Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Do We Want to be Healed?

Dear Parish Faithful,

Christ is Risen!

On the Fourth Sunday of Pascha, we heard the account of Jesus going up to Jerusalem for a “feast of the Jews,” and there healing the paralytic (as we refer to him in our liturgical tradition) “by the Sheep Gate” and a pool “in Hebrew called Bethesda (also called Bethzatha or Bethsaida).” (JN. 5:1-2) Interestingly, twentieth century archaeological discoveries have revealed the accuracy of the evangelist’s description, including the existence of the “five porticoes” mentioned in the Gospel. (v. 2) This man had been ill for “thirty-eight years.” (v. 5) In popular piety, this pool had healing properties, but this apparently older and unaided man had learned to accept his condition without much hope for any future recovery or restoration of his health. Yet, following a short dialogue between Jesus and the paralytic, we are amazed to be informed that “at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.” (v. 9)

A very significant question is recorded in the Gospel as being at the heart of that short dialogue between Jesus and the paralytic. For Jesus asked him directly and poignantly: “Do you want to be healed?” (v. 6) As much as we may anticipate a heartfelt and resounding “Yes!” from the paralytic, what we actually hear is his excuse for why he has not been able to avail himself of the curative properties of the pool up to that point in time: “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” (v. 7) The paralytic had been taught by hard experience that any misplaced enthusiasm at the prospect of being healed would only end up in further disappointment. Thus, his evasive response is both explanatory and defensive. Yet, here is an instance, not usually encountered in the healing done by Jesus of physical sickness in the Gospels, of a healing that is not in response to faith; for Jesus says to the man after hearing his uncommitted answer: “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” (v. 8) The effect, however, is identical to the healing of another paralytic (who did display faith in Jesus) as recorded in the Gospel According to St. Mark: “And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went before them all.” (MK. 2:12)

I believe that it is worth the effort to explore the question that Jesus posed to the paralytic with what may prove to be an unsettling directness: “Do you want to be healed?” Our immediate reaction is that we, of course, want to be healed of whatever sickness we may have. It would appear as if we had completely lost our senses to answer otherwise. If our body is broken, there would be nothing more that we could possibly desire. In fact, as Christians, we may agonize when our prayer for such healing remains seemingly unanswered. Yet, we all claim that the waters of the baptismal font have healed us from both the ultimate effects of sin and death. We believe “in one baptism for the remission of sins” (Nicene Creed); and we further confess to believe that: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (ROM. 6:4) This is why we further confess in the Creed: “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life in the world to come.” All Christians are persons who claim to have been healed by Jesus in what is literally a life-changing manner. We can even live, to one degree or another, free of the fear of death!

And yet, that question – “Do you want to be healed?” - stubbornly persists as if awaiting a thoroughly thought-out response that recognizes all of the implications of an affirmative answer. Because if we really want to be healed by Jesus in a holistic manner, then we must change the way that we lead our lives. We must commit to an endless warfare against the passions; to struggling daily with temptations; and to further struggle against what is often an open and unapologetic self-centeredness and crass selfishness. We must make every effort to shift our self-love to a love of God and neighbor. To accept the healing presence of Christ is to overcome, through humility and prayer, all of our resentment and anger; to forgive others – even our enemies – of the myriad offenses that we are convinced we have suffered from their hands. Further, our lives cannot be dedicated to the pursuit of status, money, the acquisition of material wealth and power in our inter-human relationships. We cannot judge or condemn others, and always place ourselves in a brilliant light totally blinded to our own defects and sins. And when we fall victim to all of these sins due to our weaknesses and lack of vigilance, we must be prepared to repent of our sins and sincerely confess them, begging Christ for His forgiveness; and with the resolve to try and sin no more. What we must do, in short, is accept the dynamic implications of being created in the “image” of God with the universal vocation of growing in the “likeness” of God. Difficult as it may sound, all of this is “Good News” because it comes from God, in and through Christ and the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.

If there is any accuracy to the description above of what being healed by Jesus implies for our lives, then are we convinced that we are ready to give a resounding and unhesitant “Yes!” to the question of Christ: “Do you want to be healed?” Are we convinced that we would not deflect the question in another direction or provide the rationalizations or excuses that would prove to be as evasive as those of the paralytic? As with the paralytic, perhaps we have grown quite accustomed and “comfortable” with our ailments and the thought of such radical change may prove to be too challenging. Why change if the life we are presently leading is satisfying enough? Yet, if I have any insight whatsoever into how we understand the Gospel, I believe that that troubling question, formulated by Jesus during His ministry by the pool of Bethesda, is being posed to us on a daily basis whether we acknowledge it or not. If, indeed, “Christ is in our midst,” then He is so present with the healing power and authority which is His as the crucified and glorified Son of Man.

We inevitably learn that we cannot just “take” from Jesus, but that we must “give” back in return. This giving in return, however, is not “payment” for “services rendered.” It is the free, humble and heartfelt thanksgiving that overwhelms the mind and heart of a person who truly believes that he or she has been saved and redeemed – truly “bought with a price” – by Jesus the Messiah and Son of God. This resembles the one leper in ten who returned to Jesus to thank Him after being healed: “and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” (LK. 17:11-17) Or the Gadarene demoniac who “went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” (LK. 8:39) Like the paralytic, the leper, and even the demoniac, we have also been healed and therefore only one response is possible: to joyfully embrace the change of life implied by answering “Yes” to the question that Jesus asks, “Do you want to be healed?”

Fr. Steven

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