The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John 5:1-15
Today’s gospel reading is about a man who was paralyzed for 38 years. While that is difficult to imagine, the truth is that many of us are like this man. We’ve been paralyzed by various forces within our lives for many years. These are the forces that keep us from living a life that is sanctified and pleasing to God. If we are not living life as God intended life to be lived, we are wasting our lives. In a sense, we are truly paralyzed.
When a man or woman is addicted to alcohol, it means they are paralyzed. If they are addicted to pornography or money or vanity or control or food…they are paralyzed. We are here because we are paralyzed to varying degrees and the Church is our hospital. The Lord’s first step in dealing with this paralyzed man was to ask him “Do you want to be healed?” That is a great starting point for each of us here today.
We have people who come to us with various problems. But perhaps one of the most important questions that we can ask them is “Do you want to be healed?” For instance, sometimes people come to us with relationship problems. They are quick to go through a laundry list of issues. They tell us everything that is going wrong. They tell us that it is impossible for the relationship to work out. Sometimes, these couples are doing their very best. But it must be said that sometimes it seems that they don’t truly want to be healed. Sometimes the only thing standing in the way of success is the lack of desire for success. Sometimes what stands in the way of healing is the lack of desire to be healed.
Whether we are speaking about marriages or personal addictions or the problems in society or especially our own spiritual lives, we must ask ourselves if we really want to be healed. When a man or a woman is told that they have cancer, there is no time to play around. Decisions have to be made. Aggressive steps have to be taken. What is implied in the way we respond to the doctors is that we truly want to be healed, no matter the cost. No matter the pain or the effort required. So we direct all our lives to achieving that goal.
After we ask ourselves if we want to be healed, the next step is to know the source of our healing. When there is unrest in our lives we sometimes look for quick fixes. Other times, we look for real healing. Knowing that we need to be healed is so important but knowing the source of healing is even more important. If we return to the example of the man who has cancer, we see that the knowledge of the sickness is important but where we go for healing is even more important. If the man decides to go to the hospital and gets a good doctor and good medicine, he may have a fighting chance. But if he decides that going to a chiropractor or a masseuse will help him then he is sorely mistaken. His mistake may cost him his life. Do we treat our spiritual health with the same consideration we give to our physical health? My own spiritual life should be considered with even more care, attention and urgency than my physical health because my physical health is passing but my soul will live on.
Do we know the source of our healing? We are here in the Church of the living God. We come to pray and worship the Holy Trinity. In all of our problems, do we recognize that it is only Jesus Christ the savior who can offer us true healing, true restoration? It is the reason that God sent His only Son to live with us as a man…to be one of us….and to heal us completely.
Where do we turn when things are difficult? We sometimes say that if we had a better job things would be different. If I get a promotion things will get better. If I take a vacation and get away, thing will get better. If I drink a glass of wine, I will feel better. If I meditate, I will feel better. If I read self-help books, I will feel better. If I get a new hobby, things will get better. If I get a new pair of shoes, things will get better. If I get a new spouse, things will get better. If I vent my problems all over Facebook, things will get better. If I attend a different church, I will feel better. If the priest preached better sermons, I would feel better.
All of these might temporarily make us feel better, but none of them can actually make us better. In the end they won’t help because we remain unchanged and unhealed. Our outer circumstances might change but our essence has not been changed. We’re still paralyzed by our sins. How we are healed depends on what heals us. Rather, it depends on WHO heals us. The One who can heal you is the One who knows you. He is the one who knew you even before He formed you in the womb. He can heal you because He knows who you are and who you are meant to be. He knows you as you are and as you can be potentially. He can heal you as He healed so many saints throughout the ages. He alone can heal us because He alone knows what it means to be a true human being. He alone can heal us because He alone defeated Sin and Death. You must desire to be healed and you must turn to Christ and recognize Him as your healing.
Finally you must do what the paralyzed man did in today’s gospel. The Lord commanded him to rise, take up his bed and walk. We assume that the man was not forced to obey Our Lord Jesus Christ. The man chose to obey. How about us? Do we know the teachings of Jesus Christ? If we answer “NO”, then what are we going to do to learn them? If we answer “YES, we know the teachings of Jesus Christ,” then are we going to obey these teachings? The difference between the Christian who is spiritually paralyzed and the one who is spiritually free is that one has chosen to direct every effort to the obedience that Jesus Christ requires. Our Lord says “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). So it’s no trivial thing to know and obey the teachings of the gospel. We obey Christ, not out of a sense of duty, but out of our deep love for Him. In all of this we find that our love does not compare to the love He shows us. His teachings and commandments are not meant to be a burden or chains. They are meant to give us wings like the angels. The Lord isn’t demanding obedience, He is inviting us to partake of a taste of the heavenly life.
His commandments and teachings are full of life and healing. The man who was paralyzed could have ignored Him or dismissed Him. He could have said “Listen, I have been lying here sick for 38 years and I’m not going to get better because of you.” But he acted in faith with no guarantees of what would come next. By listening to the words of Jesus Christ this man took the first steps he had taken since he was probably a young boy. By listening to the words of the Lord Jesus, he received physical strength and forgiveness of his sins. He was no longer paralyzed in body, mind or soul. He was made whole by the One who alone can make us whole.
Everything that helps us grow closer to Christ brings us closer to this healing. Our prayers, the sacraments of the Church, the study of the word of God, the obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ, these bring healing and life.
It all starts with answering the same question that Our wonderful Lord asked to the paralyzed man that day at the pool, “Do you want to be healed?” And glory be to God forever AMEN.