The word “paralytic” comes from an ancient Greek word: one, para, which means “from,” and the second is luō and luō, the most common translation of that is “to loosen.” And yet, I was looking up that word and I found that in ancient times luō had many many other meanings as well. It wasn’t just “to loosen,” but it could be translated as “to be set free, to be redeemed, to be saved.” So when we hear the word paralytic in ancient times, one could take it not as somebody who is just unable to move themselves, or unable to free themselves, such as somebody who cannot walk or somebody who can not move their body, but someone could translate that or mean it as “someone who is not able to free themselves from many many different things.” Someone could be a paralytic not in their body, but also in their soul, in their heart, in their mind.
And so, today’s Gospel is very interesting and I think it’s intentional that the evangelist uses the example of a paralytic. We hear in the story that at this pool outside of Jerusalem, by one of the gates, it was called the “Sheep Gate,” because that is where all the pastors would herd their sheep out of the city and into the valleys, and when they returned they would give water to their flocks from that pool. And that pool was a very special pool because there was a miracle happening and an angel would come down and stir the waters, and whoever would go into the water first would be healed. And so it was full of many different kinds of sick people. And we hear that there were different kinds, there were people who were not only paralytic, who were lame, but people who were also blind and deaf and lepers. A myriad of different diseases, and yet the evangelist chooses to speak about this specific type of sickness, which is paralysis. And I think it’s intentional, to remind us of this idea of being slaves, of being unable to move. Unable to move both our bodies, but also unable to move our souls and our spirits.
And I say this and I think this is the reason why. Because we see that Christ says something to the paralytic man before he heals him. He asks a very peculiar question, an obvious question for most of us today, he says “Do you want to be healed? Do you want to be made whole?” Which is kind of a dumb question for us, because we would say “Who doesn’t want to be healed? Who, having sat there beside this pool for thirty-eight years of their life, would not want to? It’s a given, why doesn’t Christ just heal him?” And yet he asked the question, and the question is extremely important. Why? Because he is not asking the obvious, he is not asking the person if he wants to walk. That’s an obvious given, but he’s asking the person about his spiritual state. “Do you want to be made whole?” Whole in what way? Obviously in the sense of turning towards God, turning towards the person who can actually help him. And not just in his physical sense, but obviously in the spiritual sense.
And we say this today and we hear it, because we see obvious parallels with our daily lives. You know, the irony is that this man responds to Christ. And when Christ says “Do you want to be healed?” He says, “Sir, I have nobody to help me get into the pool. I have no one to help me.” The irony is that he is staring at the very person who is supposed to help him. He is staring at the Son of God, he is staring at the Messiah, he is staring at the person who will help him, and he doesn’t recognize him. And this is the great irony, because the man himself is not ready yet. He is not ready to turn towards God. And this is why Christ asks him the question “Are you ready to be healed?” And then we see ourselves today. We see ourselves today, we see how we live our lives, and especially we see how we participate in the sacramental life of the church.
We see that, and we know that all of us suffer from some kind of illness. Whether it be a physical illness, or a mental illness, or a spiritual illness. And I would go as far as to say that all of us, including myself, we all suffer from spiritual illness. Why? Because, as we have said many times, sin is our illness. When we sin we become sick in our souls, and we need the cure, we need medication. That medication we have said so many times is both Confession and Holy Communion. It is the only way that we can cleanse ourselves and make ourselves whole again. And yet we see that the majority of us, we sit on the sidelines. The years go by and we sit in the pews and we never truly participate in the sacramental life of the Church. We never truly get into the pool, just like the man today who sat there for thirty-eight years making the excuse that no one was there to help him.
I heard a wonderful thing this past Pascha. Right after the service, somebody came up to me and said “Father, I want to thank you because my husband who has not communed in thirty years took Holy Communion tonight. And it was a very moving experience for him.” And I thought of this person when I was reading the Gospel today. Because it is not only him, but many many of us Orthodox Christians who stay away from Holy Communion, stay away from Holy Confession as if we don’t need it or from some kind of fear. And so we remain like the man, we remain paralyzed in our souls, we remain sick in our hearts, and we refuse to take the healing.
And like the paralyzed man today, staring us in the face, is Christ. Because we are not outside the Church, but it is assumed we are within the Church. We are here every Sunday, we pray together, we sit in the house of the Lord. And in front of us is Christ, who welcomes everyone to his banquet, who welcomes everyone and offers everyone, the healing of soul and body. And yet, many of us are not ready to take it. He says to us: “Are you willing to be healed? Are you willing to be made whole?” And we with our actions say “No we are not.” Something we need to think about, especially today, we are reminded that Christ is always in front of us, because we are happy and privileged enough to call ourselves Christians. We are lucky enough to be born or to convert into the Church of Christ, to have these tools at our disposal, to have the medication, the spiritual healing right at our fingertips. All we have to do is put put our hand, take Christ by the hand, and allow him to lift us up out of our spiritual paralysis. Amen.