Tag Archives: John 5:1-15

The Boldness of Humility

Sunday, May 19 (OS May 6), 2019: 4th Sunday of Pascha, Sunday of the Paralytic; Righteous Job the Long-suffering (c. 2000-1500 B.C.); Martyrs Barbarus the Soldier, Bacchus, Callimachus, and Dionysius in Morea (362); Martyr Barbarus the former robber in Epirus (IX). Righteous Tabitha of Joppa (I). (moveable feast on the 4th Sunday after Pascha).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church
Madison, WI

Epistle: Acts 9:32-43
Gospel: John 5:1-15

Christ is Risen!

Following the biblical witness, the fathers of the Church saw bodily infirmity–blindness, deafness, or in the case of today’s readings paralysis–as symbolic of humanity’s fallen condition. The Venerable Bede writes that “anyone who embraces the unstable joys of the present is as through flattened upon his bed, devoid of energy” trapped as they are by the “sluggishness” of “worldly pleasures” (Commentary of Acts of the Apostles, 9.33).

It’s important to say that neither Bede nor any of the fathers were denying the goodness of Creation or the delights that are to be found in this life. Marriage, to take only one example, is a sacrament of the Church and according to St Paul a revelation of the love Christ has for the Church (see Ephesian 5:32).

No, the problem is not the goodness of Creation but the human hearts indifference to God. As in any relationship, indifference today becomes hostility tomorrow.

It is this hostility born of indifference that leads some among the Jews to condemn the paralytic for violating the law by carrying his pallet on the Sabbath. They do this, St Augustine says, because to condemn the healing would have been to invite the rebuke they heard from Jesus at another time. “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 14:5, NJKV)

Instead of criticizing Jesus–and so have their hypocrisy exposed–“they addressed the man, … as if to say: Even if the healing could not be delayed why command the work?” Even so, the question exposes their hypocrisy. Augustine says that to ask this is to invite a response that testifies to the divinity of Christ: “Why should I not receive a command if I also received a cure from Him?” (Tractates on the Gospel of John 17:10)

For the person, indifferent and even hostile to the presence of God brings with it a heavy cost. Unaware of God’s presence in their lives means as well that they live unaware of His great love for them and for the dignity to which they are called in Jesus Christ.

The full implications of what has happened will take the rest of the paralytic’s life to understand. But while his understand is immature, his experience of God’s love for him makes him bold!

When confronted the man doesn’t conceal the miracle. He doesn’t hesitate to proclaim that he had been cured “of his illness.” And when falsely condemned he did not ask “for pardon. Instead, he boldly confessed the cure. This is how he acted” and this is how we are called to act as well (St John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, 37.2).

Both sin and love make us bold. But where the boldness of sin is fool hearted and rash, love’s boldness is courageous.

Look at St Peter.

At this point in Acts, he has already been arrested twice and beaten once. Stephen has been martyred, Saul is arresting and handing Christians over to the authorities, and “a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1).

And yet, Chrysostom says, Peter walks about “like a general … inspecting the ranks.” Because of his great love for Jesus, Peter always

…goes about first. When an apostle had to be chosen, he was first; when the Jews had to be told that these were not drunk, he was first; when the lame man had to be healed, he was first; when the crowd had to be addressed, he was before the rest; when the rulers had to be addressed, he was the man; when Ananias had to be addressed, when healings were worked by the shadow, still it was he.

When “the situation is calm” the disciples “act in common.” But when “there was danger” Peter acts alone. In all of this he “did not seek a greater honor. When there was need to work miracles, he leaps forward, and here again he is the man to labor and toil” (Homilies on Acts of the Apostle, 21).

And when it is time for the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles, Peter once again takes the lead in following the path Paul has blazed.

In the Christian economy, evangelical boldness the fruit of humility. Peter like Jesus, “Who conquered persecutors [here] below and reigns over angels [in heaven] above spoke … in a humble voice,” (St Ephrem the Syrian, Homily on Our Lord, 26.1) because the word he speaks is not his but God’s word to him for the life of the world (see, John 7:16, 12:49, 14:10).

To remain silent about the Gospel is not humility. We have all of us been given a word to speak; we are all of us in baptism called to be witnesses of the Resurrection and evangelists of the Gospel.

But a problem remains. If remaining silent when we are called to speak is not humility, how then are we to speak? In this as in all things, Jesus shows us the way.

Before He heal the paralytics Jesus asks the man “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus invites the man to cooperate with grace.

Jesus question reflects the humility of the Father Who never imposes Himself on us but woos us. In doing this He also makes clear “the cruelty of those … who were well” but who never lifted “their hand to help” the man but instead treated him “like an enemy” when he asked for help (Amphilochius of Iconium, Oration, 9).

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Every day, we meet those who ask for our help in coming to know Jesus Christ; every day we meet those who even if they do so poorly ask us about the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ.

Humility, to say nothing of love, demands we speak.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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: To Obey is Better than Sacrifice

Sunday, May 7, 2017: Sunday of the Paralytic; Commemoration of the Precious Cross that appeared in the sky over Jerusalem in 351 A.D., Cyril, Archbishop of Jerusalem, Akakios the Centurion of Byzantium, Pachomios the New Martyr of Patmos, Repose of St. Nilus, abbot of Sora

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

Christ is Risen!

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three.” writes St Paul, “but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJV). It’s important to emphasize that the Apostle says this immediately after warning us of all the deficiencies inherent in our current relationship with Christ:

…whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away (vv. 8-10).

Though real, these lapses are not in and of themselves sinful. Rather they reflect that, in this life, we are in our spiritual infancy; we understand and think as children who have yet to “put away childish things” (v. 11). This isn’t to say that we live in spiritual ignorance; like a child, we are young but not stupid. But, for now, Paul says, “we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (v. 12).

The Christian lives in expectation of the revelation of Jesus Christ which is to come. This should foster in me not only a joyful expectancy but also a loving attention to the gentle prompting of divine grace. While the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is still to come, this life is not devoid of His Presence. Like He did at His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor God makes Himself known to each of us to the degree we are able to receive the revelation.

And it is here, in my capacity to receive God, that I find the meaning of Jesus’ last words to the Paralytic:”See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.”

Sometimes in our anxiety to avoid suggesting that by our works we somehow merit salvation, we downplay any suggestion that we are, again as St Paul says, “co-workers” or “co-laborers” with God in our own salvation (1 Corinthians 3:9). And yet, it is precisely by His grace and with our co-operation that we are saved. To be saved is not to be the merely passive recipient of divine grace or the object of a divine fiction that images we are other than as we. To be saved means to say with the Virgin Mary, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, NKJV).

Or sometimes because our anxiety to avoid any suggestion of moralizing, we try and sever any connection between human behavior and our condemnation. And yet, the Scriptures are more than clear. Some actions are so immoral that they bring about out condemnation. The Apostle John refers to these as “sins unto death” (1 John 1:5, KJV). St Paul refers to them as “the works of the flesh.” It is these–”adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like”–that we must avoid, or if we fall into them repent of in confession, if we wish to “inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21, NKJV).

Returning to the Gospel, Jesus tells the Paralytic, and us, two things.

First, avoid the sins of the flesh; avoid those sins that kill faith, hope and love. It’s worth noting, if just in passing, that every age has works of the flesh that it tends to minimize or even glorify. Our own age tends to downplay the deadly seriousness of sexual sins even as earlier ages had their own lists of sins that they would not acknowledge as sins. No age is morally superior to another in any absolute sense. Rather each ages and culture people have their own, preferred, ways of turning their back on love.

Second, it isn’t enough to avoid sin, we must cultivate virtue. We must cultivate those three things that last: faith, hope, and above all love. In one of his homilies on John’s Gospel, St Gregory Dialogos asks his hearers whether or not they, personally, belong to Jesus Christ as members of “his flock.” He goes on to ask them, and us,

…whether you know him, whether the light of his truth shines in your minds. I assure you that it is not by faith that you will come to know him, but by love; not by mere conviction, but by action. John the evangelist is my authority for this statement. He tells us that anyone who claims to know God without keeping his commandments is a liar.

The saint reminds us that as important as are faith and hope they aren’t in and of themselves enough. To St Gregory’s appeal to the Apostle John, we add our appeal to the Apostle James:

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? (2:19-20, NKJV)

A living faith in the revelation we have received, a living hope that is yet to come, requires that I love God and love my neighbor.

To love God means to keep His commandments the second of which is to love you. And to love you means to want what God wants for you. And what God wants for you, is for you to return His love for you. This isn’t an emotional response but obedience. We love God as He loves us by keeping His commandments and being faithful to His will for our lives.

And second, He wants you to love others as He loves you. This can’t be done except that you are faithful to your own, personal, vocation. It is in and through our fidelity to our vocation that we not only grow in the love of God but also the love of our neighbor. This is they way we grow in the love of God. And unless we aid each other in this process of vocation discernment and fidelity, we can’t truthfully claim to be obedient to God or to love our neighbor.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Let us begin the great work being of faithful to our own vocations and an aid to others as they live theirs!

In Christ,

+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