PASCHAL TIDE 2003
Sunday of the Paralytic
(Acts 9: 32-42; John 5: 1-15)
By Dr. M. R. Brett-Crowther
The epistle shows us Peter, a man renewed by the Resurrection, now renewing others. In Acts, the work of Peter and Paul is described so that the two saints achieve parallel results. This gives them a kind of equality, which outweighs their conflict in developing the work of Christ. Today’s epistle shows a greater parallel. The story of the two healings is like those of Jesus’ own acts. The second one, about raising Tabitha or Dorcas to life, resembles the story in Mark 5: 37 ff and Luke 8: 51 ff – the raising of Jairus’ daughter. The first story, the curing of Anaeas a paralytic at Lydda, is like the healing of the paralytic in today’s gospel
Before we look at this, let us note that the epistle shows that the Church was developing and at peace, and that there was a habit of doing charitable work, which Dorcas or Tabitha had practised. The Apostolic Church believed itself to be fulfilling its faith in the resurrection, so nothing difficult about healing the paralysed, clothing the naked, or raising the dead. All of this had already happened, and Jesus had given his followers the power to make it happen.
The miracle, which Jesus had performed in healing the paralytic, was another source for the Church’s confidence. Jesus was fulfilling the prophets of the law; and the gospel suggests this in several ways. The 38 years in which the man had been waiting for a cure reminds us of the 38 years in which the Israelites had wandered in the wilderness (Deutoronomy 2:14). The pool of Bethesda was in a building with 5 porticos. Such a building may have been destroyed when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70, but what John implies by this may be a reference to the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Old Testament. The paralytic himself may represent a broken Israel needing redemption. The main point is that this healing act is controversial (vv 10-18). It leads to the decision of Jesus’ enemies to put him to death.
The pool was deep, a kolumbethra, a place into which it was possible to dive, kolumban. The five arched porches would have given shelter from the sun to those blind, lame and paralysed who waited for the moment when they could be helped to enter the waters to seek healing. A spring gushing from time to time would be ‘disturbed’ as by an angel, and this was when those who had helpers could seek to enter the waters for their healing. This crippled man after 38 years of waiting probably had no patient helpers left. He was degraded, weak and isolated. His condition was helpless, hopeless. For Jesus nothing is impossible if he is approached in faith. And it was the Lord’s habit to seek out the rejected and to approach them with merciful concern. This was what had inspired Tabitha or Dorcas to conduct her own merciful activities: this was the early tradition of the Church, that Jesus did good, changed things by merciful action.
What is needed is a decision by the patient.
‘Do you want to be well again?’ Jesus asks.
Locked in his isolation and misery, the paralytic needed such a shock. He excuses his inertia by saying that no-one is available to help him. Jesus ignores the excuse. He gives the paralytic his big chance.
‘Get up, pick up your sleeping mat and walk.’'
Do we want to be changed? Do we want to make a deep division between our old life and our new possibilities? Do we have faith? Orthodox Christianity emphasizes synergeia –that is, the co-operation between ourselves and God. His grace cannot heal us unless we want to be healed, to be changed. Sometimes this is a very abrupt experience. The cure of the paralytic takes place on the Sabbath. Jesus breaks the laws to make the laws. Jesus demands acceptance as God. His grace cannot heal us unless we want to be healed; and being healed may take us very far from familiar things, to something new and demanding.
The Jews were right to challenge Jesus. He was breaking the law by doing any work on the Sabbath. The man by carrying his bed was breaking the law, as well as helping his own recovery to take place. When Jesus convinced the paralytic that he could recover, he showed mercy to him. By doing such healing work against the law, Jesus was trying to develop in Israel a sense of the fulfilment of the law by the greater law of love. And when Jesus tells the man ‘See you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you’, he reminds the man that he cannot take for granted the change in his life. Unless we are renewed in the Resurrected life of Christ, evil will beset us, because that is the way things are: evil abounds. Like the man who had been paralysed, we must go away and tell others that it was Jesus who has healed us. It is never enough to wrap ourselves in faith like a blanket. We must walk in faith, in the world outside. Christos Anesti!
© Dr. M. R. Brett-Crowther. Sunday of the Paralytic, May 6 2001.
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