The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (5:1-15)
On this the fourth Sunday of Pascha the Holy Church directs our attention to the healing of the paralytic which is found in the gospel of John. We are told that there was a man who was quite infirm, very sick, for 38 years. That is a very long time to be very, very sick, almost unable to move. We are also told that this man was laying near a miraculous healing pool called Bethesda. We are told by some historians that this was probably the largest reservoir within the city walls of Jerusalem. Bethesda is a lovely word because one of the ways we translate this word from Hebrew to English is “house of mercy.”
When I read that I was struck by it’s beauty and it immediately brought to my mind the image of the Church. Does any other place or institution convey that definition better than the Church? This is the place where we each come to receive God’s mercy and healing. In fact, if you come for other, ulterior reasons we can say that in some sense what you are doing is wrong, possibly even sinful. The Church is the place where we each acknowledge that we have deep and underlying illnesses, sicknesses that we have developed or even inherited, and that all of these are due to the corruption of sin. Which sin? Our own sins, the sins of others and the corruption of sin which permeates the whole world and all of creation. We don’t come to the Church to judge others or accuse them. We come to support one another and love one another so that we will not only be patients but ministers of light and mercy to one another. So we live together in harmony, both healing and being healed, asking God’s mercy and showing God’s mercy.
In the parable we see that the man is paralyzed. He has been that way for a long time. In the life of the Orthodox Church and in the writings of the fathers of the Church we get the picture that the ultimate paralysis which leads to death is a sinful life. Our sins freeze us in place spiritually speaking. Our sins make it hard for us to change, to move, to grow in our faith. Our sins make it hard for us to simply live, let alone live abundantly as our Lord Jesus Christ desires for our lives. So here we have a man who is really stuck in a bad situation with almost no hope at all. Yet into that hopelessness and pain comes Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Most would pass by the sufferings of others yet Our Lord constantly lowers Himself to be in the midst of those who suffer. This should comfort us.
As we listen to the gospel we are amazed that while the Lord is speaking directly to the sick man, the man is focused not on the Lord but on the miraculous healing pool. Even to this day we are often like this. Sure we believe in the Lord Jesus but our hearts and minds and attention are on other things. We are focused on all of the things that we humanly think will solve the problems of our lives. Doctors and medicines and vaccines and low interest loans and electric vehicles and whatever else we are told will cure us and cure the world around us. And in fact there may be some small kernels of truth to those claims but as children of God, everything should come second to our love and devotion to Christ our king.
Even in the Church, which is truly the house of mercy, it is easy to get sidetracked. We focus on rules and externalities and formalities but we can easily lose sight of the source of healing in the life of the Church. That source is Jesus Christ. The Church is indeed the house of mercy but it is also the body of Christ. What makes this place holy and makes it a place of healing is not that we do the right stuff. It is a holy place of healing because Christ Himself is present and He is holy and heals us. We are filled with His word, and we receive His body and blood unto healing and restoration and new life.
We are reminded that the Church is an extension and the fulfillment of the 3 year earthly ministry of Christ. It is now an eternal and everlasting ministry of God’s healing for each and every man, woman or child who comes to Christ humbly and receives Him with gladness.
We come to the Church and the Lord Jesus asks each of us the same question that He asked of the paralytic “do you want to be healed?” That is a question that each of us must answer for ourselves and God will honor our desire. And what is the first way that we receive Christ and His healing? It is in the sacrament of baptism. St. John Chrysostom tells us that the miracle of the healing at the waters, foreshadows Christian baptism. He writes,
“What kind of a cure is this? What mystery does it signify to us?… What is it that is shown in outline? A baptism was about to be given that possessed much power. It was the greatest of gifts, a baptism purging all sins and making people alive instead of dead. These things then are foreshown as in a picture by the pool.… And this miracle was done so that those [at the pool] who had learned over and over for such a long time how it is possible to heal the diseases of the body by water might more easily believe that water can also heal the diseases of the soul.” Homilies on the Gospel of John 36.1.
We receive healing through our baptism. We are not only cleansed from sin but raised from slavery to sin and the resulting death. We literally and spiritually receive life at our baptism. We continue to receive spiritual strength, growth and fortification through our faithful life in Christ, while partaking of the sacramental life of the Church, such as confession, and holy communion. We are resurrected from the dead! Our whole reality is transformed and renewed. Paraphrasing Our Lords words in the John 14:19, “Because He lives, we also will live.” May our journey together in the Church be one that leads us to receive from God and to give to others. To receive and to give forgiveness, to receive and to give mercy, to receive and to give healing, to receive and to offer life and resurrection through Jesus Christ to whom alone is due all glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit. Christ is risen!