Monday, May 19, 2008

Do You Want To Be Healed?

Dear Parish Faithful,

Christ is Risen!
Indeed He is Risen!

"Do you want to be healed?" (JN. 5:6)

At yesterday's eucharistic Liturgy we heard the account of the Paralytic being healed by Jesus at the pool near the Sheep Gate called Bethesda (or Bethzatha) in Jerusalem JN. 5:1-15). This is the prescribed Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Pascha. "Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ" once again at Pascha; and now believing in, experiencing, proclaiming and "worshiping the holy Lord Jesus, the Only Sinless One;" we read the "signs" recorded in the Gospel according to St. John with and through the eyes of faith. This means that we know that the words and deeds recorded in the Gospel are those of the Word made flesh, Who is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of God (see JN. 1:1-18; 20:30-31). This grants us insight into the Person of Christ and the truth of His words as expressive of the will of God for our salvation and that of the entire world (JN. 3:16). Following the healing of the paralytic, a dispute, in the form of a dialogue, ensued between Jesus and the religious authorities who are scandalized because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. When Jesus declared to them that "My Father is working still, and I am working," the authorities were incensed to the point of seeking to "kill him" because Jesus "called God his Father, making himself equal with God." (JN. 5:18) In the revelatory monologue that follows this dispute, the "words of the Word" further proclaim that He is the Son of God who perfectly fulfills the will of His Father in giving life to those who believe in Him:

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (JN. 5:19-24)

In reading this passage carefully, it becomes clear from the Son's own testimony that He is equal to the Father in all of those "activities" toward humankind and the world that we would consider "of God" or divine, confirming for believers the intuition of the authorities said in unbelief.

Returning briefly to the healing of the paralytic that set the stage for the dialogue of dispute and the revelatory monologue of Christ to follow, we hear of how Jesus approached this poor man "who had been ill for thirty eight years." (JN. 5:5) In an 'open-ended approach" to the paralytic, Jesus asked him a piercing question: "Do you want to be healed?" (v. 6) Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote the following about this exchange with the paralytic:
"This is not a question of someone intent of forcing, convincing or subduing others. It is the question of genuine love, and therefore, genuine concern." Yet, the affirmative answer of "yes" may not be as obvious as all that when we look beneath the surface. To be healed means to be changed, and this means that all that was familiar, even though burdensome, must be replaced by a new mode of existence. Even the paralytic seemed to acknowledge a grudging acceptance of his incapacity to act quickly enough in putting himself into the healing pool "when the water is troubled" and its healing effects became prominent. (v. 7) His life had taken on a certain fixed and unchanging pattern that had its own rhythm and predictability to it. Breaking through all of that, Christ tells him authoritatively: "Rise, take up your pallet, and walk." (v. 8) The healing ministry of Christ was holistic, in that the whole person - body and soul - was restored not only to physical well-being, but to a living relationship with the living God. This is probably behind the words of Christ to the healed man when He found him afterwards in the temple: "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you." (v. 14)

When applied to ourselves, are we absolutely certain that we would readily answer Christ affirmatively if He were to directly ask us: "Do you want to be healed?" Actually, as members of His Body, the Church, that is an ongoing question directed to each and every one of us on a daily basis. The Church is the place where sinners and troubled souls are healed and restored to fellowship with God. The "medicine" of healing - from the Scriptures to the Sacraments - are graciously available to us a gifts within the Church. Yet, our desire, as co-workers with God, is integral to the whole process of healing. Do we really want to be healed by Christ; or are we "comfortable" with a more-or-less routine form of Church membership and a more-or-less generic Christian way of life that is not that demanding? That church membership and way of life is very much on our own terms - and not necessarily Christ's. We have our own "comfort zone" when it comes to how far we will extend ourselves in "prayer, almsgiving and fasting." We will love God and our neighbor, but within the bounds of what is socially acceptable in terms of "religious practice." After all, we are not fanatics! We prefer remaining neutral on explosive issues of a moral and ethical nature so as not to appear extreme. We like to choose our own lifestyle - from sexuality to consumerism - without a great deal of reflection on the Gospel and the commandments of Christ. As long as other persons perceive us to be "good Christians" then we are satisfied. Sensing that "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," and that "God is a consuming fire" (HEB. 10:31; 12:29), we withdraw to a safe distance, away from the healing power of Christ, so that we can avoid that encounter and everything that it would demand of us.

In other words, how bothersome such "healing" would prove to be! We would really need to change. We would need to reassess our consumeristic lifestyles and thus radically reformulate our priorities. We would have to give more of ourselves to God and neighbor and less to the "self' that we so lovingly protect, defend and adore. We would have to put Christ before everything else that we hold dear in life. We would need to say "no" to our passions. Yet, in the final analysis, how liberating all of this would be! As the Lord said: "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (JN. 8:32) Christ, as always, asked the paralytic -and asks us today - the perfect question: "Do you want to be healed?" This perfect question just happens to be a bit more complicated under the surface of its initial appeal. We can, of course, remain within the fixed and unchanging patterns of the paralytic's life and "get by" like he managed to do. Or, we too can rise and take up our "pallets" and gladly tell others - even those who may be indifferent or hostile to Him - "that it was Jesus who had healed" us. (JN. 5:15)

Fr. Steven

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