6th Sunday of Pentecost – Orthodox Homily Healing of Soul and Body

A beautiful miracle has taken place: through the living Word, Jesus Christ, we see a paralyzed man who cannot walk on his own, healed of his paralysis. Christ God, as the Logos (Word) of God, through whom all things were made, whose very image and likeness is imprinted on the souls of every human being, knew this man and loved this man with a perfect love even before he was presented to Him. The Psalmist David says regarding this foreknowledge of God and our identity in Him, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made…You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 138 LXX). Every life, every soul, is precious to God.

He who gave this man his first heart-beat in his mother’s womb is the same One who has healed him of his infirmity. The paralytic was brought to His Creator and He received healing and restoration from Him. He was given a new beginning to live to the glory of God.

Every miracle is a testimony of the truth of God, the truth that is God; Every miracle points us to the restoration of the human race, the intervention of the Kingdom of God and His redemption and salvation of this fallen world, of all that’s corrupted by evil and sin.

Every miracle reminds us of God’s triumphant resurrection from the dead, His harrowing of Hades, His glorious ascension, and His victorious and final Second Coming when all that Christ has assumed, will be healed and restored, when all those who’ve joined the new race of Adam in Christ, will be reunited with their resurrected bodies and ushered into the Kingdom of Heaven.

In this way, miracles are a sign of the “eschaton,” that is, the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God at Christ’s Second Coming. The healing of the paralytic alludes to all these works and promises of God on our behalf, where those being saved will join the ranks of heaven in God’s near presence where “sighing and sorrow shall flee away,” as Isaiah prophesies (Is. 51:11).

But a greater miracle than the healing from paralysis is at work here: We read that when Jesus saw the faith of those who had brought the paralytic to him, He instantly healed the man of his paralysis? No! He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” This wasn’t what some were expecting; Christ’s words must have come as quite a shock.

Christ clearly teaches us here the priority of our eternal souls over that of our decaying bodies. This is a crude way to put it and in no way meant to belie the value of our bodies, which, together with our souls, God has made and declared as “good.” No, I say this to underscore the fact that while our bodies will, like the earth, “all wear out like a garment,” (Isaiah 51:6), our souls are eternal. And yet, how much time do we spend on the priorities of this world over the needs of our souls to acquire the virtues necessary to be in God’s near presence for all eternity?
It’s in this context of understanding sin and its sad consequences on our world, on our being enslaved to the world and all that’s passing away, that Christ addresses the ultimate need of the paralytic. Yes, he needs his legs, but more importantly, the paralytic needs to be purified, forgiven—He needs God. More important than the healing of his legs is the healing of his soul.

By forgiving the sins of the man, Christ clearly declares Himself to be God for, as the scribes rightly understood, “who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk. 2:7; Lk. 5:21) Exactly! Their sinful hearts could not comprehend that the God who lovingly spoke creation into being through His Word, would Himself enter into that human nature as Emmanuel (God with us), as the prophets foretold, to restore that nature and make a path to the Kingdom of God for His beloved children, the pinnacle of His creation, with whom He so dearly desires communion.

The Scribes instantly charge blasphemy, refusing to acknowledge that God would love us to such an extent that He would even condescend to become incarnate to defeat the endless cycle of sin and death enslaving the world since its beginning. Christ, to deepen the faith of all those assembled and silence the actual blasphemers, does two things that reveal Himself as God: first, He tells them what they’re thinking, saying, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, Arise and walk?’ Then, second, He says, “that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins…” and then and only then, Christ say to the man, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” We read that the man arose on his own two feet, glorifying God. This is a great miracle.

And we rejoice this day in another miracle that has taken place in our midst by the power and operation of the Holy Spirit: the baptism of little Matthew Constantine, who has put on Christ this day and been born anew. Not only his godparents but all here present are witnesses of this new birth and responsible to help him come to ‘own’ his faith and live out his baptism as he grows. We thank God for the new Life He has put on this day by water and the spirit.

Before our own baptism into Christ and the possibility of the renewal of that baptism through Sacramental Confession, we too are paralyzed by sin. Even in the life of an Orthodox Christian who is part of the new creation, a beloved child of the eschaton, this world and its confusion may take hold of the unwary soul and paralyze it with addictions, habitual sins, forgetfulness of God.

Sadly, sin can also paralyze us from witnessing to the truth of Christ. How easy it is to give into pride and become cowardly and selfish when it comes to sharing and living out Christ’s truth and the salvation found in His holy Church with those around us. Many fear man more than God.

In order for Christ to heal our infirmities, our weaknesses, our sin-sickness, the world—and all our temporal, passing, dying pursuits—must cease to be center focus, so that He who is Life can become our true life, our true ‘reason for being.’ Then, everything else in our lives finds its true purpose and value when Christ is at the center of our identity and our priorities.

Those beset by any passions, sins, habits, or misplaced priorities, hear the words of our Lord this day, “Arise, take up your bed, and go unto your house.” With the Lord there is forgiveness and newness of life. All things are possible with God. All of us can keep growing in faith IF we are willing to make Christ God the priority in our lives, growing in the knowledge and love of Him.
Today’s Gospel is sometimes referred to in the Church as “the Paralytic Restored.” How appropriate! The promise of restoration is here for us as well: Our Lord will restore us too if we come before His presence with the desire for more faith, more participation in His divine life, if we will only put Him and His Kingdom first in our lives. Call on Christ, entrust yourself to His grace and mercy, confess Him before all, and cast your weaknesses upon Him. For as St. Paul reminds us, “His grace is sufficient and His strength is perfected in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9).

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
Sunday, 16 July 2017
The Paralytic from Matthew’s Gospel 5

Epistle: Romans 12:6-14
Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8