Looking for Life in all the wrong places

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John 5:1-15

We have heard this story about the paralyzed man many times here in the Church. He had been ill for 38 years and he waited near the pool called Bethsaida since this was known to be a miraculous pool where all manner of illness was healed. When Jesus saw the man and knew that he had been lying there a long time, He said to him “Do you want to me healed?”

In the context of this passage we understand that the Lord Jesus is asking the man about his physical illness but the Lord doesn’t work to heal the body without also working to heal the whole of the man including his heart, mind and soul. So much of our own brokenness has nothing to do with the problems we typically focus on. The fact that we might be overweight or have arthritis or cancer or heart problems or feel the effects of age, those are certainly real problems but much of what is wrong with us has little to do with our physical sicknesses. After all, we know the body is becoming an old garment that we will one day have to leave behind. What will be left? Only the soul, in whatever state we have cultivated through our life.

When the Lord asked the man “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Again we see this man is completely focused on his illness and the perceived solution to the problem. His problem: He is paralyzed. His solution: Get into the pool faster.

I think that each of us is very much like this paralyzed man, not physically but spiritually speaking. We know that we are broken and we need healing. We are certain of it. We feel the effects of living a sinful life or having sinful habits. We see the effects of our pride, anger, impatience, anxiety and greed, but we often feel powerless to fix these issues. How do we remedy the problems we see within ourselves? What is the source of healing?  We can tell quite a bit about ourselves by where we search for help.

It troubles me that the moment we are anxious we tell the doctor and we take whatever pill the doctor might give us, no questions asked. It troubles me that we try to go the route of self-help books. It troubles me that we convince ourselves that we are able to change our bad situation, when often, we are the ones who put ourselves in those situations. It troubles me when I hear about parents who try to teach children meditation when they do not have simple Church prayers memorized and when they have almost zero knowledge of the Scriptures. It troubles me that we would spend good money speaking with “specialists” about all our issues while we neglect to come pour out our sins to God in the witness of His priest, although this grace is offered freely. It troubles me that we get on Facebook to vent our frustrations while we ignore the God who alone can truly hear our cries. It troubles me that we run to call friends with our problems when our only true Friend is waiting to comfort us if we will only shut out the distractions and fall on our knees.

We can get into such a habit of focusing on what we think is a cure to our problems that we forget that ultimately God is the solution. The Son of God did not ask the paralyzed man why he had not been healed yet. He asked him if he wanted to be healed. But notice that the man did not answer, “YES, I want to be healed!” He looked away from Christ and towards the pool because he thought that the pool was the only thing on earth that could help him.

In the Orthodox Church we have many stories of miraculous physical healings. Some happened simply through private prayer, others happened as a result of miraculous icons or holy relics, while others were the result of the prayers of holy saints (both among the living and the departed) on behalf of others. But we shouldn’t forget that even where God allows physical illness, He offers spiritual healing and restoration of the whole human person to each and every person who asks in faith.

In the letter to the Hebrews 12:2, we are encouraged to look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” But have we ever asked ourselves if we actually do that? If we don’t know how to look to Jesus, here are a couple of methods: Take time each day to look to Jesus by reading a chapter from one of the gospels, by praying for ten minutes a day without interruption, by coming to the Church and asking for healing through confession, by receiving the body and blood of Christ with a good conscience, by finding new ways to serve the poor, sick and needy, by saying a short prayer repetitively throughout the day such as “Lord have mercy” or “Lord Jesus have mercy on me a sinner.”

We are all of us paralyzed by sin which leads to death, but only focus your gaze continually on Christ, the resurrection and the life and you will live again because it is God’s good pleasure to raise you from your death to His everlasting life. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

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