Posted by: Fr Chris | April 29, 2023

Do you want to be healed?

Sunday of the Paralytic Man John 5:1-15

This crippled man after 38 years of waiting probably had no patient helpers left. He was degraded, weak and isolated. His condition was helpless, hopeless. For Jesus nothing is impossible if he is approached in faith. And it was the Lord’s habit to seek out the rejected and to approach them with merciful concern. This was what had inspired Tabitha in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles to conduct her own merciful activities: this was the early tradition of the Church, that Jesus did good, changed things by merciful action.

Do you want to be healed?’ Jesus asks.

Locked in his isolation and misery, the paralytic needed such a shock. He excuses his inertia by saying that no-one is available to help him. Jesus ignores the excuse. He gives the paralytic his big chance.

‘Get up, pick up your sleeping mat and walk.’’ Jesus was fulfilling the prophets of the law; and the gospel suggests this in several ways. The 38 years in which the man had been waiting for a cure reminds us of the 38 years in which the Israelites had wandered in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 2:14). And the length of time we had traveled from Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the Wadi Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation of warriors had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn concerning them. After that generation died, then and only then could Israel enter the Promised Land under the leadership of a new prophet, Joshua. Now with the true prophet, the true messiah, this man, who has been waiting just as long for deliverance, will find not only physical healing, he will be restored to the people of Israel, and introduced to Christ, the fulfillment of the Jewish faith. Remember that most Jews of the time period saw illness, and especially chronic long-term sickness like paralysis, as a punishment from God. People who were suffering like that were cut off from the nation – by being cured, by listening to Jesus, by picking up his mat and walking despite it being a sabbath, this man is showing his full restoration to Israel and his new place with God in the community of faith.

Do we want to be changed? Do we want to make a deep division between our old life and our new possibilities? Do we have faith? Christianity emphasizes Synergia –that is, spiritual synergy, the co-operation between ourselves and God. His grace cannot heal us unless we want to be healed, to be changed. Sometimes this is a very abrupt experience. The cure of the paralytic takes place on the Sabbath.

Do you want to be healed?  His grace cannot heal us unless we want to be healed; and being healed may take us very far from familiar things, to something new and demanding.

The pool of Bethesda, John says, was in a building with 5 porticos. Commentators who rejected the authenticity of the gospels used this as an example of supposed biblical error, since having an ancient building with an odd number of porches was considered to be impossible. But then archaeologists discovered the pool in the late 1800s, with its five porches, and it was realized that there were five as a reference to the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Old Testament.

The pool itself we know was a double pool – a reservoir that poured into the lower pool, where the sick would go, but that lower pool also served as a mikveh, a pool for ritual cleansing. So, it was a place for the healing of both soul and body.

‘Do you want to be healed?’

In his sermon for this Sunday, St. John Chrysostom posed a similar challenge to his congregation in 4th-century Constantinople. He wrote that after the celebrations and joy of the Easter worship, there is a great stir, a great burst of activity, crowds of people enter the churches. There are wonderful services, vigils and hymn-singing. What comes of all this? What is achieved? Not as much as should be, I say, for many come simply out of curiosity and vanity. Pascha goes, activity abates, excitement subsides, and then there sets in the indolence which speaks of much fruitlessness.

What was he saying? He was giving a warning: Indolence equals laziness.

The same for us now. Lent is a time of conversion, movement of the soul, confessions, penances, fasting. But the paschal season is a time of what? Joyful liturgies, pretty much eat anything, no special weekday services, abstinence from meat on Fridays, but what else?

This Wednesday shows us exactly what should be happening. It is Mid-Pentecost – we will be marking 25 days from Pascha, and 25 days until Pentecost Sunday. The day is not called Mid-Pascha. It is Mid-Pentecost, halfway to Pentecost. The paschal season is a movement toward the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and apostles gathered in the upper room. Those men and women would be totally transformed by that descent, and the  missionary work of the Church would begin, a missionary work that continues today.

The paralytic is transformed by his encounter with Jesus. The same should be true now for each of us, that we should be transformed by our encounter with the Risen Christ. We may be sliding backwards, and be getting discouraged. We may have broken a bad habit, but now find ourselves tempted to return to it. We may feel that we are not healthy anymore, not praying as intensely as we did, not embracing our crosses and challenges. Evil still abounds in the world – the war goes on in Ukraine, communism remains rampant in China, bad people still do bad things. I may have given up smoking or pornography or swearing during Lent and now suddenly find myself tempted to go back to those sins.

Chrysostom warned his congregation that spiritual laziness comes after Easter, and we can suddenly become fruitless spiritually despite having a truly fruitful Lent. Christ comes before us, the baptized, just like he did before the paralytic, and he asks each of us, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ Our answer of course, is Yes.

The paschal cycle of readings from Saint John and the Acts of the Apostles was devised to instruct the newly baptized converts, but also to strengthen the faith of the longtime baptized. The readings from the Acts, like today, show that the work of the Lord continued in the early Church, with cures of the sick, and raising of the dead, and conversions. Saul became Paul; Jewish priests became Christian priests; Jewish believers came to belief in the risen Lord as both messiah and Son of God.

The same is true today – the work of the Church as the Body of Christ continues: people are converted to the faith, believers who were lazy in faith become fervent in faith; people who were physically or spiritually sick still find healing, demons are expelled from those who are possessed, spiritual fervor still takes root in souls, the work of the Holy Spirit continues to show itself.

Christ will always be asking each of us, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ And sadly, there will always be a need to be healed of something as we progress through the stages of the spiritual life. There will always be difficult people popping up in our lives; there will always be international crises led by leaders who are not focused at all on bringing souls closer to God but rather achieving power for themselves or their countries or both; there will always be people who reject God and do the works of Satan instead the works of the Holy Spirit.

But we as Christian believers, we as Catholics entrusted with the fullness of revelation, we as people of faith, should always be looking to say yes to Jesus when he comes into our lives and asks, Do you want to be healed? We have 28 days until Pentecost – if we are having a good paschal season, then let’s build on that to go forward. If it is a fruitless paschal season, let us take the opportunity to get going again. The man had to acknowledge that he wanted to get better, and the Lord poured his grace into him. Let us be eager to work out that spiritual synergy with God, and once again step forward as warriors of Christ, ready to fight off sin and temptation and darkness, and go forward in the power of the risen Lord, wanting to be changed by the Holy Spirit and transformed by the power of God once more. Christ is risen!

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