|41 - The Paralytic, July 12, 2015|
“They broughtto Him a paralytic...”
We read this story of the paralytic, but from the Gospel of St Mark, on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent. Then, its Lenten setting reveals the healing of the paralytic as a sign that the prophecy of Deuteronomy is being fulfilled: “The LORD will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants, for He will see them paralyzed.” (Dt 32:26) This morning, in its Pentecostal setting, the healing of the paralytic reveals a deeper meaning in the LORD’s command to forsake everything to follow Him.
To open the curtain on this revelation, let’s reflect on what the man’s paralysis means theologically, and then on how the LORD heals the man of his paralysis.
A paralytic, this man was disabled, weak of limb. But this word, paralytic, doesn’t just refer to a weakened or enfeebled condition of the body. Made from two words – from (para) and to loose, to undo, to dissolve (luo) – it means to separate or to undo anything so as to weaken it or disable it. For example, it’s the word used to describe what King David did when he hamstrung the chariot horses of the Moabite armies. (II Sam 8:4 LXX) That is, he disabled them by cutting the tendons of their legs or separating their tendons from their legs. It’s the word used by Ezekiel when he describes how the hands of Israel will be feeble from terror at the news that the LORD has drawn His sword against them; and, “to destroy” – the word is to paralyze – is what the sword of the LORD is to make itself ready to do. (Ezekiel 21:12&15 LXX)
So, one becomes a paralytic in body because the nerves are separated somehow from the brain so that they no longer receive or are able to respond to the brain’s commands.
I find a passage from Leviticus particularly striking for our purpose here this morning: “The clothes of the leper shall be torn (paralyzed), and he shall be called unclean.” (Lev 13:45 LXX) Theologically, the garment is the body and the leper is the inner man who wears the body. The garment or body of the sinner or leper, shall become paralytic or disabled because the inner man has become unclean with the leprosy of idolatry contracted through disobedience. Theologically, then, a paralytic is a spiritual leper who has become separated from God in his inner man. The theological connection between paralysis and leprosy fits perfectly since the leper is separated – he is paralyzed – from society because of his condition. Theologically, the paralytic is undone, in disarray in the inner man; his soul is separated from her moorings, fragmented like broken glass into myriad pieces, a spiritual schizophrenic.
So, when Moses says in Deuteronomy, “The LORD will vindicate His servants when He sees that they are paralyzed,” we take it theologically to mean that the LORD’s servants have been become weak and disabled in their inner man because they have separated themselves from God by their disobedience and contracted the spiritual leprosy of idolatry.
So, what does it mean when the LORD heals the paralytic? Theologically, it means that He puts the paralytic back together. He integrates his soul and unites his inner man back to his spiritual roots, back to Christ, the Image of God in whom he was made. And so, when he says to the paralytic, “Take up your bed and go home,” hear Eze 37:12 that we read on Great and Holy Friday evening. He’s saying: “I have raised you from your grave, from the bed of your paralysis. Now, follow Me into the Land of Israel, into the Kingdom of Heaven that is within you; follow Me on the better and changeless Path that ascends to heaven and into the bosom of the Father, and into the love of the Holy Trinity that abides forever.
So, restoring us to union with Himself is what the power of the LORD does; but, that’s not what we’re reflecting on. What is the character of the LORD’s power? I.e., how does He go about putting the paralytic back together? How does He put us back together in our inner man? How does He heal us of our spiritual paralysis and unite us back to our root – back to Himself – in the love of God that abides forever?
The LORD said that He did not come to call the righteous but sinners. He said that He came not to judge the world but to save the world. (Jn 12:47) St Paul says that He was not at all ashamed to call us, whom He created in His own Image, His brothers and sisters, so much so that He emptied Himself to the point of death on the Cross so that He could become one with us even in our death! That means that He who knew no sin became sin for us, as St Paul says. We need to reflect more closely on this in light of our Gospel this morning.
On the Cross, the LORD prayed to the Father: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He then cried out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Do you see how He who knew no sin made Himself to be The Sinner? He in effect pronounced His enemies innocent and Himself forsaken of God. Do you see, then, that He vindicated (Dt 32:36) us, His servants, by making Himself The Paralytic, the One separated from God? The power by which He heals the paralytic this morning is not the coercive power of domination but the healing power of love, the love of the Holy Trinity that abides forever. That love – we have said many times so as to convey something of its visceral quality – is embodied in the tender love of the Theotokos for her Son and of the Son for His Mother. In that visceral love of God that abides forever, He identified with us at that point where the paralysis of our inner fragmentation begins, our separation from God. And, this is the power of the Church, the Body of Christ!
It says this morning: “When He saw their faith,” He said to the paralytic, and so to us: ‘My child, be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven!’” Should we not say that the inner essence of faith is the action of uniting ourselves to Christ? Do you now begin to see that when we pray, “LORD Jesus Christ, have mercy on me the sinner,” we are uniting ourselves to Christ on the Cross by identifying ourselves, as He does, not with the righteous but with the sinners as the first of sinners? So, to forsake everything to follow Christ means to forsake all that paralyzes us or separates us from Christ; and, to unite myself with Christ means to identify myself, with Him, as the sinner, even as the first of all sinners. It is the humility of love in this prayer of the Church – “LORD, have mercy!” – that makes the power of the Church a healing power because the power of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, is the power of Christ uniting Himself as The Paralytic to us the paralyzed so as to raise us from our beds; i.e., from death to life so that we can walk – i.e., live every day, every hour, every minute – in the love of the Holy Trinity that abides forever.
It says, “They brought to Him a paralytic.” The word is prosphero, to offer. It is a sacramental word. You will recognize it in what we call the bread offered as Holy Gifts: prosphora. The LORD Jesus Christ brings or offers Himself to the Father (e.g., Heb 9:14). To forsake all to follow Christ, then, means to unite ourselves to Christ in this sacramental action of offering the Body and Blood of Christ on behalf of all and for all, i.e., all the paralytics, all the sinners of the world, of whom I am first!
It says, “They offered to Him.” Who are they? Surely, they are the holy fathers and mothers of the Church since we pray the LORD to have mercy on us “Through the prayers of our holy fathers (and mothers).” That means that we have been healed and are being healed of our paralysis because they are interceding for us, and in their union with Christ, our High Priest, they are identifying with us in our paralysis. With Christ, they stand before the Father as The Sinner, offering themselves on behalf of all and for all.
Thus, to forsake everything for Christ means that we unite ourselves to Christ and identify ourselves with Him as the first of all sinners. I think it is in the love and humility inherent in the voluntary act of forsaking everything for Christ that we find ourselves “clothed with power from on high,” the Holy Spirit; and in that power of humility and love, we rise from our beds to go home; i.e., to offer ourselves and one another to Christ our God on behalf of all and for all in the love of the Holy Trinity that abides forever! Glory to Our LORD Jesus Christ! Glory forever! Amen!