Concerning Patience: A Sermon on the Sunday of the Paralytic
Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov) - May 18, 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ! The Gospel which we read today tells us about the great miracle of the healing of the paralytic, which our Lord performed, and of His mercy to suffering humanity. This Gospel pertains to each of us quite specifically, and can bring us great edification and comfort.
The Gospel tells us that, not far from the temple in Jerusalem, there was a sheep’s pool. An angel of the Lord used to come down to this pool and stir up the water, thus imparting to it a healing power, and whoever first went into the water after it was stirred by the angel would receive healing of any sort of disease that might be afflicting him. This healing power drew may sick people to the water. Among them was a certain man who had born a grievous sickness for thirty-eight years; but nevertheless he did not lose hope of healing.
On the occasion of the feast-day, our Lord Jesus Christ came to Jerusalem and visited the sheep’s pool. Turning His attention to the paralytic, who had patiently awaited the mercy of God, the Lord asked him: Do you wish to be made whole? The sick man answered, “Indeed, Lord. But I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into pool. While I am still coming, someone gets there before me.” Then the Lord said, “Arise, take up your bed, and walk.” (John 5:6-8) And – O! the wonder! The Lord healed the sick man instantaneously by His Divine Power alone. The man who has born a grievous illness for thirty-eight years became well right then, picked up his bed and went his way. But this was one the Sabbath, and the Jews said that it was not permitted to carry one’s bed on the Sabbath. Then the healed man said, “The one who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’” (John 5:11) Jesus Christ was not there. He had hidden himself among the people. But then, when the Lord met the healed man in the temple, He added this saying: “Behold, you are healed. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” (John 5:14)
The first thing that should catch our attention is the firm faith of the sick man in the mercy of God. For thirty-eight years he suffered from a heavy sickness, but did not wane in his patience and hope. He believed and hoped to receive what he asked for, and the Lord remembered him and gave him healing. Learn, dear ones, from this example to be patient when afflictions, which are many, visit us. Strive to hope in the Lord God, and to draw strength and courage from this hope in Him, that you may bear the various afflictions and failures of life without murmuring. No matter how heavy our afflictions are, no matter how long they last — believe that the Lord can help you, and sooner or late he will ease your suffering, if only you will have firm, unwavering hope in His mercy. Everything is possible to the Lord, and He alone is able to instantly change your sorrow into joy. Truly, afflictions and sorrows and often beyond human strength to bear, and we, from our own pusillanimity and impatience, often lose hope in the mercy of God. We weep and murmur, saying “I suffer and pray, but the Lord does not see my tears.” And already we start to fall into despair. Look how often we are little of soul! May the example of the paritent paralytic who bore his illness serve to edify each of us.
Dear brothers and sisters! If we believe that God exists, that He gave His Only-begotten Son over to death for us, if we believe that no one other than the Heavenly Father is directing our entire lives, then we must also put all of our hope in Him. Cast your care up the Lord, and He will nourish you. (Psalm 54:23)
Sometimes we wish for our prayers and requests to be immediately fulfilled, not thinking about the fact that God knows better than we do what is good for us, and when to give us consolation. We weep and groan, calling ourselves unhappy, as if we have innocently suffered for our entire lives, forgetting the declaration of the Apostle Paul: “Whome the Lord loves He chastens; for He scourges every son whom He receives. (Hebrews 12:6) Through the bearing of afflictions and bodily sufferings, the Lord heals our souls, preparing them for the life to come. He teaches us humility and unhypocritical hope in His mercy. The visitation of afflictions clearly witnesses to the fact the Lord has especially turned His attention to you at this time. He wants to make you wise unto salvation, to give you the opportunity to show Him how rich you are in faith, hope and love. These are the essential Christian virtues, without which a man cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Not is vain did the saints and righteous ones consider themselves forgotten by God when they were without suffering for a long time. Apostle Paul says, “We not only boast that who have received justification and hope in things to come through faith; but we boast in afflictions, knowing that from afflictions come patience, from patience experience, from experience hope, and hope will not be made ashamed, because the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5) Afflictions are our teachers. They teach us patience, experience, and ingenuity. And experience is the main thing in life. Experience leads a man to success through faith.
And yet we do not want to nourish this wondrous power in ourselves. Even when the Lord Himself, in His love for man, decides to make this power grow in us, then when murmur at Him, weeping at our fate: Why does fate demand of us exertion, violence, worry, and work beyond our strength? We are unaware that by our pusillanimity we are hindering the grace of God from helping us. We become utterly helpless, not knowing how to receive the grace of God, which demands that we decisively give ourselves over to the will of the Lord.
The words of today’s Gospel, addressed by the Lord to the paralytic, can’t fail to catch our attention: “Behold, you are healed. Sin no more, lest a worse thing befall you.” (John 5:14). From these words it is obvious that there is the closest link between sickness and sin. Before the first human beings had sinned, they were healthy in body and soul. But afterwards, since they could not keep themselves from sin, sickness followed sin as a result. This phenomenon is repeated today, and the law of this dependence will be in effect until the end of the world. Every transgression of law – as in the bodily realm, so in the spiritual – brings with it a disordering of our nature, and is necessarily accompanied by disease. Knowing this, therefore, let us flee from sin by all means, as from the cause of the corruption of our spiritual and bodily nature.
But there is not man who can consistently protect himself from sinful deeds. According to the word of God, there is no man who lives who does not sin, even if he lives on earth for a single day. But the grace of God gives a means to be continually cleansed of sin in the Mystery of repentance. No matter how many times a man falls, he always the ability to get up. Having become conscious your sin, and regretting that you have grieved the all-good Lord, obtain a firm intention to be corrected, and the Lord will forgive you according to His mercy and will vouchsafe you His grace. But if we have fallen into misery and the fulfillment of our petitions shall be delayed, then let the thirty-eight year suffering of the paralytic serve for our comfort unto hope in the mercy of God.
Let us say, in the words of the Apostle James: Be patient, and let your hearts be strengthened (James 5:8). Give your life over to the will of God. Believe that the Lord knows better than we do when He should look upon us, and when to turn His all-pure face away from us. And no matter what happens in your life, always cry out: My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my protection is the Holy Spirit. O Holy Trinity, Glory to Thee!