33 - Fourth Sunday of Pascha, The Paralytic, May 22, 2016 (with audio)

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Acts 9:32-42

John 5:1-18

Jesus’ healing miracles are provocative, even scandalous, precisely because He heals on the Sabbath. Two of our Sunday Gospels for this liturgical season of the Resurrection are of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Clearly, that Jesus healed on the Sabbath has something to do with the central meaning of His Holy Pascha. As it says in our Gospel this morning – the Jews sought to kill Jesus “not only because He broke the Sabbath, but even more because He said that God was His own Father, thereby making Himself equal to God” – His healing on the Sabbath points to who He is and what His relationship to God is. So, what is this morning’s healing on the Sabbath telling us about Christ’s Holy Pascha?

I think the key, actually, is given in the very Greek word translated often as He broke the Sabbath. I believe that this theologically is a wrong translation. The Savior did not break the Sabbath. He broke the iron bars and bronze doors of Hades and the chains that fettered those who were in darkness (Ps 107:14&16). What this word says He did to the Sabbath, in line with how the word is used in relevant OT passages, was to loosen it, to deliver it, even to open it.

It says that the LORD blessed the Sabbath, and sanctified it because on that day He rested from all His works which, as it says in the Septuagint, He had begun to do. (Gn 2:3)

We note first how this says the LORD’s work of creation is only begun; i.e., not finished. The picture is of the LORD resting on the Sabbath before resuming His work to finish it on the next day, which would be the First Day, or Sunday, or as St John calls it in Revelation, the LORD’s Day (Rev 1:10) – or, as the prophets Joel and Malachi call it, the “Great and Terrible Day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31; Mal 4:5).

With this, we see how the Sabbath is identified with the creation and with the LORD’s works of creation. As the last day, the Sabbath is the creation in its totality; it is the capstone, the goal, the meaning and purpose of all God’s works thatGod had begun to do up to now (cf. Jn 5:17: “My Father is working and I am working up to now”). So, when we read that the Jews sought to kill Jesus because He loosened the Sabbath, I wonder if we couldn’t read it also as: “He loosened or delivered (from what?) or opened (to what) the creation”?

Do you catch the importance of how we translate this verb? It conveys quite a different sense to read, “He broke the creation” or “He loosened, delivered, or opened the creation.” The one reading is of destruction; the other is of salvation: of healing and deliverance. This is why I say that the word generally translated as “to break”, but translated theologically more correctly as “to loosen” or “to open” or “to deliver” is the key that unlocks the prophetic significance and theological meaning of Jesus working (cf. Gn 2:3 & Jn 5:17) so many healings on the Sabbath.

For this purpose, let us therefore also note that the creation and the works of creation that the LORD began to do in the beginning are all very good or even very beautiful (kalos). The creation is finished in the creation of Man in God’s image and likeness. If, then, it says that God rested from all the works of creation He had begun, so that the creation is not yet finished, it must mean that there is a goal, a telos, an end or perfection that God intends for Man that was in Adam only begun and not yet finished. What might that goal be? The LORD Himself says: “Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). What might that mean? Perhaps, “That they be one even as Thou, O Father, art in Me and I in Thee; that they may also be in us” (Jn 17:21)? Or, that it might be, as St Paul says, that “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20); or, as St Peter says, “That you might become partakers of the divine nature” (II Pt 1:4)?

The beauty of creation is Man. The beauty of Man is that he was made in the Image and Likeness of God, or in Christ (Col 1:15); and that means that the beauty of man is in his capacity to receive God (this is the meaning of “in the Image”, St Didymus the Blind); a fortiori, that the beauty of man is perfected and consummated when He is fully and completely “like” God such that God abides in him and he in God, such that Christ, the Icon of God, is the “mirror” in whom sees the reflection of his true self, and man, as being “in the Icon” of God, is the “mirror” in whom God sees the reflection of Himself. What does St Paul say? “The great mystery (cf. Eph 5:32) hidden from the ages is Christ in you! (Col 1:27) And, that the marriage of man and woman is an icon that reflects the mystery of Christ and His Church!

Surely, we can now begin to see what the work of creation was that needed to be finished: that we would become perfectly one with God! So, when Christ heals on the Sabbath, He is not breaking it; He is loosening it and the creation from its mooring in death, He is delivering it from the fetters of death and corruption, He is opening it onto the New Creation of His Heavenly Kingdom and finishing it, perfecting it. And so, in the LORD healing on the Sabbath we are seeing the Gospel, the fulfillment of the Word of the prophets. The LORD has come into His Holy Temple (Ps 11:4; Hab 2:20; Zec 6:12; Mal 3:1), which is His Body that He received from the Blessed Virgin (Lk 1:35; Jn 1:14 & 2:21). He has become flesh and dwelt among us, and as the New Adam (Jn 1:14) He has finished the creation that, as the Son of God, He had begun to do (Heb 1:2). From His Holy Temple (Mic 1:2), the LORD is judging His people and seeing that they are paralyzed and weak (Dt 32:26); and in His compassion, He takes upon Himself the chastisement for our iniquities (Isa 53:5), becoming obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross (Phil 2:6) that He might become perfectly one with us (Heb 2:14) and so raise us from our graves and bring us into the land of His inheritance (Eze 37:12) – and is this not exactly what He says to the paralytic and to us this morning? “Rise, take up your bed, your cross, and walk” in the Light of My commandments. Deny yourself, put to death what is earthly in you, and follow Me into the tomb of your heart. I.e., “Carry the death of Jesus in your mortal body that the life of Jesus may become manifest in your bodies” (2 Cor 4:10). Behold there the linen shroud and the napkin folded neatly and lying off to the side and understand that, like Moses and Joshua loosening their sandals (Ex 3:5 & Josh 5:15), I have loosened the Sabbath of the old creation from the paralysis of death and corruption. I have delivered it from the fetters of darkness (cf. Ps 101:21 & 104:20). With Moses and Joshua, draw near in the fear of God, with faith and love to stand in the holy place of the New Creation, the Kingdom of Heaven that is within you (Lk 17:21). By my Holy Pascha, I have opened the tomb, the Sabbath rest of death (cf. St Isaac of Nineveh, Hom 25) onto the Sabbath Rest of the New Creation. With the brothers of Joseph, therefore, open the bag of your earthen vessel and discover the treasure of the LORD’s Resurrection hiding within you, even as Joseph’s brothers discovered the coins that Joseph (an icon of Christ) had placed in their bags (cf. Gn 42:27).

From outside (in the place of ekstasis?) the synagogue, the LORD comes to the paralytic now healed, just as He came to Him from outside the pool, and He says: “Go and sin no more, lest something worst happen to you.” But, how does one go and sin no more if one doesn’t follow the LORD and walk in the Way of His Commandments? And, how does one follow the LORD if one doesn’t rest from the world and take up the work of putting to death what is earthly in oneself so that one can attain to the Sabbath Rest of Christ who has become perfectly one with us in the tomb of our heart? But, if we unite oneself to Christ in the likeness of His death, does not our hear become a bridal chamber, and our death the consummate expression of our obedience to Christ and the Light of His Resurrection beginning to grow in us? This, beloved faithful – denying ourselves and taking up our cross to follow Christ – is how we loosen our life from the “sandals” of the Sabbath rest of this world, which is death, to stand in the holy place of the Sabbath Rest of Christ that we may walk in the Light of His Holy Resurrection. Amen!