|24 - Second Sunday of Great Lent, March 8, 2015|
Hebrews 1:10 – 2:3
We come into the House of the LORD as into the waters of our Holy Baptism. In the waters of the Church’s liturgical worship, we descend on the “better and changeless path” to what is “inwardly understood” and “higher than heaven.” (Festal Menaion, p. 277 & 383, Theophany).
During Great Lent we read at Daily Matins the Second Biblical Canticle (the Song of Moses, Dt 32:1-43) The rubric, then, for descending to an inward understanding of what we hear in this Canticle is the Cross of Christ. That in turn opens to us an inward understanding of the Gospels we read on the Sundays of Great Lent. E.g., in view of our Gospel this morning, this from the Song of Moses catches our attention: “For the LORD will judge His people, and He will have compassion on His servants; for, he sees them paralyzed, forsaken, in distress and weakened.” (v. 36 LXX)
The paralytic in this morning’s Gospel, then, is Israel. In the Lenten light of the Song of Moses, we descend to the inward meaning of the LORD forgiving and healing the paralytic. The paralysis of Israel is being healed in the mystery of Christ’s Holy Cross and the prophecy of Moses is being fulfilled. We are Israel by virtue of our baptism. So, we are the paralytic in this morning’s Gospel and Moses’ prophecy is being fulfilled in us as we take up the ascetic discipline of the Lenten Fast. For, it says, “When He saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, to Israel, to us: ‘My Child ' (cf. Dt 32:6: “Is He not your father who created you, O Israel?”), 'your sins are forgiven you!’” And then He says to the scribes: “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” – i.e., so that you may know that Jesus is the LORD who has come to judge His people – “He said to the paralytic: ‘Rise, take up your bed and go to your house.’”
But, what kind of judgment is this that the LORD forgives our sins and heals us of our paralysis? Let’s return to the Second Biblical Canticle; there is more to “understand inwardly”.
“Israel,” it says, “is no longer His child because he … forsook God who made him. They … provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons that are no gods.” Do we not sacrifice, e.g., to Aphrodite when we give in to lust, to Pluto when we give in to greed, to Ares when we give in to anger? This is our idolatry.
And, idolatry is why the LORD finds Israel, us, inwardly paralyzed, forsaken, in distress and weakened; for, we become what we worship. We give our heart to the world we become worldly; to God we become godly. “The idols of the nations are silver and gold,” says the Psalmist. “They have mouths but they speak not, they have eyes but they see not, they have ears but they hear not. They have hands but do not feel, feet but they do not walk. Those who put their trust in them are like them!” (Ps 134:15-18 LXX). I.e., they become paralyzed, forsaken, in distress and weakened.
And so, “A fire is kindled in My anger and shall burn to the lowest Hades,” says the LORD. (v. 22 LXX) “I kill and I make alive. I wound and I heal. Nor will there be any who can deliver from My hands.” (v. 39 LXX)
If we “understand” this as a prophecy that is being fulfilled in the LORD forgiving and healing the paralytic in this morning’s Gospel, do we not “descend” inwardly to “understand” that the “house” the LORD is in this morning is the lowest Hades and that He is the divine fire; for He is our God, and our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29)? His anger, then, is but the face of His compassion for His people. For, it is in the fire of His compassion that He ascends the Cross to “judge His servants” by heaping upon Himself the iniquity of us all, piling onto His shoulders our griefs and our sorrows, even the judgment that was ours (Isa 53:6) that He might burn it – not us! – all up in the divine fire of His anger.
The scene in our Gospel this morning suddenly opens inwardly to reveal the LORD judging His people, the many, from His Cross, the divine fire of His compassion burning all the way to the lowest Hades, the “house of Sheol,” His outstretched arms embracing the many who are paralyzed, forsaken, in distress and weakened. What He kills in the uncreated fire of His wrath is not them but their paralysis, so that it is they that He makes alive in the uncreated fire of His love! What He wounds is not them but the serpent, mortally, for He crushes its head, so it is they whom He heals by raising them from the dust of the ground a new creation. (II Cor 5:17) I.e., He destroys death by His death and upon those in the tombs He bestows life! And none can deliver from His hand. For, having condemned sin – the paralysis caused by our idolatry – in His own flesh nothing is “able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus the LORD!” (Rm 8:3 & 35-39)
“When He saw their faith, the LORD said, ‘My Child, your sins are forgiven.” Beloved faithful, in the “house of the LORD” the healing light of His life-creating Cross shines all around us. If giving our love to the idols of the world closed our eyes, the light of His Cross opens them so that we can see Christ in the company of His Holy Mother, His holy apostles, the holy prophets, the saints, the martyrs, and even the faithful of His Holy Church standing all around us, all of them illumined in the divine fire of Christ our God. They are many; and, beloved faithful it is they who carry us to the foot of the LORD’s Judgment Seat, His Holy Cross, through their intercessions imploring His mercy on us. They even would be us when we offer the Holy Gifts “On behalf of all and for all,” when we pray from our heart in faith for our loved ones, for the sick and the suffering, and all those in any kind of sorrow or distress.
Here is another biblical proof, by the way, when it is “inwardly understood”, for infant baptism; and, it reveals again how lovely is this house the LORD is in, and why they are blessed who dwell in it such that they cannot stop singing His praise. (Ps 83 LXX) Here in the House of the LORD we stand in the divine fire of His compassion that burns to the lowest Hades, cleansing us from our paralysis, our forsakenness, our griefs, our sorrows. Perhaps we may now begin to “understand” why the paralytic wanted so desperately to get into the House the LORD was in. For what kind of faith is this that they would go to such trouble in their love for him and his salvation?
“Rise, take up your bed, take up your cross and go into your own house’.” Beloved faithful, in the “house of the LORD” the holy fire of Christ’s life-creating Cross burns all around us. The feet that could not walk when we walked in the way of the world are burned up and out of the dust of the ashes, the LORD fashions new feet for us that can walk on the better and changeless path that our newly opened eyes can now see here at the bottom of the Jordan, i.e., in the lowest Hades, the house of Sheol that has become in the LORD’s Holy Pascha the “House of the LORD!” Here in the “House of the LORD” we can step onto that path that ascends to God. It is the path proclaimed to us by the prophet Ezekiel at the Matins of Great and Holy Saturday: “The Hand of the LORD (the Holy Spirit) set me down in the midst of the valley. (In the lowest Hades?) It was full of dry bones. (I.e., those who were paralyzed, forsaken, in distress and weak?) So I prophesied, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and they stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host. (They were many.) Thus says the LORD God: ‘Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people, and I will bring you into the land of Israel.” "Rise, take up your bed and go into your house." Arise and I will lead you into the Garden of My Resurrection. (Eze 37:1-12)
Beloved faithful, let us call on the Holy Theotokos and all the saints and implore them to carry us into the divine fire of Christ’s Holy Cross that burns up our paralysis, our forsakenness, our griefs, our sorrows here in the lowest Hades, the “House of the LORD,” that we may rise from the grave of our heart as from the tomb of Lazarus and draw near the Tomb of the LORD’s Saving Pascha as to the Gates of Eden (Jn 19:41) that have been opened to all. Amen!