46 - Healing and Forgiveness, Aug 4, 2013

Romans 12:6-14

Matthew 9:1-8

The scribes in this morning’s Gospel who blaspheme in their hearts against the Christ, saying to themselves: “This man blasphemes; no one can forgive sins but God!” are still among us. They remind me of that religious academia that has sprouted (like weeds) in Europe and America – what was once the Christian “oikoumene” – since the time of the so-called Enlightenment (which was, actually, a darkening of the human soul with the replace of Holy Wisdom with the wisdom of human opinion). Those who “belong” to this worldly academia are the modern day version of the scribes whom we meet (again) in this morning’s Gospel. For two or three centuries at least, now, entrusting themselves to what they can discover with the scientific and rational instruments of their own making (their idols), they have either rejected the Faith of the Church that Jesus is the Son of God, teaching instead that He was, at best, an ordinary man extraordinary only in His zeal for God; or they have rejected, based on the scientific methods of a historiography that they themselves have devised (which presupposes a priori, either explicitly  or implicitly, that the reality of God should not factor into any explanation of history or of the Church) – they have rejected even the “theory” that Jesus existed historically at all. He is just a Jewish myth, formed very likely from elements of pagan myths, such as the myths of Osiris or Dionysius.

The healing of the paralytic recorded in this morning’s Gospel disperses the scribal nonsense of the world’s academic learning like light dispersing the darkness, or like the wind – that blows where it wills – scattering the dust. Beloved faithful, we know that Jesus is the Son of God, we know that He became flesh and dwelt among us, precisely because our faith is not dependent on the methods of science or historiography. Our faith in Jesus as the Son of God, who became flesh and dwelt among us, is based on the experience of our soul, which we experience in the Church, of the forgiveness of our sins in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This morning’s Gospel shows us, in its typical understated, even passionless drama, the inexplicable joy and the heavenly transfiguration of our soul and body that the forgiveness of our sins in the Name of our most blessed Savior, Jesus Christ, effects in our whole being. It is nothing less than our being raised from death to the life of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, of being transformed from children of the body (as we say in the prayers of Holy Baptism) into children of God. For, we note how the forgiveness of the paralytic’s sins loosed him from his paralysis – which had made him as though he were a corpse, as though he were dead; for, just as a corpse can’t move, so the paralytic could not move.

This was no ordinary healing by some holy man; for Jesus was no “holy man”. He was the God-Man – the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us that we might be “healed” of death and saved to life eternal. None of the healings done by Jesus were ordinary, as this morning’s healing shows. It says that the people, when they saw it, were afraid, and they glorified God who given such power to men. This is not the power of a tyrant that coerces others to do his bidding against their will. It is the power of God that gives a command and the world, in obedience to that command, comes into existence, that alone is able make the dead living.

 This morning’s Gospel shows the connection, even the identity, of our sins and our death, which is the final paralysis of our soul and body. Our sins are the bonds of our death. We sin, and each sin wraps around us like steel until we are completely enwrapped in the iron bars of death, squeezed so tightly by them that we become paralyzed in our soul, and finally in our body when we are laid to rest.

Let’s not be deceived by the soul’s separation from the body at death, as though the soul is now “free”. The soul is where our sin originates, for it is in the freedom of our will, which resides in our soul, that we choose to give ourselves to sin. The wages of sin is death. Death is physical from what our eyes see. That is to say, it means that the life-principle that made our body breathe and grow and move is no longer there, and our body becomes absolutely still, lifeless, paralyzed. And so, we conclude that the life-principle, our soul, is now free from the chains of the body and is floating away somewhere off to some never-never-land. But sin is primarily spiritual, because it is the expression of our will. Death is primarily spiritual, because it begins not in the body but in the soul. Its first deed is to separate us from God, to strip us of the Robe of Glory that God clothed us with when He created us, leaving us naked, bereft of God, stripped of the Glory that radiates from the Spiritual Life of God that He breathed into Adam to make him a living soul.

I think it is more likely the case that when we die, as the world understands death, that is when, like Adam and Eve, our eyes are opened – opened like the eyes of a corpse – and in our soul, we see that we are naked. We are stripped of the garment of immortality, the robe of light, the glory of God. We see that our soul is dark, and that it is not able to walk in the light of God, it is not able to be spiritual any more than the paralytic in this morning’s Gospel was able to walk.

Now I hope we begin to see the ineffable goodness and mercy of Christ. He has given to us His very body and blood as the Church, for the Church, says St Paul, is His body, the fullness of Him who is all in all.

This morning’s Gospel says that Jesus came into His own city. This is immediately after He had gotten into the boat, calmed the wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee, as He made His way with His disciples into the “beyond”, into the region of the Gadarenes, and had healed the demoniacs, had brought them out of the tombs where the demons had kept them imprisoned, and sent them on their way to preach His Holy Gospel in the inexpressible joy of their deliverance from the demons and the tombs of death. He came into His own city, and immediately they bring to Him this paralytic. It is not at all unlike His Holy Ascension when He returned to His “own city”, Heaven, and is seated even now in His Glory at the Right Hand of the Father. And, from heaven, He sent down His Holy Spirit upon the holy disciples, and the Church, His most precious body and blood, was “born again”, if you will, on earth, in the soul and body of the holy disciples and apostles, His Holy Mother and all the saints, whereby He became flesh “again” and continues to dwell among us in the sacramental mysteries of His Holy Church.

And we, like the people in this morning’s Gospel, immediately bring to Him as our offering our souls and bodies bound tightly by our sins, making us sick unto death, paralyzed, unable to live the Life of God that alone is truly immortal, full of joy, peace and love. We bring our paralyzed, sin-sick souls and bodies to Christ in the confession of our sins, in Holy Baptism, in Holy Eucharist, and again and again in Holy Confession. And we hear His Word, and we receive His Word, we see the most precious body and blood of Christ, we handle it with our hands in the sacramental mysteries of the oil, the water, and we even eat it as our “super-essential” (daily) bread that comes down from heaven in the bread and the wine of His Holy Church’s Holy Eucharist. Because He is so good and tender and kind, because He is love and wants us to live in Him, He receives this “offering” of ours, this offering of a soul and body sick unto death, paralyzed by sin, and He offers to us the forgiveness of our sins. He raises us from the darkness and despair of death. But so much more than that, He offers us His own body and blood that has conquered death when He united Himself to us in our death, so that we can be united to Him in His Holy Resurrection.

Beloved faithful, this is the grace in which the faithful of the Church live. It is a grace of the very life of God’s Holy Spirit, whose very essence is divine light, heavenly joy in the love of God. And when we receive it and rise up from our life in the world to take up our bed, our cross in the Name of Our Most Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, we are not the same. We are changed, from within; for the joy and the love of God bathe our souls. Not like the scribes in their pride, but like the crowds in their fear of what they saw with their eyes, we glorify the Lord Jesus Christ with souls that are now alive in the Spirit. We know in the blessed forgiveness of our sins, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. Most blessed art Thou, O Holy Lord Jesus Christ. Glory to Thee! Most holy Theotokos, save us! Amen!