Sunday of the Paralytic, May 11, 2014
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Christ is risen!
On this fourth Sunday of the bright festal season of Pascha, we remember today how Christ raised a paralytic from his bed beside the pool of Bethesda, who had lain unable to move for some thirty-eight years.
In considering this man whom the Lord healed, I especially am drawn today to consider all of the ways in this life in which we experience paralysis, but most especially in our thoughts. In our minds, we tend to think of situations and people in conventional ways. We form thoughts and narrative structures that play out whenever we are in a certain situation or with a certain person—they are almost like scripts for a play or a movie.
When I am in a situation in which I feel uncomfortable, I access the script for being withdrawn and cautious, passive and inwardly focused. At times I can be an extrovert, but at other times I become quite introverted, because that is the script that I have in my mind. My thoughts are paralyzed into one image, one story that tells me what will happen and what I will do.
When I am in a place where I feel at ease, I access the script for being affable and outgoing, even charming, even if that is sometimes inappropriate, because that is the image I have in my mind of what I should be doing there, what will be happening, what I think is appropriate and fits with the story I have in my head.
It is the paralysis of social interaction.
When I am with someone I like, someone I admire and respect, my script is the one for brightness, intelligence, even love. Failings on his part are easy to forgive, and I may even overlook something that should be dealt with.
But when I do not like someone, my script may be to cut him off, to avoid him, to be critical and judgmental toward him, to scrutinize and criticize everything about him. Every failing is a black mark on his person, even if he may otherwise be virtuous and hardworking. I have heard it all before, and I will react the same way again.
It is the paralysis of relationship.
We can also have paralysis in our jobs, in our classrooms, in our homes, and even in our church. In all of these places, we typically act according to set scripts we have in our minds—probably not conscious scripts, probably submerged somewhere into a place we don’t think of too often.
This is why things do not change for us even when we want change. Even if we want change—for instance, in a relationship—we often feel as though it will never change, even if the other person really does change, because we still are acting according to the script we have written for him.
There is a difference here, of course, between the paralysis we are speaking of and the simple act of being consistent and reliable. Both are products of the same power within us, though. Our culture tends to worship innovation and progress, but our hearts still love consistency. It is the desire for eternity that is planted within us. We want a God Who will never change, Who will always be there, Who will always love us and provide life to us. And since we are made according to His image, we also tend to act in predictable, unchanging ways, especially as we get older and even “set in our ways.”
So the problem is not that we have repeatable patterns of thought and behavior. The problem is when those patterns are paralyzed in dark ways. When I cannot enter into an uncomfortable situation and rise above myself, above my insecurities and above my desire not to bother with anything or anyone new, then I am paralyzed. When I cannot see someone as a child of God, as someone who is fundamentally created to be good and whose own bad behavior is the result of the soul’s suffering, then I am paralyzed. When I cannot enter into the church looking for ways to challenge and stretch myself, to sacrifice more of myself, to become more than I have been, then I am paralyzed.
Paralysis in the human body comes when the connection between nerves has been detached, when the signals being sent from the brain do not successfully reach the muscles, and so there is no movement. Paralysis in the human soul comes when the inner core of our hearts that desires God is cut off from the rest of our thoughts and behaviors. The signals being sent from God through that innermost spiritual nerve center do not successfully reach our thoughts and our actions, and so there is no spiritual movement.
So we are like this man, who lies next to the pool of Bethesda for thirty-eight years. There is no reason to believe he will ever change. And even if someone comes to us with the hope of that change, we may make excuses, playing out the script in our minds, for why we will not change. Paralysis is easy. We may not actually prefer it, but we choose it, because it is easy. Even if we don’t actually like it, it is always easier to stay the same.
But in the light of Christ’s resurrection, we are given the possibility for change. That ancient script written by the devil and first acted out by Adam and Eve; that script that says we are inevitably bound up in our sins, enslaved to our passions, controlled by our egos; that script that tells us that nothing will ever truly get better; that script that says that I am who I am and that’s just the way it is; that script that says that the end of all our stories will be death—that very script was torn up by the death of the Deathless One.
Jesus has written a new story, a story received from His Father and confirmed in the Holy Spirit. And that story is not a story of paralysis. It is a story of healing, a story of movement, a story of transformation from glory to glory. We can access that story by choosing to set aside our mental scripts and to act according to a new Author and Director.
When Jesus comes to encounter the paralyzed man lying by the pool of Bethesda, He asks him whether he wants to be healed. Instead of simply saying “yes,” the man complains and explains why he cannot be healed. I often do the same thing. When given the opportunity to be healed, I instead explain why I cannot be. But here is the One Who is writing a new story, a new way of being, a new way of thinking and acting. And He is saying to me and to you, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk!”
We do not have to live in paralysis. We can be saved. We can be resurrected, not just on the Last Day, when all mankind will be resurrected either to life or to judgment, but even now. This life of mine that seems dead and hopeless, this relationship of mine that seems like it will never change, this situation where I have given up hope, this spiritual life where I have become stale and unready to move—all of these things can be changed by the resurrection.
How do we do this? The problem is complex—complicated. But the solution is simple, though not easy. When I want to withdraw and pull away from others, I swallow my pride and say hello. When I have no hope for a relationship, even if I have no reason to believe the other person will ever change, I forgive and start over. When I am stuck in a single way of serving in church, I look for something I have not done before. When I want to make excuses for why I cannot be healed, I instead say “yes” and get up when Christ calls me.
The people next to us and around us, and the situations in which we find ourselves may not change. But we can change. And in our changing, we will begin to see everything differently. There will be hope where there was none. There will be faith. There will be love. This is the power of resurrection.
To the risen Lord Jesus Christ, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, be all glory, honor and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Christ is risen!