Today is the 4th Sunday of Pascha, Sunday of the Paralytic. We heard in the Gospel of John this morning: there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem (5:1). Although it is unclear what feast it was, many sources claim it to be the Feast of Tabernacles. Also known as Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles is celebrated in the Jewish month of Tishri. It starts on the 15th of that month and lasts for eight days. Sukkot ranges from September to October in the Gregorian Calendar. It commemorates the forty years the Jews lived in tabernacles or tents in the wilderness and ate manna. There are other biblical accounts referencing Jesus observing Sukkot. One we will hear this upcoming Wednesday for Mid-Pentecost and the other is the Feast of Transfiguration.
This is not the first time we hear of Jesus healing a paralytic. Several weeks back on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent, we heard a very similar narrative (Mk 2: 1-12): four men lowered a paralytic from the roof into a crowded room where Jesus was, hoping that He may heal him. In this account, Jesus admired the great effort and immediately forgave the man for his sins. It was the Scribes who he conversed with over their disbelief: “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”
Yet, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus conversed with the paralytic before He actually healed him. In turn, it was the paralytic who conversed with the Scribes, not Jesus. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" The sick man answered him, "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." Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your pallet, and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked (Jn 5:6-8).
The healing of the paralytic on the Sabbath confirms that Jesus desires mercy not sacrifice since the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mk 2:27). This was not the only time Jesus rebuked the Jews for their lack of mercy. Healing on the Sabbath seemed to have been a contentious issue between Jesus and the Jews. Jesus rebuked them not only for their lack of mercy towards their fellow man, but for not truly understanding the Scriptures. The Scribes and Pharisees were supposed to be the most educated and observant in Judaism.
As we heard this morning at matins: I am grievously paralyzed in a multitude of sins and wrongful deeds. As You raised up the paralytic of old, also raise up my soul by Your divine guidance, that I may cry out, "Glory to Your Power O Compassionate Christ (Festal Kontakion)." The healing of the paralytic has both a physical and spiritual dimension to it. Indeed, Christ healed the man of his paralysis but also forgave his sins. The man now is able to walk a new life in Christ. Before he met Jesus, the man was both physically and spiritually paralyzed.
The Festal Kontakion reminds us that we too can be paralyzed by our sins. St John Chrysostom in his homily for this particular Sunday, says: for his paralysis is sufficient to choke the paralysis of our souls. It is by confession and repentance, seeking and living a life in Christ that we are restored. The Jews were stranded in the wilderness for forty years. However, God had mercy on them, providing them sustenance: manna. This was a prefiguration of the Body and Blood of Christ that He would offer us, in the sacrament of Holy Communion. The reference to the Jewish Feasts, such as Sukkot is not coincidental. It underscores that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
In today’s Epistle reading, we hear of the Apostle Peter healing a paralyzed man as well. There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years and was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed." And immediately he rose. It is what we heard right after this that resonates with the Gospel lesson: And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. The residents were spiritually paralyzed but now are able to walk with Christ. Peter was just the means by which Aeneas was healed. Ultimately, it is Christ who heals. The purpose of the miracle was not only for the man to walk again but that others may believe. Now, both he who was healed and those who witnessed the healing may walk with feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15).
In Luke 24, on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus said to Cleopas and Luke: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (13-27)… Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us (30-32)?” Jesus concealed His identity at first to test the faith of others.
Unfortunately, Cleopas and Luke were spiritually blind, not able to identify Jesus at first. Yet, Jesus revealed Himself to them just like He does to us. They were both initially spiritually blind and paralyzed but they soon realized their error. The paralysis is the inability to walk in the road toward Christ, to His Kingdom. For thirty-eight years the paralytic patiently waited to be healed. Others jumped ahead of him in line and were healed before him, yet, he had the opportunity for Christ Himself to heal him. Patience and longsuffering certainly are virtues and help us to have faith in Christ. For it is not us, but He who decides the time and place of our healing.
Christ is Risen!
Glory to Your Holy Three-Day Resurrection!
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.
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BONUS: Y2AM has released a brand new ministry training course. And check out our "Live the Word" episode for the Sunday of the Paralytic: