Tag Archives: 4th Sunday of Pascha

Being Responsible

April 29 (O.S., April 16), 2018: Fourth Sunday of Pascha; Sunday of the Paralyzed Man. Righteous Tabitha (1st c.); Translation of the relics of Martyr Abramius of Bulgaria (1230). Virgin-martyrs Agape, Irene, and Chionia in Illyria (304). Martyrs Leonidas, Chariessa, Nice, Galina, Callista (Calisa), Nunechia, Basilissa, Theodora, and Irene of Corinth (258).

Epistle: Acts 9:32-42
Gospel: John 5:1-15

Christ is Risen!

Before Jesus heals the paralytic He asks the man a question. “Do you want to be made well?”

On one level, this would seem to be an unnecessary question. The man is at the pool of Bethesda in the hope of being made whole. There is, however, a deeper meaning to Jesus’ question.

God respects our freedom; He doesn’t impose Himself on us. While “God created us without us,” says St Augustine, “He did not will to save us without us.”

This means Hell isn’t so much a punishment for sin but a sign of God’s great respect for our freedom. Out of His great love for me, God allows me to turn my back on Him even if this results in my condemnation.

Divine love is as different as can be from mere human sentimentality that seeks to alleviate suffering by violating the freedom of the person. For God, the human person is not an object of His love but a subject.

This means that God waits patiently for our free response to Him. He Who is our Friend desires that we should freely choose to be His friend (see John 15:15). And so Jesus asks the paralytic: “Do you want to be made well?”

Just as the question reveals to us something about God–that He respects our freedom–the man’s answer reveals something about our predicament as fallen human beings. “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Hearing the same Gospel readings year after year can cause us to miss important points in the text. In this case, we might overlook the fact that the man’s paralysis is not absolute. He can move, if slowly and no doubt painfully.

Rather than taking his limitations into account–say by staying closer to the pool or asking for assistance–the man blames others for his inability to get to the pool. However understandable, the man doesn’t want to accept responsibility for his life.

When Jesus asks the man if he wants to be made whole, He is asking the man if he wants to be responsible for his own life. And his willingness to be responsible for himself is in important.

A paralytic, after all, can live by begging. But an able-bodied man? He must work for a living. Being made whole means that he will now have to take care of himself. No more blaming others for what his situation.

The hymnography of the Church draws a parallel between our spiritual state and the man’s paralysis. Like the paralytic, I have reasons for not accepting responsibility for my decisions. And, just like the paralytic, my reasons are, to me at least, reasonable.

They are however only excuses.

In ways subtle and not so subtle, I want to want to hold other people responsible for my situation. Like Adam, I want to blame someone else for my sins. First, I’ll blame you; ultimately, I’ll blame God (see Genesis 3:12).

At some point, becoming an adult–to say nothing of becoming a saint–requires that I stop blaming others for my decision and accept responsibility for my own life. This, psychologically, is the essence of repentance.

Spiritually, repentance means more than just accepting responsibility for my life. The repentant heart is one that sees the whole of life as a gift to be received with gratitude from the hand of an All-loving God.

In the first flush of grace, this is easy.

But as we see toward the end of today’s Gospel, obedience to God will eventually put me in conflict with others. Obedience to God means conflict with those who prefer their own will to the will of God. “And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews, therefore, said to him who was cured, It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.’”

Even if I (mostly) avoid such conflict, being responsible for my own life means accepting the fact that my life unfolds in unexpected ways. Accepting with gratitude this life with all its successes and failures, its joys and disappointments, is the beginning of wisdom.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us be wise!

Christ is Risen!

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Send Down Your Spirit!

Sunday, May 22, 2016: 4th Sunday of Pascha; Sunday of the Paralytic; Martyr Basiliscus, Bishop of Comana (ca. 308); Commemoration of the Second Ecumenical Council (381); St. John (Vladimir), Ruler of Serbia (1015); Monk Martyr Paul of the Lavra (Mt. Athos—1818).

Epistle: Acts 9:32-42
Gospel: John 5:1-15

There are two healings in this morning’s readings. The apostle Peter heals the bedridden Aeneas and Jesus heals the paralytic at Bethesda. In both cases, the healings have an evangelical dimension.

We see this clearly, in the first reading. As word spreads of Aeneas being restored to wholeness of body “all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon … turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:32, NKJV).

As for the healing in the Gospel, Jesus tells the man “Take up your bed and walk” and to “sin no more” (John 5:8, 14, NKJV). Confronted by the Jews for carrying his bed on the Sabbath when “it is not lawful” for him to do so sets the stage for an initial proclamation of the Gospel (kerygma).

Here’s how it happens.

After he finds Jesus again, and now, secure in his understanding as to what has happened to him, the newly healed man seeks out his critics and tells the “that it was Jesus who made him well” (John 5:15).

I think sometimes that the evangelical work of the Church is neglected or is deformed because so few of us have experienced the healing mercy of God. Reflecting on the resurrection of Tabitha, St John Chrysostom tells us not to “concern ourselves with grave monuments or memorials.” To this warning, we should add the tendency of some to build intellectual monuments to their own cleverness. Just as some (wrongly) think they honor the dead by works of stone, some imagine (again, wrongly) that they draw others to Christ by clever arguments and the “multiplication of words” (see Matthew 6:7).

This isn’t to denigrate either art or scholarship. It is rather to take seriously what Chrysostom calls “the greatest memorial” for the dead and to which I would add, the greatest witness to the Resurrection. Gather, the saint says, “the widows around; tell them his name; ask them to offer prayers and supplications on his behalf.” Whether the person is dead in the body, or dead is sin, standing before God in prayer is “how to rescue people not from the present death but from the death that is to come” (“Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles,” 21 in ACCS, NT vol V: Acts, p. 116).

Our prayers for others, our acts of mercy for them, don’t just help them, they also transform us. St Cyprian says of Tabitha “So powerful were the merits of mercy, so much did just works avail! She who conferred upon suffering widows the assistance for living deserved to be recalled to life by the petition of widows” (“Works and Almsgiving,” 6 in ACCS, NT vol V: Acts, p. 117). There is nothing that is so much to our own benefit as interceding before God for another. Whether what we offer is spiritual or material, the love of neighbor grants us eternal life. “Look at the gain, look at the harvest,” Chrysostom says of the blessings God poured out on Tabitha, “but note that it was not for display” (“Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles,” 21 in ACCS, NT vol V: Acts, p. 117) but for the sake of those in need.

Without mercy, without prayer—liturgical and personal—the evangelical work of the Church is stillborn; it is just vain repetition and a glorification of my own ego. To see the harm caused when mercy and prayer are absent, we need only turn again to this morning’s Gospel.

Rather than thank God that a child of Abraham “loosed from this bond on the Sabbath” (Luke 13:16, NKJV), the Jewish leaders condemn the man and, by implication, God Who healed him. It’s easy enough for me to criticize, and even condemn, those who put the Law of Moses (or the canons!) before the mercy of God. And yet, how often have I done the exact same thing? Haven’t I just done this in my example?

Why do we, why do I, do this? Why do I condemn others for the same sin that—in this very moment—I commit?

I do this because I “have forgotten the fundamental truths of Christian life.” I am forgetful because I am “immersed in the darkness of materialism or the exterior and routine performance of ‘ascetic labors'” as Sergius Nilus writes in the introduction to St Seraphim of Sarov‘s On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit. I am, in other words, in love with the externals of the faith at the expense of my own, inner life the “true aim” of which, according to St Seraphim, is “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.”

The fact is my brothers and sisters, God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit are at this very moment at work in each and every human heart. “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” Jesus tells those who “sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” (John 5:18, NKJV).

No one comes to the Church except by the prompting of God and because of an experience, however obscure, of His great mercy. It is our great privilege—mine as well as yours—to help people discern the presence of God in their lives. It is our calling as Orthodox Christians first to help people understand the faith that God has planted in their hearts. And and then, second, God has called us to foster that faith so that they, in turn, can be able to assist others in saying “Yes!” to God.

Fidelity to our vocation requires that we be men and women of prayer. But even prayer is not enough. St Seraphim says that

… prayer, fasting, vigil and all the other Christian practices may be, they do not constitute the aim of our Christian life. Although it is true that they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end, the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

One month from today we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Let us, each of us, stand before God in the coming days and weeks and ask Him to renew in us the grace of the Holy Spirit so that, like the Apostle Peter, we can give an effective witness to the mercy of God to all we meet.

Christ is Risen!

+Fr Gregory