|45 - The Paralytic, July 19, 2009|
We read in this morning’s Gospel that “they brought to him a paralytic” They brought in the original Greek is the verb form of prosphora – a word we know well as the bread that is brought to the Church to be offered to God and consecrated as the Living Bread of Holy Eucharist. And so to render the Greek more accurately, I would translate it: “They offered to him a paralytic.” And so, just like we bring the bread that we call prosphora to the Church and offer it to the Lord to be consecrated and changed into His body, so they offered the paralytic to the Lord to be consecrated and changed into the body of Christ, as St Paul writes in his epistle to the Romans that we read this morning: “Though many, we are one body in Christ, and so we are members of one another.”
This one word, they offered, reveals the Gospel story of the paralytic as a beautiful icon of the mystery of the Church. Christ is in our midst as the head of his body, the Church. He is not absent, he is present. He is himself the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the perfect offering who on the night he was betrayed gave himself up for the life of the world. His blood is the expiation, the removal, of our sins;  i.e. it is the healing of our paralysis. For, living in our sins and transgressions we are like the paralytic, spiritually dead as St Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians; because, living in our sins and transgressions, acting out the carnal desires of our flesh and our mind, we have been rendered unable to move or walk in the divine life of the Holy Spirit.
The Church is like these four men who offered the paralytic to the Savior. The Church is a communion of intercession; i.e., not a collection of isolated individuals, where each one is on his own before God. The Church is a communion of the saints offering themselves and each other and their whole life to Christ God on behalf of all and for all. Step into an Orthodox Church and immediately, whether you ask for it or not, whether you know it or not, you are invisibly embraced in the living prayer of the saints. They are offering us as their prosphora to God in the prayer that he will loose us from the paralysis of our sins and raise us up to walk in the divine life of His Holy Spirit, that he will consecrate us and change us from paralytics into members of his most pure and precious body, walking in the company of the saints and offering ourselves with them to Christ God on behalf of all the paralytics around us for their salvation and ours.
In this theological vision we turn to St Paul’s letter to the Romans we read this morning. St Paul writes: “Just as we have many members in one body, and all our members do not have the same function, so also we who are many are one body in Christ; and as such, we are members of one another, having different gifts according to the grace that was given to us.”
Here, the different functions of our bodily members correspond to the different gifts given to us in the Church. The grace that was given to us is the “Grace of the Holy Spirit” who was given to us in our baptism and whom we receive in the mysteries of the Church. In this grace, the different functions of our bodies were changed into gifts or charismas.
Remember that when we were baptized, we were brought to the font by the faithful, the saints of the Church, just like the paralytic this morning was brought to the Savior by these four men, and the faithful offered us to Christ as prosphora, as was this paralytic by these four men. And as it says in this morning’s Gospel: “Jesus, seeing their faith” – the faith of the saints who through their intercessions are offering us to Christ God – “said to the paralytic,” to us: “My child,” another biblical support for infant baptism, “your sins are forgiven you.”
And, in the mystery of our baptism, Christ received us as the prosphora of the faithful who were offering us to him, just as he received the paralytic who was being offered to him by these four men. And, in the spiritualized waters of the font, we were washed clean. Our sins that paralyzed us were washed away, and we were raised up from the font as new creatures, children of God born from above. We were clothed with a new body, the Robe of Light, the Garment of Immortality. And then, our bodies were sealed with the gift, the charisma, of the Holy Spirit and they became spiritual. The functions of our bodies – of our minds, our eyes, our ears, our hands and our feet, i.e., our skills, our talents, our life experiences, were changed to become charismas, spiritual gifts.
The liturgical rites of our baptism show what it means that the different functions of our bodies were transfigured into charismas. Loosed from the paralysis of our sins, we were led three times round the font in the dance of the Spirit; and we came out of the dance at the ambon, where we received the prosphora, the bread that had been offered by the faithful to the Savior, and which the Savior transfigured into His most pure and precious body by the descent of His Holy Spirit. Partaking of that consecrated bread, we became members of Christ’s crucified and risen body and we were taken up into the communion of saints in whom God dwells, and in their communion, we “commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God,” offering ourselves as prosphora to God on behalf of all and for all, in the hope of divine love that the paralytics in the world may be saved through our faith like the paralytic who was saved in this morning’s Gospel when the Lord saw the faith of the four men who had offered the paralytic to Him.
In this intercessory activity of the Church offering herself in Christ to God the Father on behalf of all and for all, we see the beauty of the Church. Intercession is the chief function she performs in the world. It is her chief charismatic function to which all the talents and skills and life experiences of the faithful are submitted to become charismas, spiritual gifts that manifest to those paralyzed by sin the tender mercy and love of God who came into the world to save sinners, of whom we are first.
In this, I want you to see that it is not just the priest whose talents and skills are made charismatic in the service of the Church. All of us who have been baptized and chrismated have been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. That means that all of us are called to offer the functions of our mind, our eyes, our ears, our hands and our feet, i.e., our talents and skills and life experiences to Christ in the chrism of the Holy Spirit in which we were sealed in service to the Church’s chief charisma of commending ourselves to each other on behalf of all and for all. Whatever skill or talent or life experience you have can be transformed into a charisma by the grace of the Holy Spirit that you received in your baptism and used in the Church in service of her chief charismatic function in this world: offering herself to the Father in Christ through the Holy Spirit on behalf of all and for all. However menial or lowly, when it becomes a charisma, your talent, your skill, your life-experience acquires the grace of the Holy Spirit and it is exalted to the heavenly dignity of a prosphora, an offering in faith to Christ our God that can become the salvation of a paralytic.
You see what dignity everyone acquires in the Church as a member of Christ’s body. In the Church, through the offering of our intercessions in communion with the saints in whom God dwells, souls and bodies paralyzed by sin are forgiven and liberated from their paralysis to rise up and walk in the Charisma, the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Talents and skills and life experiences of every kind become charismatic as they become the talents, the skills, the life experiences of the one body of Christ. However menial or simple, however sophisticated and exalted, in Christ they are all infused with the grace of the Holy Spirit and they become spiritual, even salvific, in service of the one charismatic function of the Church in this world: offering ourselves to God as the body of Christ in the love of Christ on behalf of all and for all, in the prayer that through our faith made effective by the seal of the Holy Spirit, paralytics might be saved. Amen.