The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:1-8)
When we come to Church we are constantly exposed to the words of the gospels and all of the miracles of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes when we are “over-exposed” we take what we are hearing or reading for granted. One of the most important aspects of our spiritual life is to continue to see everything with new eyes. We are reminded not to take anything in our life for granted. Like the young man who works hard to woo the woman of his dreams. He hopes and prays and dreams of making her his wife. But what does he do once he has this woman as his wife? How does he treat her? Does he approach her each day with renewed enthusiasm and with a fresh sense of love? Or does he neglect her and consider her boring and old news? Does he mistreat her or does he live each day to work for her and show her unending love? This is how we approach the gospel of Jesus Christ; with renewed enthusiasm on a daily basis. If we feel that the gospel has gotten old or stale, it is possible, that we are the ones who are in fact old and stale and we require a renewal of heart and mind.
Today’s reading tells us that the Lord came into his own city and that there was brought to Him a paralytic (one who is paralyzed). It is impossible for us to imagine the torture and struggle of someone who is paralyzed. But perhaps it is not hard for us to imagine the possibility of being paralyzed with fear. Some are paralyzed with anxiety and worry. Some are paralyzed by their addictions. Some are paralyzed by their hate for others or the grudges they hold. We can also be paralyzed by extremely difficult situations, many of which are outside our control. Most importantly, we are all paralyzed by sin. It paralyzes us from doing good and more than this, it paralyzes us from entering into a deep relationship with our Master and Lord.
What we see in today’s gospel is that the Lord’s first concern is not necessarily our first concern. The people who carried the paralyzed man on his stretcher were concerned with his physical sickness but the Lord Jesus Christ went straight to the most important matter, the paralytic’s spiritual condition. The Lord doesn’t begin by healing the man and allowing him to walk. He begins by healing his soul so that he might walk towards God. As St. Macarius of Optina once said “The soul is greater than the body: the body becomes sick, and with that it is finished. But a spiritual sickness extends into eternity. Deliver us, O lord, from such illness, and grant us healing.”
Many times I have read this passage and been completely overwhelmed by the words of Jesus, by His mercy and tenderness, not only for this man, but for each of us. When we are young we don’t really understand that we are sinners. As we get grow and mature we begin to see just how difficult it is to be faithful to God and to live the life that God intended for us. We begin to realize that we are not perfect. At times the realization that we are not perfect can be a difficult burden. It can weigh us down along with our sins. But I thank God that He is really full of abundant mercy and He continually says to each of us who come to Him “Take heart, my son (or daughter), your sins are forgiven.” Do we realize how amazing this is? These are words we take for granted but we shouldn’t.
The freedom from sin completely changes the equation of our lives. We may have some terrible and difficult situations, but God is offering us liberty from the worst type of bondage that mankind has ever known. The Lord began this liberation from the tree of the cross, but it doesn’t end there. And it doesn’t end by making a declaration for the Lord Jesus and moving on with our lives. That sounds more like magic than a transformational faith. Ours is a continual renewal of our spiritual life and this comes through the life that Christ imparts to us by His grace. This is not simply a nice idea or wishful thinking, it happens through our baptism and in our continued immersion in Christ and His Church.
This grace of Jesus Christ is seen in this passage as the man never asks for anything at all. The Lord sees him and knows his deepest needs. In fact, He sees past his outside appearance to the man’s heart. Do we ever stop to think about how God can see straight into our hearts? He knows what we are made of, He knows what we desire, He knows our sicknesses and infirmities of soul. So there is no use to running and pretending. He sees straight through each of us. He helped the man who could not help himself in any way. But you and I are not completely helpless. Christ can help us if we can acknowledge that we are also paralyzed and in need of His powerful healing, and if we are willing to come to the place that offers healing.
St. John Chrysostom writing in the 4thcentury says “The Church is a hospital, and not a courtroom, for souls. She does not condemn on behalf of sins, but grants remission of sins. Nothing is so joyous in our life as the thanksgiving that we experience in the Church. In the Church, the joyful sustain their joy. In the Church, those worried acquire merriment, and those saddened, joy. In the Church, the troubled find relief, and the heavy-laden, rest. “Come,” says the Lord, “near me, all of you who labor and are heavy-laden (with trials and sins), and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) What could be more desirable than to meet this voice? What is sweeter than this invitation? The Lord is calling you to the Church for a rich banquet. He transfers you from struggles to rest, and from tortures to relief. He relieves you from the burden of your sins. He heals worries with thanksgiving, and sadness with joy. No one is truly free or joyful besides he who lives for Christ. Such a person overcomes all evil and does not fear anything!”
May Christ our Lord grant us all of this and may He heal us of our deep paralysis so that we may begin to run towards Him with strength, fervor and love. Glory be to God forever AMEN.