal. There is no adequate adjustment to the silence that comes after death. Death creates separation and alienation and has captured the imagination of all world religions: including our Christian tradition. This is why we rejoice so fervently in the new that Jesus Christ has conquered death. His victory did not eradicate the process of bodily death, but he transformed death from alienation to eternal, embodied, vibrant life with God and the Communion of saints.

The desire to continue living is a feature of the human condition. People who are actively in the dying process can shock us with their ability to breathe on their own for several days. Television and film producers have long imagined scientific ways to sustain “human consciousness” beyond the decaying and perishing body. This process can take on evil and wicked forms: when Bolshevik officials attempted (and failed) to humiliate the Orthodox Church for our veneration of holy relics, Soviet officials claimed that they would create the resurrection of the human body through scientific means.

What do these examples tell us about resurrection? What is the true source of the wild joy we express when we hear the words that never get old: HE IS RISEN?

The life of Jesus Christ tells us about the destiny of humankind – in other words, we learn all about who we are to become. The story of Jesus’ resurrection – which we receive as absolutely true and eternal – gives us a glimpse of the kinds of humans we are going to become if we remain faithful Christians. Glorified humanity is perfected in Jesus Christ as the new Adam. We begin the process of becoming glorified human beings when we are baptized, and we receive the nourishment of the Holy Spirit required to continue to grow into these human beings each time we participate in the Divine Liturgy.

Today’s Gospel lesson gives us a sense of whom we are to become and how it relates to baptism. St. John introduces the paralytic to us, a man who depended on others to put him into the pool so he could be healed when an angel came to stir the waters. The paralytic represents all of us: he needs to be healed, his life is incomplete until God heals his infirmity. When Jesus encounters the man, he commands the man to rise and take up his bed and walk. After an interrogation, we hear that Jesus tell this man that he has been healed and so he is expected to sin no more.

There are at least two big points that apply to all of us in this story: first, when we were baptized it was Christ himself who healed us of our infirmities. Second, it was expected that we would sin no more once the healing was complete. We received this healing in Baptism, which was the beginning of living the new life in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

For us, the content of this new, very human life is to really become glorified human beings who are without sin.

This statement should stop us in our tracks. You can look at me as if I were crazy. Really? To live without sin?

To be loving human beings who do not sin is why God sent his only-begotten son into the world, and it is why he died on the cross and rose from the dead for us. He came to re-create the image in us so that we too could become like him – people who pour ourselves out for our friends and rejoice in a life without sin.

The life in the Risen Lord is not a life that returns to the normalcy of sinfulness once Lent ends so that we can eat meat again. It is a life that is devoted to making the habits of pouring ourselves out for others and keeping the passions under control normal for everyday life.

In our assumption that sin is “normal,” we have certainly resumed other “normal” parts of life. We complain bitterly about the world and its conditions, and find someone to blame for our problems. The refrain “let us embrace each other” from Easter has become an echo as we become embroiled in plots, divisions, and use the tongue (or hands in our era of communication) as instruments of gossip. We offer our particular political theologies as superior to the beliefs and customs of other peoples, including those of fellow Christians.

But it does not have to be this way, because the new life in the Risen Lord begins today – not tomorrow.

No one can stop us from witnessing to the life of God’s kingdom – the life of inexhaustible love for the other, the life guided entirely by the new commandment given us by Jesus himself. We can learn the patience required to deal with difficult people. We can condemn evil and expose it without performing evil ourselves, and with the hope that sinners will receive God’s mercy just as we do each and every day. We can console the alienated and hopeless. They are not far from us: for many of us, they are in our own homes! We can master the skill and art of listening – truly listening to ones who need to pour their hearts out to us. We can transfer the values of God’s kingdom to our work. For those who are privileged to make financial decisions, no one can stop you from advocating for fair wages, family leave, and quality health care for those who work with you (they don’t work for you – they work with you).

Many of us already do these things, you say – and yet, when a political tyrant falls, sometimes he is replaced by someone even more cruel. Then let us pray for his conversion and repentance while we attend to those exploited by his policies, sharing with them the promise of new life, today.

What do we have to fear? What more do we ask of God than to give us the gift of eternal life? God’s gift of authentic human life without death removes that sting of alienation and separation that afflicts the world like no other ill, and which we all feel when a loved one dies. The future for which we hope, the one God promises to us, is bereft of loneliness.

We do not need to make the fellowship of Christ’s Holy Communion something reserved only for the future. He has invited us to share the blessings and riches of this new life in the Risen Christ with the world today.

As our celebrations continue during this holiest of all holy seasons, the fifty days of Pentecost, let us make our new life in the Risen Christ the norm, and not the exception. For we have nothing to fear: and the promise of full life lived in fellowship in Christ and all of humankind is surely good news for a world stricken by fear.



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