47 Sixth Sunday After Pentecost - July 27, 2008

Romans 12:6-14

Matthew 9:1-8

The Greek in this morning’s Gospel could be translated more literally like this: “They brought to him a paralytic who had been thrown onto his bed.” The man’s paralysis is depicted as a thug that jumped the hapless man and threw him onto his bed and bound him to it so that he couldn’t get up. Jesus says: “Your sins are forgiven you.” When the scribes accuse him of blasphemy, he answers: “Is it easier to say your sins are forgiven you or to say, rise, take up your bed and walk?” Clearly, the Gospel shows a direct correspondence between the paralytic’s bed and his sins. From this, we can understand our own sinful desires and habits as our bed that the Lord commands us to take up in order to go away into our home.

To get to the spiritual sense of the Savior’s command, we must think biblically. Our home would be the Garden of Eden or the world as it was in the beginning. Then, the world was the Kingdom of Heaven because it was under the sovereignty of God and the Word of God was its life. The Garden of Eden is our home for that is where we were made and brought into being. That’s where we were raised up from the ground and received the Heavenly Spirit to become living souls.

In Adam and Eve, we were made children of God; we were not made to be paralyzed on a bed of sinful habits and inclinations. In Adam and Eve we were made in the image and likeness of God; we were made to eat from the Tree of Life in order to become partakers of the divine nature. We were made, in other words, to become by grace everything that God is by nature: good, free, alive in the Father’s Holy Spirit of love, joy and peace.

So when the Savior says to the paralytic, literally in the Greek: “Go away into your house,” we understand him to be saying, leave the sin that has you in its grip and make your way back to the Garden of Eden, to the Kingdom of Heaven, your home where you belong. You are a child of God by virtue of your creation in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, repent: turn around and look squarely at yourself. Identify and confess the sin that holds you in its grip, marring the image of God in you. Whatever that sin is, that is your bed. Rise up from your bed. Detach yourself from your sin and in the grace of God, take command of it. Expose it to the light. Confess it and be its slave no longer; and go into your house, into the Kingdom of Heaven, where you belong.

Can you hear in this command the Good News of the Gospel? You are free! The Kingdom of Heaven is yours, if you want it. The Savior has come into the world. He has bound the thug, the strong man who threw us onto the bed of sin, and he has thrown him out of the house. You don’t have to be slave to the sin that holds you in its grip if you don’t want to be. You can rise up and go into your house, the house of our heavenly Father, if you want to.

The Savior’s command comes to the soul like scent of fresh air carried on a gust of wind that lifts the curtains and blows into a musty room, bringing the sun with it to illumine the darkness and to reveal a door opening onto that better and changeless path that ascends the Mountain to God. But, I think our soul is at a critical juncture when she hears this command of the Savior. Having bound the strong man and cast him out, the Savior brings us back to that moment in the Garden when Eve stood before the two trees; only now we must choose from which tree we will eat. Now we hear in the Savior’s command, “Rise, take up your bed and go to your house,” the same command he gave to Adam and Eve in the Garden: Rise and eat from the Tree of Life, for unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.[1] 

The commandments of the Savior, says the Psalmist, are a light on the earth.[2] I have wondered if the Lord’s commandments have something to do with that light that the Word of God brought forth on the First Day of creation, before he created even the sun and moon. If so, then it was in this primordial light of his commandments that God created the rest of the heavens and the earth, including the sun and moon. And it is in that very light that we stand here in the Church, so that here we are standing again in the mystery of the First Day. The light of God shines on us all around in the words of the Church’s worship, in the words of her doctrines, her prayers, and her Holy Scriptures. And in that light, a freedom is revealed that we didn’t know was ours. We didn’t know because we couldn’t see it; and we couldn’t see it because it lies so deep within us, and it has become covered up by so many paralyzing layers of sinful habits and inclinations. But in the light of the Church, cast in our mind by the Savior’s Word, we can see it now: it is the freedom that is primordially natural to us as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

In our freedom we chose sin, and we have chosen it again and again so many times that it has become an unconscious habit, even our default mode. We have eaten the fruit of sin and it has mingled with our souls and bodies as a law of sin active in us, as St Paul says.[3] But the same Word of God that pierces the darkness to expose this law of sin eating away at our soul and body reveals also the deeper Law of God’s Word in whose image and likeness we were created.[4] This is the Law of personal communion with God in the fear of God, with faith and love. This Law of God is the primordial shape, the original substance of our nature. The law of sin is not natural to us. It is a parasite, a virus that has attacked us like a thug and thrown us onto the bed of spiritual paralysis that ends in spiritual death. The Good News of the Gospel is that the Law of God, which is in its essence the Person of God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, has become flesh and dwelt among us. He has come into the world, our home, and he has bound the strong man and cast him out and delivered us from our bondage to sin and to its fruit, death and corruption. Those who receive the Word of God into their ears and into their mouths as their food, and into their mind and heart as their first love, he makes to pass over with him through the waters of baptism into the Garden of Eden.

That is where we are standing now, here in the Church on the corner of 54th and 38th. Indeed, it is where we could be standing every day, every hour, every moment if we would practice in our daily life the constant remembrance of God. The Tree of Life was planted in the field of the human soul when the Cross was plunged into the earth and Christ was voluntarily lifted up on it for our salvation. It is now ever before us, and we are free to take and eat its fruit which is Christ if we want to.

When we repent and turn around to look into our heart in the light that shines upon us here in the Church, here in the body of Christ, here in the Garden of Eden, we can see that the divine freedom of God is natural to us because the image of God in which we were made is in its essence the mystery of love. We are free because we were made in the image of God. God is love; so also we are love in our nature. So it is that when the repentant soul beholds Christ lifted on the Cross because of his great love for us, the love for God that is natural to her is awakened; and there spontaneously rises up in her the yearning of a bride for her Bridegroom. In that love that is natural to her, the soul discovers the freedom that is natural to her. In that love for the Bridegroom she freely chooses to renounce the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of the life, and to suffer all things in order to become one with Christ who loved us and suffered all things for us. It is in love for the Savior that she rises up from her bed of sin and it is the freedom of her love that she chooses to walk in the light of Christ’s commandments in order to go into her house, the Kingdom of the Father.

This week we enter the blessed season of the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos. My hope in these words of the Church is to awaken in our souls that love of God that is natural to us, so that we will discover the Theotokos as our Mother in Christ, and in our love for her as our Mother, that we will discover in our souls a courage and a power to rise up from our bed in the love of God to go with her into the house, the Kingdom, of her Son and our God. Our discipline as Christians, and our specific task in this season of the Dormition Fast, is to keep our mind and heart warm and sensitized in faith and love for the Word of God through unceasing prayer, through study of the Holy Scriptures, faithful observance of the divine services, so that we do not become dull and hard of hearing, and our souls become again infected by the numbness and lethargy that arise from forgetfulness and ignorance of God making us easy prey for the wolf of souls.

In Christ’s Holy Church, the light of God’s love takes shape, it becomes concrete, it clothes itself with light and with sound, with fragrance and texture in the Church’s liturgical worship, in her doctrines, in her prayers, in her holy icons, in her Holy Scriptures, in the writings of her holy fathers. Every time we say a prayer of the Church, or open the Scriptures to read, we are rising up into the light of Christ’s holy resurrection. Every time we make the sign of the Cross or make a prostration or bow our necks in meekness, we are weaving as it were a garment of light about our bodies. Every time we venerate a holy icon, we are offering the love of our soul to the Savior. And when we strive to center our thoughts, our words and our deeds on unceasing prayer in the constant remembrance of God, we are rising up in love for God from our bed of sin and going into our house. So, in this season of the Dormition, lay hold of that freedom that is yours by nature as a child of God, made in his image and likeness, and in the love of God, rise up from your bed and go into your house, the house of God. Amen.

[1] Gn 2:16 & Jn 6:53

[2] Ps 119, as summarized in the 9th silent prayer of Matins

[3] Rm 7

[4] Cf. Col 1:15 and Gn 1:27-28