The Sunday of the Paralytic: “Do you want to be made well?”
Christ is risen!
Here we are, halfway between the Holy Resurrection of the Lord, the day of the salvation of the world, and Holy Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. The holy Church, as if connecting both holidays with an invisible thread, tells us about the healing of the paralytic by Christ on the day of the Jewish Pentecost. In this story we hear about the paralysis of sin and lengthy, very lengthy awaiting of healing, about hopelessness and the coming of Christ, our hope, and finally we hear the commandment to lead a righteous life.
In Jerusalem there lived a man who had been paralyzed for almost forty years (John 5:5). He lay on one of the porches at the pool called Bethesda and there was nobody to help him (John 5:7). An angel of the Lord descended at times into the water, and the first one entering the water received healing from their illness (John 5:3). Many infirm, “blind, lame, and paralyzed” (John 5:3) gathered at the pool and the paralyzed man, no matter how hard he tried to crawl to the pool, never got there in time. Someone else always entered before him. However, this man, despite the hopelessness of his situation, did not lose hope, and continued to wait for God’s mercy. Now, on the day of Pentecost, there came the long awaited Savior Who gave life to the withered body, hope, refuge and protection.
Christ came to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. It was the feast of the gathering of wheat before the beginning of the harvest, when the Israelites came to the temple in Jerusalem bringing their offerings and hymns to God. It seems that it was not an accident that Christ came to the porches of Bethesda on this day, healing bodily and spiritual paralysis in an act symbolizing a future harvest—the holy Church that would be gathered into the storehouses of God.
Having found the paralytic in the crowd, the Savior immediately addressed him with just one question, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6; RSV here et passim). Even seeing the dire situation of the paralyzed man, knowing the lengthy wait, hope and patience of the sick person, Christ nevertheless gave him full freedom of choice, not forcing the man’s will in anything. “Do you want to be healed?” sounds like a challenge to those who have accepted their illness as part of themselves, who do not want to reject it, who even find pleasure in it. It is a challenge to those who “like dogs, lick the saw and cannot stop, getting drunk from the taste of their own blood” (St. Isaac of Syria). “Do you want to be healed?” asks the Savior. And hearing in reply, “It is so, Lord,”[i] He says, “Take up your pallet and walk” (John 5:8). He is not interested in details, in our human measures, our excuses that we do not have a helper, that there is no one to lead us or teach us. The voice of the Lord sounds with authority, “Get up. Pick up your bed. The time of paralysis of sin is over.”
Symbolizing through the healing of the paralytic the beginning of the Gospel harvest, and bringing a true gift to the Father on the holy day of Pentecost, Christ made the former paralytic a communicant in the great feast. Instead of lying on the bed of sickness, the healed man was able to go to the House of God with offerings and praises (John 5:14); and, having found the Son in the Father’s house (cf. Luke 2:49), he realized that his healing had been spiritual even more than it was physical. “See, you are well!”—says Christ, “Sin no more” (John 5:14), in other words, live righteously. “I cleansed you from stain, I healed you from sin, I made you whiter than snow, and led you into the House of God — live the life for which you have been created: live righteously, keep your baptismal garment clean and undefiled.”
Just like the paralytic, all of humanity lay in paralysis, having been struck by the illness of the original sin. For long millennia, we tried to find a cure, but could not reach God on our own, nor was there anyone to help us. And yet, we did not lose hope, we kept waiting on God’s mercy and finally received the Divine visitation.
Through His Paschal resurrection, Christ opened the way to the life-giving font to everyone who thirsts. The way to healing from spiritual blindness, affliction and paralysis is open to everyone, who answers “It is so, Lord!” to God’s question “Do you want to be healed?”
Gathering into God’s storehouses the gracious harvest of souls healed from the deadly illness of sin, Christ on the day of Pentecost gave to Christians the power to win over sin, to fight it and win. The Father sent His Spirit, the Comforter, Who gives us life and strengthens us. Founding His Church, Christ strengthened her with His Power, His Spirit, and gave her the commandment to live a pure life.
Meeting every one of us today in the temple of God, Christ speaks to us with the words of the Holy Scripture, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you” (John 5:14). Keep your baptismal garment undefiled, recall and fulfill the oath taken at your baptismal font, in order that your soul not perish. Rise up from the paralysis of sin, open your eyes blinded by passions, and go to the house of God, praising the One Who saved you.
Let us answer the Savior with the whole Church:
By Your divine intercession, O Lord,
as You raised up the paralytic of old,
so raise up my soul, paralyzed by sins and thoughtless acts;
so that being saved I may sing to You:
“Glory to Your power, O compassionate Christ!”
[i] The sermon was originally given based on the Slavonic version of the Gospel of John, where the paralyzed man replies “Так, Господи…” This response (“It is so”) is but implied in most English translations.