42 - Paralytic Healed by Others' Faith, July 16, 2017

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Romans 12:6-14

Matthew 9:1-8

A paralytic is like a corpse. Neither can move. Beyond that, however, paralysis carries a spiritual meaning in the bible. An idol and a paralytic are very much alike: both have hands but cannot feel. Both have feet but cannot walk. For the prophets, those who worship idols become spiritual paralytics; like idols, they have eyes that cannot see the ways of God, ears that cannot hear the WORD of God, a mouth that cannot speak the Wisdom of God, arms, hands, legs and feet that cannot feel or move in the Glory of God. Israel became a spiritual paralytic because she went after the idols of her neighbors.

Idolatry is more subtle than worshipping a statue. Idolatry is covetousness, says St Paul. Covetousness is fairly comprehensive. When you think about it, you can see how all the passions – gluttony, lust, fornication and adultery, sexual perversion, anger, greed or love of money, vanity, pride, and any others – are but different forms of covetousness.

The seeds of idolatry or covetousness are already active in us from a very young age. E.g., I hear my grandkids saying, often: “I want it!” The unspoken logic is: “I want it! Therefore, I should have it! I want it: therefore, it is mine!” Parents, let us be attentive! Here is the beginning of idolatry. Here is the seed of a paralysis of the soul which, if not “nipped in the bud”, will blossom into spiritual death.

At its root, covetousness or idolatry is self-love. St Maximus, for example, writes: where self-love is absent, there no trace of evil can exist. Where self-love is present, there is spiritual paralysis, a soul that is blind and deaf to the things of God; a heart that is dumb, because it is a tomb filled with death and not with a divine joy that bubbles up through the mouth in a song of praise.

The kingdom of Israel was destroyed, her subjects exiled at the hands of her lovers, the nations whose gods Israel had given herself to. According to the prophets, especially Ezekiel, the LORD didn’t so much destroy Israel as He simply gave her over to her “lovers”. When the LORD withdrew His protection, Israel saw how the gods of her idols loved her.

But, do we not experience the same thing when we indulge the idols of our passions? Loved ones are hurt; relationships are broken if not destroyed. We ourselves experience emotional, even physical breakdowns. A vague fear gnaws at us deep down; we feel out of sorts, on edge, anxious. We’re easily offended, given to self-pity, defensive yet critical of others, blaming others for the problems we have caused from choices we have made. Often, all of this we hide, even from ourselves, under the different cloaks of self-righteousness.

Even though Israel came into being in a resurrection from the dead – raised from the loins of Abraham and Sarah, who were as good as dead –she turned away from the LORD and chased after lifeless idols. Why should we think that we are any different from the Israelites? We have been raised to life from the font of the LORD’s Resurrection; yet, do we love the LORD who raised us to life or do we still live for the idols of our passions?

The seed of idolatry has been sown in our earthly bodies, St Paul warns us (Rom 7). It is embodied in us as the law of our earthly members. I.e., sin or idolatry is not an abstract idea. It is embodied in each one of us concretely. If we do not “attend”, if we are not vigilant, if we are not daily denying ourselves and taking up our cross to follow the LORD, if we are not feeding our eyes and ears on the words of the Church but, instead, on the words of the world, that seed of idolatry grows in us and spiritual paralysis spreads throughout our heart and soul.

Neither is this paralysis of the soul something we cannot see or feel in ourselves. St Nikolai of Zhicha says somewhere that the more we love Christ the more we will love the worship of the Church. This makes sense because the Church is the Body of Christ; she is the continuing Incarnation of Christ glorified. In her worship, she comprehends heaven and earth in the mystery of the New Creation raised into being from the LORD’s Tomb, the Font of the Resurrection. What, then, is the center of our daily and weekly routine at home if it is not the liturgical rhythm of the Church? Do we honor the seasons of fasting? Do we keep the feasts if they’re not on a Sunday? What’s “turned on” in the house of our soul: prayer or impure images, fantasies, wishful thinking? How much do I fight to lead my body and mind into the presence of God compared to how much I fight to get tickets to the next rock so-called concert or the next blockbuster movie, or the best deal in the marketplace? In all of this, we can see something of the extent to which the paralysis of idolatry has spread throughout our soul?

In such a self-examination done in the way of the Church, none of us will find ourselves wanting to boast that we are not idolaters. Yet, if our heart is oriented toward the Light of the East and not toward the darkness of the west, the Church graciously calls us the “faithful”. In the eastward orientation of our faith, as we confess our idolatry daily, the LORD promises that He will cleanse our idolatry daily. He will heal our soul daily, and we will find that we are growing daily in love for Christ.

I believe this divine healing of our soul can also be measured. I think it’s given in this morning’s Gospel. The more we see that we are the first of all sinners, the more fervently we pray that the LORD would create in us a clean heart, and as the LORD forgives us and cleanses us, the more I think we find ourselves interceding for others. We become, even in our sins, the “faithful”, perhaps because we are faithful in the confessing of our sins and in our interceding for others.

Let us note that the paralytic is forgiven and healed because of the faith of his four companions. But, let us note how hard they worked on the paralytic’s behalf to bring him face to face with the Savior. It is by the work of their faith that they break through the roof and “offer” their loved one, the paralytic, to the LORD.

Is this not how we were saved in our baptism? We were spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses, spiritual paralytics when we were brought to the LORD by four faithful: our Mom and Dad, our Sponsor and the Priest. But, the priest represents the Church, and so the Theotokos, all the saints, even Christ Himself who intercedes for us before the Father in the Holy Spirit with sighs too deep for words (Rm 8:26).

There is great comfort and hope for us here. I cannot explain how it is that I myself was delivered from the blind anger of an arrogant unbelief unless it was by the faith of others who cared for me and were interceding for me. But, who of us does not have loved ones who we can see are paralyzed in some way, blind and deaf to the Wisdom and Beauty of Christ, that we do not grieve over? In our love for them, we can feel their fear, confusion and loneliness, and it breaks our heart. This morning’s Gospel shows us that there is a very effective and powerful way we can help deliver them from their spiritual paralysis. It is through the intercessory work of our own faith. But, if we are all members of one another in the Body of Christ, the Church, it is also through the prayers of all the saints and of the Theotokos. We conclude the litanies of our petitions by praying: “Commemorating our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and all the saints, let us commend ourselves and each other to Christ our God”? Here are three of us: the Theotokos, the saints and ourselves, all of us commending ourselves and each other to Christ our God. Where is the fourth?

During Great Lent, we read the Second Biblical Canticle at Matins. It’s from Deuteronomy. There, we read in the midst of the LORD’s complaint against Israel because of her idolatry: “The LORD shall judge His people and shall be comforted over His servants; for He saw that they were paralyzed and had become utterly weakened. …Behold, [says the LORD], I will sharpen my sword like lighting and I will render judgment to my enemies.” (Dt 32:36) The sword is the WORD of God that is living and active as the Cross. By His Cross, the LORD reveals how, by His faithfulness to us, He has worked to save us from our paralysis, to cleanse us from our sins and to deliver us from the power of death.

So, the fourth is Christ our God Himself. We become the “faithful”, partners in the work of His faithfulness, when we work to fulfill the oath of our baptism to unite ourselves to Christ.  The work looks something like this, I would say: in the confession of our sins we approach the Holy Font and the Chalice. This is the beginning of denying ourselves. It is followed by receiving the very Body of Christ. As members of His Body, we take up our cross, the ascetic disciplines of the Church, to follow Him. Our soul is thereby molded into the “shape” of the Cross. By the power of the Cross, the roof of the house of our soul is opened – not unlike the curtain of the temple or the graves of the saints or the stone rolled away from the tomb – and we descend into the tomb, the house of our heart; but, we do not descend alone. We bring with us all of our loved ones. There, in the house, face to face with Christ our God Himself, surrounded by the Theotokos and all the saints, we commend ourselves and each other and all of our loved ones both living and decease, even our enemies, even the world, to Christ our God, that He may heal us by the power of His Cross, which is the power of His death, which is the power of His love and mercy by which He has conquered the world and destroyed the devil, raising us to life from our paralysis.

Dear faithful! Such is the work of the Christian Faith. Such is the calling of the Christian: to become one with Christ in the work of His Cross, the work of raising each other and all of our loved ones living and deceased from the bed of their paralysis! Through the prayers of the saints, may God heal our soul that we may live in the joy of Christ Himself. Amen!