After three Sundays when the Gospels have been concerned with accounts of Our Lord’s Resurrection, today we have a change of scene completely, and it is a surprising one. It is the account of Jesus healing of a long-term paralysed man at the Pool of Bethesda. Now, at first sight, this seems an odd choice for Paschal-tide, because the incident happened in the early days of Jesus’ ministry, so why put it in the calendar now?
We make a mistake in breaking-up Our Lord’s short time on earth into portions, for example His childhood, preaching in Galilee; ministry in Judaea; Holy Week and so on. That may be OUR way of seeing it but probably it wasn’t His. No doubt Jesus saw his ministry as one continuous effort which lead up to the glorious climax of his Death and Resurrection. All through His ministry, Christ’s power to heal was intimately linked to His Resurrection. He who is able to overcome death in His Own Body, can heal other people’s bodies, before or after His Resurrection. So this incident of healing a paralytic, early on in the ministry, is really a public pointing forward to his Resurrection. It is a promise of things to come. And also, we must not miss this important point, that for the former paralytic, it really was a resurrection to a new and better way of life in no un-certain way!
Reading the account of the healing always brings to my mind a powerful sermon by a Scots preacher, heard long ago. He began by reminding us “We are all paralysed” several times over. When we had picked ourselves up off the floor and said: “hey, steady on, old chap” he went on, with a lot of gentleness, to indicate, first of all, just how paralysed we all are. And then he explained that like the man at Bethesda who couldn’t help himself, so it is impossible for us to help ourselves: we need assistance.
The first example he chose was paralysis of the mind. How often do we catch ourselves out on this one? Almost unconsciously we tend to pick and choose what we will accept and believe in the Christian faith. Many of us are like St Thomas and have doubts, some big, some small. And only too often we bother not about them and let them linger. But St Thomas brought his doubts out into the open and then Our Lord was able to deal with them. How can we receive similar help?
The answer to that question is that we must try to find what is usually called a “soul friend”- a spiritual father or mother. This need not be a priest or monk but someone like ourselves, who is struggling to live the faith in all its fullness and to whom we can talk fully and freely, knowing that our confidence will not be betrayed. One preacher used to describe this as “one beggar telling another beggar where bread may be found”. If we can confide our fears – and our joys – to a soul friend, we can more easily relieve the paralysis of our minds and souls. Most people who venture on this course will find that our usual fear of revealing our weak spots, will soon vanish because the soul friend has exactly the same in-built problems. One of the most important saints of the Irish Church, Comgall, who had some 3,000 monks in his monastery at Bang-or, said “My soul-friend has died and I am headless, for a man without a soul-friend, is a body without a head.”
That is a very severe form of paralysis, certainly, but there are others. Some people have a paralysis about praying – “I tried it once and nothing happened” is a frequently heard comment. The Fathers are unanimous – press on, regardless, and “pray as you can and not as you can’t”. Another common paralysis, concerns reading of the bible, and really for anyone serious about living the Christian life in this country, this should not be a problem at all. We on the bulletin for the week, the two reading appointed for each day and rarely are they long. Other authorities suggest just reading one chapter each day of the Gospels, and this takes about three months to go though all four, and then start again. There is no excuse for any paralysis on this front at all.
One could go on. We all have to realize that for some people, sickness is more attractive than health. Because of this, Christ our God gave the paralytic a choice, and respected his free will, when He asked him: “Do you want to be healed?”. As always, He asks the same question of each one of us.