Ignore the Critics and Rise Up with Christ: Homily for the Sunday of the Paralytic in the Orthodox Church

Christ is Risen! On this fourth Sunday of the season of Pascha, we remember Jesus Christ’s healing of someone who must have been very disappointed and frustrated, for he had been paralyzed for 38 years, probably his entire life. He would see others healed miraculously in a nearby pool of water, but this poor fellow had no one to help him get into it when the angel stirred the water. So there he lay, helpless and without hope. This event occurred during the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which commemorated the giving of the law through Moses. The Lord Jesus saw this poor man, lying near one of the gates to the temple area, and He simply asked him if he wanted to be healed. When the man explained that he had no one to help him into the healing pool, Christ said, “Rise, take up your bed and walk” and he did so.

This healing occurred on the Sabbath day, when the Old Testament law indicated that no work was to be done, so some criticized the man for walking around and carrying his bed. In response to their questions, it became clear that this man did not even know the name of the One who had healed him. But then the Lord found him and said, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” This season of Pascha invites us all to receive healing and strength as we experience our Risen Lord’s victory over sin and death in our own lives. Pascha calls us to participate in the great blessing that Christ’s resurrection has brought to the world and to be transformed by it. We know that we are too much like the paralyzed man, weakened to the point of slavery to our habitual sins, to our disordered desires and habits of thought, word, and deed that keep us from knowing personally the joyful freedom for which the Lord created us in His image and likeness.

We know how we should live, but we often lack the strength to do so. We have been weighed down by sins all too familiar to us, sometimes for much longer than thirty-eight years. We may have given up hope that we will ever be free of anger, greed, lust, pride, self-righteous judgment, sloth or other sins that we know all too well. Despite good intentions, we have lacked the power to change; the disappointing truth is that we are paralyzed by our sins and weakened by a lifetime of giving in to temptation. We may even have accepted the lie so popular in our society that being true to ourselves means indulging any and all desires for pleasure, whether they involve money, sex, power, or anything else. That is not the way to liberation, however, but only to an even greater inability to gain strength and health in the Christian life. The good news of Pascha is that the Risen Lord calls every single one of us to “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” His blessing is not for a select few, but for the whole world. The Lord has mercy on those who do not even know His name, like the paralyzed man. He asks only whether we want to be healed; and to those who will accept His mercy, He promises a new life and the strength to live it.

Some will criticize us, however, for carrying our beds on the Sabbath, for they do not want us to move forward for the glory of God. Our finding healing from sin and strength for holiness threatens those who do not want to change, who are comfortable with their own corruption. When they criticize us, we should do our best simply to ignore them and not let them distract us. Often, however, our own thoughts tell us that God would never forgive, heal, or bless us. Our own thoughts can paralyze us with a burden of guilt and fear that makes us think that we are fooling ourselves to believe that Christ’s victory really applies to us.

We need to get in the habit of recognizing such thoughts for what they are: temptations designed to keep us the slaves of sin. Fortunately, they have only the power in our souls and lives that we give them. In His glorious Resurrection, Christ conquered death and sin, leaving the tomb and Hades empty. Our tempting thoughts are fundamentally empty also in that they have no substance or reality other than what we—in our spiritual weakness—insist on giving them. Just as the paralyzed man trusted and obeyed Christ–and left his fears, worries, and miserable past experience behind—we can too by accepting the reality and truth of the Savior’s victory. His Resurrection has conquered all and is far more real and powerful than any corrupting thought, feeling, or inclination. We should do our best to ignore these temptations and instead humbly turn our attention to the Lord.

He gives us all the strength to rise, take up our beds, and walk. No, that is not always easy to do. Perhaps the bed that we will carry includes our ongoing temptations, the spiritual and moral weaknesses that we have brought upon ourselves, and the burdens of living in a broken world with broken people. We all bear burdens for which we did not ask, as did the paralyzed man. At the end of the day, how or why we have become weak and corrupt is irrelevant. What is important is that the Lord says to us all through His Resurrection, “Rise, take up your bed, and walk.” Did you notice He said that as a command, as an instruction. Had the fellow not obeyed this command, he would have remained on his bed and never would have experienced the new strength and freedom that Christ gave him. Everyone one of us is in his position with the freedom to disregard the Lord, if we choose. We can say that our sinfulness and weakness are more real and powerful than Christ’s healing mercy, but that would be to fall into a weird kind of idolatry in which our sin reigns supreme even over God. If we have even a spark of genuine faith in Christ, then we have no option other than to do precisely what the paralyzed man did when he rose, picked up his bed, and began to walk into a future he did not know and could not predict, but that the Lord had enabled and commanded Him to embrace.

Of course, this was only the beginning of that man’s journey, not its end. Remember that Christ said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” Unfortunately, it is always possible that we will turn back from the blessed power and healing of the Savior to return to the weakness and despair of sin. We may paralyze ourselves once more by turning away from the only One Who can conquer sin and death. We are like someone healed of paralysis who cannot escape the habit of staying in bed. So we lie down again in our bed of habitual sins and weaknesses. But fortunately for us, the Lord is merciful. He always asks us, “Do you want to be healed?” And if we respond with truthfulness and humility, He has compassion on us, assures us of His forgiveness and strength, and commands us again to rise, take up our beds, and walk.

We may fall back into our paralysis more times than we can count. We may fall down ten thousand times, but Christ is always there to raise us up and give us a share in His eternal life. Through this journey of humble repentance, we do find healing. The course of our struggle is upward; the paralysis decreases; our souls are strengthened as we struggle to press forward in faithfulness. We may be unaware of that progress, for the more spiritual strength we gain, the more clearly we will see that we have a very long way to go in order to be fully healed. We remain dependent upon His mercy and strength every step of the way both in this life and in the next. So as we celebrate this Paschal season, let us joyfully obey His command to rise from all the sins that weigh us down. Let us refuse to believe that the lies of our own thoughts are somehow more powerful than the good news of the empty tomb. Let us follow the example of the paralytic in rising, taking up our beds, and walking into the new life our Savior’s Resurrection has brought to the world, for He has truly conquered sin and death. Christ is Arisen!

Fr. Philip LeMasters

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