|12 - Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman, Nov 24, 2013|
Our Gospel lesson this morning says that this woman was bent over with a spirit of infirmity and could not raise herself up at all; Then, Jesus placed His hands upon her and she “straightened” up and glorified God. The Greek word for “straightened up” is formed from “ortho”, the same root for the word Orthodox; and the word for “glorified” is formed from the Greek word doxa. From this word play, we see that the Orthodox Faith is the power of Christ that releases us from the crippling weight of our sins so that we are able to straighten up and glorify God.
That is to say, the faith of the Church is orthodox because it heals us completely. Orthodoxy is not a school of religious thought that you can pick and choose from, taking what you agree with and ignoring what you don’t agree with. The word play we find in this morning’s Gospel shows us that “true” Orthodox Faithis not a belief system or a set of ideas. It is the healing ofthe soul. It enables her to “stand up straight” (ortho) and to glorify (doxa) God.
To glorify God – think of it: you don’t glorify someone you don’t love. You glorify someone you love with your whole heart; and, the love that fills your heart for that someone in and of itself heals the soul. It fills her with joy. It softens her and makes her kind, even beautiful. It makes her strong and courageous so that she can “endure all things”. (I Cor 13:1-8) We glorify the one we love in the spontaneous outpouring of praise that pours from the heart like a mighty river of joy. Indeed, I think that when the soul is filled with thanksgiving and love for God, she finds that the hymns and prayers of the Church are best able to give words to her depth of feeling; and when those words of the Church are joined to the love that the newly awakened soul feels for God, they come alive as the soul’s deepest song. That is when, I think, we would discover that the pure essence of the Orthodox Faith is what we see in this morning’s Gospel: the Lord touching us and making us able to stand up straight, making our souls come to life and breathing into us His Spirit of love, joy and peace so that the soul naturally and spontaneously begins to glorify God in the ineffable sweetness of a thanksgiving, a love and joy that are not of this world, even as they feel intuitively familiar to the soul as the expression of her truest, most human character.
I said that we glorify the one we love in a spontaneous outpouring of praise that pours out of our heart like a mighty river. So, let’s turn again to contemplate the God whom this woman begins to glorify when she is made well and stands up straight. The Holy Spirit of God is described in the Bible as a mighty river of living water proceeding or pouring forth from the Father. The Lord Jesus Christ emptied Himself and became man. “He pours out His blood of the covenant for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mat 26:28) Do you begin to see that the mystery of Christ is the revelation of God’s love for us?
And, through the divine Incarnation, He glorifies us. We speak in the Orthodox Faith of deification or theosis. The biblical word for this is glorification. God glorifies us! That is to say, God loves us, because you don’t glorify someone you don’t love! In His love for us, He poured Himself out into the world like a mighty river (Eze 47). He flowed out of the Temple, i.e., He came forth from the womb of the Holy Virgin, and everywhere He goes, even today, He heals. He heals us by uniting Himself to us in our death so that He can unite us to Himself in His Resurrection. Healing us, He raises us from death to life; He makes us to stand up straight, and He glorifies us so that we can glorify Him. He loves us so that we can love Him. And so, we love Him because He first loved us (I Jo 4:19). We glorify Him because He first glorified us.
This is the Orthodox Faith: not a belief system, not a set of ideas, not a school of thought, but the divine healing of our soul that delivers us from everything that weighs us down so that we can stand up straight and do what our heart yearns to do: glorify God who first loved us.
So then, we don’t receive the Orthodox Faith by embracing a different set of ideas as though we’ve done nothing more than switch belief systems, like one who switches political parties. As St Paul tells us this morning: “Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Whether you believe this or that, whether you are, let’s say, a theist or an atheist or an agnostic, it doesn’t matter: you are still bent over like the woman in this morning’s Gospel. The theist is as dead in his sins and trespasses as are the atheist and the agnostic. Theism, atheism and agnosticism are ideas, belief systems, schools of thought, and none of them has the power to heal your soul from death so that she can stand up straight and glorify God.
When we receive the Orthodox Faith, we do not receive a distinctive belief system. We receive the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in the Glory, the Spirit, of God the Father.
The dogmas of the Orthodox faith that we receive into our ears, the sacramental mysteries that wash over our body, and that we receive on our tongue, these are like the hand of Christ touching us just as it touched the crippled woman in this morning’s Gospel. And in that touch, the same power of the Holy Spirit that healed this crippled woman is healing us so that we can stand up straight and glorify God.
Let us note that this crippled woman was healed by the touch of Christ this morning because she had drawn near to the Savior; she came to the synagogue on the Sabbath where He was teaching. She came in a broken body, which no doubt had broken her spirit. And so, too, we must draw near to the Savior to receive the healing touch of His hand. We draw near to Him when we turn to Him in prayer. He turns to us when He sees in us a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. (Ps 51:17) Here is the beginning of repentance; for, the minute we draw near to Christ in a broken and contrite heart we have turned away from the world and set our face towards God.
Leave the arguments of the world for and against God behind. The living God is in none of these arguments because He is neither an idea nor the conclusion to an argument. Where is He then? Holy Scripture tells us: He is very near you, in your heart. (Dt 30:14) He is the Love of God (Rom 8:39) that brought you into existence. He is the Good (Ps 109:21), the Beauty (Ps 27:4), the Love whom your heart yearns for (Ps 42:1), whom your heart knows intuitively as soon as she sees Him and feels Him. Indeed, standing here in the Church this morning, you are in His presence, for the Church is His body, the fullness of Him who is all in all. (Eph 1:21) Here, in the Church you stand before God, for you are standing in the body of Christ and in the fullness of Him who is all in all.
Here in the Church, then, we can turn in our heart to the Christ who is among us. If He sees in us a broken and contrite spirit, the Scriptures tell us that He will not despise us; and so I believe we can trust Him to turn to us and touch us as He did this woman in this morning’s Gospel. And, when He touches the soul that draws near in a broken and contrite spirit, then does the soul receive the Orthodox Faith. She finds herself waking up, coming alive, seeing and feeling her truest, most human character: her heart that in the joy of Christ’s love begins to widen (2 Cor 6:11) as she rises up and stands upright, and there begins to pour out from her heart like a mighty river that gets deeper and deeper (Eze 47) all the love and joy of heaven and earth, which the soul was made to contain – for she was made in the image and likeness of God – and she begins to glorify God who glorifies her.
This, beloved faithful, is the Orthodox Faith. Let us take up our cross to become truly Orthodox faithful. Amen.