PROPER OF THE SEASON
VI Sunday of Matthew
Feast of Saint Panteleimon the Great Martyr and Healer
(2 Tim. 2: 1-10, Matt. 9: 1-8)
Panteleimon is called also Pantaleon. That name, suggesting that he had everything in his nature of a lion, becomes changed so that he has everything in his nature which is merciful. Panteleimon is believed to have been both a soldier – the lion! – and a healer – the merciful one. He is one of the healing saints mentioned in the Unction Service and the Service for the Blessing of the Waters. It is believed that he was a physician at the court of the emperor Galerius at Nicomedia. It is said that after having become a Christian, he fell away and was re-converted; and then was martyred under Diocletian (A.D. 305). If we think of him as someone who made big changes in his life, from non-belief to belief, from selfishness to benevolence, from indifference to active, merciful help for others, we can see a brave and kind personality, taking risks to do good because of Christ and being willing to die rather than to give up his identity as a Christian.
Today’s epistle is written when Paul is in prison, about A.D. 65. Paul is trying to hand on his duties to the trusted disciple Timothy; and so with fatherly concern, he writes to Timothy, asking him to come to him for instruction in what will be his future tasks. Paul emphasizes the need for self-discipline. ‘Accept the strength… that comes from the grace of Christ Jesus. You have heard everything that I teach in public; hand it on to reliable people so that they in turn will be able to teach others.’ All teaching needs to be made personal; whether we learn to be physicians or soldiers, teachers or housewives, we learn from others who know and who can explain to us what works and what does not work. Communication allows people to be together in spirit. ‘Put up with your share of difficulties, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.’ Paul had often seen soldiers; he had been taken to Rome under guard: he knew the value of discipline, because without his own discipline he would never have made the 3 great journeys to extend the teaching of Christ to the non-Jewish people whom he had brought into the Church. Paul often uses the image of an athlete: that will to win, that concentration on the prize. ‘… take an athlete – he cannot win any crown unless he has kept all the rules of the contest; and again, it is the working farmer who has the first claim on any crop that is harvested.’ First things first, Paul is saying. As we now may say: no gain without pain.
‘Remember the Good News that I carry, “Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David”; it is on account of this that I have my own hardships to bear, even to being chained like a criminal – but they cannot chain up God’s news.’ Like the water of baptism, the waters that we bless at Epiphany, the truth about Jesus is free, flows out and over the world, but needs to be guarded and explained by those who are close to Jesus. ‘So I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.’ When Paul writes this, he is stating again the fact that Jesus, a descendant of the royal house of David, has lived among people, changing their lives, and by his death and resurrection has given to others – who never knew Jesus in his lifetime on earth – the same possibility of knowing him for the future: a future in which their life would be saved by baptism, so that they would experience the power of the resurrection. For Paul – as for St Ignatius – it was necessary to emphasize that Jesus had indeed lived and died as a man before his full glory as God the Son could be recognized through his resurrection. (Cf Ignatius, Eph. 18; Trall. 9; Smyrn. I)
The gospel is about the relation of sin and health.
Jesus is shown to be able to forgive sins. This is revealed from the beginning: Joseph is told by the angel:
‘you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ (Matt. 1: 21).
Jesus has left the two men, freed from demons, in Gadara, and has come back to his town, Capernaum:
‘Then some people appeared, bringing him a paralytic stretched out on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Courage, my child, your sins are forgiven”.’
These words answer the request for help made by the people bringing the paralysed person. Tharsei - be brave, have inner strength, courage! But the scribes reject this answer. The scribes say to themselves ‘This man is blaspheming’. The scribes cannot accept that Jesus has the power to release a sick man from sins. Jesus immediately understands their lack of faith:
‘Knowing what was in their minds Jesus said, “Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts? Now, which of these is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven” or to say, “Get up and walk”?’
The point is that Jesus’ power to heal the paralytic proves that what he has been teaching is true. [Cf. Matt. 11, 4-5]
Jesus calling on the sick man to take courage, and telling the opponents of his teaching what they are thinking, focuses attention on the heart – on the inner life which always has outward effects. And having told the scribes that the two challenges – to accept forgiveness and to change from paralysis to action are equally difficult, he goes on:
‘But to prove to you that he Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he said to the paralytic – ‘get up, and pick up your bed and go off home’.
The Son of Man: a term which concentrates the fact that Jesus is fully human, and that he himself claims power under God the Father [Cf. Matt. 8, 20] is a term which also suggests that this claim is part of the idea of the Heavenly Kingdom, the kingdom of the inner heart, which Jesus is teaching to people who expect something else: something like a new Kingdom of David, an actual power base, an uprising, an end to Roman occupation.
But just as Jesus is not going back to David but going forward to a wider idea of God’s love and justice, he makes the paralytic free to move forward. ‘And the man got up and went home.’ Just as Jesus had crossed the lake from Gadara to Carpenaum after his previous miracle, so this man does something quite normal in response. He begins another stage of his personal journey in life:
‘A feeling of awe came over the crowd when they saw this, and they praised God for giving such power to men.’
Jesus makes a direct link between sin and suffering; and shows by his action of healing this sinner, this sufferer, that healing is a sign of the coming Kingdom, which will go beyond both sin and suffering, and by his own mysterious work will end their power. The crowd, who must have gathered expecting something new and something interesting; who were not fully aware of Jesus’ power because they were not the disciples, are shown to be coming closer to their understanding, and they are in that way separate from the scribes, who oppose Jesus and his activity.
When the Church was beginning its formal construction after Pentecost, the people who had been healed by Jesus must have been involved with the development. They had known something of the resurrection; they had accepted in faith the claims of this healer; and they had had their lives changed for good and all by his intervention. Just as Paul had been healed [Acts: 9], so he had learned who Jesus was and is and what he is in daily life. And that is what he gives to Timothy: the echo of his experience of inner change and outward healing, and so do all the saints.
© Dr. M. R. Brett-Crowther. July 27th 2003.
Panteleimon (12th c.) - S418
Date: 12th c.
Location: Great Lavra, Mt. Athos
Panteleimon - S24
Iconographer: Lionda, N.
Date: 20th c. (Late)
Both Icons: Courtesy
of St. Isaac the Syrian Skete www.skete.com
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