On this Fourth Sunday of Pascha, we heard in the Gospel reading about the healing of the paralytic by the pool at the Sheep Gate. This man had been paralyzed for 38 years, and he along with a multitude of other people with infirmities were waiting there for the troubling of the waters by an angel of the Lord. They sat and waited for the water to be troubled so that they could be the first to enter the water and receive healing. Many came to the pool to be healed, but not all were healed, only the first to enter. And if you missed your opportunity to be healed, you had to wait a year for the next chance at healing. So they waited and they watched.
Imagine seeing so many others around you looking to get what they most desire, what they most need, and then imagine that for them to get that would mean that you don’t get what you want or need. Imagine the way that people would struggle to be that first person to the pool. The paralytic tells Christ that he had no one to help him, and so he could never be the first to enter. The people didn’t help one another; they competed with one another to get what they wanted most. It likely doesn’t take much for us to imagine a situation like this.
I am saddened at the state of our world. We are all like those people sitting by the side of a pool. We sit by this pool looking for the opportunity to fix the sickness of the world. This pool that we flock to is politics. Those who are gathered around it have different desires from one another, opposing ideologies, but no matter the specifics of what we believe or think, we are all looking for the same thing: a metaphorical troubling of the waters that means that we will get what we want, and we it doesn’t matter if that means that others don’t because they are wrong.
We are increasingly turning against one another because of our political views and our secular ideologies. We never seem to pass up the opportunity for a fight. If this was limited to those outside the Church, we could pass by it in silence, but the fights are increasingly affecting life in our parishes. Even within the Church, we sometimes fight with one another because we want the world to be healed the way that we believe is right, or good, or just. In fairness the issues that we fight over are often important and affect a great many lives, but the Christian faith is not about fixing the world around us.
As Christians, we are far more than political beings, we are more than citizens of earthly nations, we are children of the Most High God. We should be ashamed that we willingly enslave ourselves – our minds and our souls to 24-hour news cycles, constant social media updates, blogs, and Youtube channels. Too many of us are consumed by these things; but what I have yet to see is anyone being healed by these things.
There are those who don’t want healing at all, but who attempt to agitate the waters. They seek to stir up controversy because it’s good for ratings or followers. These people fool others into rushing into the water hoping to receive something that’s just not there. Provocateurs and Ringleaders will not give you healing, they will leave you disappointed, angry, and impatient. Turn them off. Even those who occasionally speak the truth are more interested in your reaction than the truth. And that reaction is nothing more than your inflamed passions.
We look around this pool and see all the blind and the deaf people around us. They don’t watch or listen to the right programs so they don’t know what is really happening. Perhaps we want to help educate them. Our job as Christians is not to educate others, but to bring them to Christ and His Church. He will illumine their hearts and minds, we will only cloud them with what we think we know. Yes, we must speak the truth, but that truth is what has been revealed to us in the Church. That truth is the truth of the Gospel. It is the truth that Christ is victorious over sin and death, and that when we are joined to him, we can be victorious against the temptations of this world and inherit eternal life. Political teachings on the other hand are merely the product of our own fallen thinking. We cannot heal the blindness or deafness of those we encounter, but Christ can.
We have shown over and over again our willingness to push and shove one another out of the way; we are willing to fight tooth and nail to be the one to win. We take part in this brutal scene but we tell ourselves it’s only because we are seeking healing. We must not lie to ourselves and say that we are fighting for Christ, we are fighting for our own victory. Christ is already victorious over sin, death, and the devil. We need simply to be joined to Him.
No matter what happens to the world around us, if we are united to Christ we are victorious in Him. He already told us what would happen to us. If they hated Him, they will hate you. If they persecuted Him, they will persecute you. We repeatedly make the mistake of trying to conquer the world in Christ’s name as though we are offering Him a gift instead of receiving a gift from Him. We keep asking the same question the Apostles asked, “Lord, Will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” and we forget that the Kingdom Christ wants to establish is in your heart. If you want to do battle and wage war it must be within your heart.
As tempting as it can be to engage in Culture Wars, we are followers of Christ whose Kingdom is not of this world. As long as we fight against those around us, against our enemies, we will not heal the world, and we will not even find healing for ourselves.
The pool at the Sheep Gate was a miracle given by God for healing, but because people are driven by their passions, it mostly brought them suffering, and so something better was needed. The Paralytic was not healed by the pool that day, but by Christ Himself. Christ came and stood beside Him and asked Him if he wanted to be made whole again. This is what the Church offers us. We can really be healed, we can be made whole again, we can become dead to sin, and alive in Christ, and we can inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Don’t be distracted by the troubled waters and the masses that gather around them. Don’t put your trust in princes and sons of men in whom there is no salvation.
We need to understand that the significance of the miracle that occurred at the pool was to point forward to Holy Baptism. That pool brought healing of body to one man, once a year, and only if he was quick enough to get there first. In Baptism, however, we find healing of soul and body. Baptism is available to all of humanity anywhere and at any time.
This world is where we work out our salvation, it is where we learn to struggle against temptation and against the various appetites and passions which seek to ensnare us. We need to stop trying to change the world, no matter how good our intentions might be, and start changing ourselves. Christ stands next to you offering to make you whole. Christ likewise comes to as many as desire to turn aside from their earthly cares and run to Him in Holy Baptism. We will not argue anyone into the faith, we will not fix the evils of this world or the evil that makes its lair in the hearts of others by fighting with those around us. They are not our adversaries. The devil is our adversary, sin is our enemy. We must strive for our salvation and for the salvation of others from the snares of this great adversary.
We have to turn away from the pool of troubled water which brings limited healing and countless troubles, we have to turn from all the distractions, and rivalries, we have to turn off the constant noise that calls out to us, so that we can encounter Christ and receive the healing that He has in store for us.
This morning, we remember the Myrrh-bearing women, along with Joseph and Nicodemus. At the end of Holy Week, we heard about how Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus received the body of our Lord from Pontius Pilate, anointed it with spices, wrapped it in fine linen, and laid it in the tomb. We also heard about the Myrrh-bearing women coming early in the morning, even before the rising of the sun in order to continue to anoint the body of Jesus. In Saint Luke’s gospel we hear that they were met by two angels who greeted them with these words: “He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ ”
It is in this statement that we are confronted with a surprising reality. Jesus had spoken to His disciples about His betrayal, about Peter denying Him, about His arrest, about the disciples scattering and fleeing, and about His crucifixion and death. None of it should have been unexpected, and yet repeatedly their reactions show that they did not really understand or believe what the Lord had told them. Peter was rebuked by Christ when he said to our Lord, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
The disciples didn’t believe that our Lord would really undergo his Passion, and they also didn’t believe that He would rise again. They had followed Jesus and watched Him perform miracles and speak of things that would come to pass, but they didn’t believe that He would really rise from the dead. We read in the Resurrection accounts of the unbelief of the Disciples. We remembered Saint Thomas and his disbelieving faith last week. We heard in the gospel last week that “they worshiped Him; but some doubted.” In Saint Mark’s gospel, we hear that “He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.”
While belief seemed to be in short supply, Jesus’ followers didn’t simply give up and live like everyone else. They were afraid, they were doubtful, they were confused, but they still belonged to Christ. They gathered together, they prayed, they remembered the things that had happened, they obeyed His commandments, and while they were hesitant to simply believe the reports of His resurrection, they were eager to see proof of it.
The Holy Myrrh-bearers provide us with perhaps the best example for our lives. Out of love for our Lord, they sought to care for His body. They too were afraid, they too were in danger, but as soon as the Sabbath day was past, they went out to the tomb to offer a service to the Lord. They were not expecting to see our Lord that morning, they were not expecting the stone to be rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, they were not expecting to see his burial wrappings laid aside. They were simply expecting to render service to the Lord.
But because of this they were the first to see Him risen. It has always been hard to believe. It has always been hard to take up our cross and follow Christ. He warned us that if they hated Him they will hate us also. We believe things that by worldly standards are impossible and we believe them in the face of those who think we are fools. It is hard to believe, but if we love God, it is easy to offer our service to Him.
The theology of the Church can be difficult to understand, and truly goes beyond our comprehension. The lives of the Saints contain events that we can scarcely imagine. The Church is so exalted and so incredible that we sometimes struggle to understand how it is all possible; but we can vacuum the floors, clean wax, decorate with flowers, cook meals, bake prosphora, build things, fix things, welcome people, help one another, sew and mend. All these things, and many others when joined with our meager efforts at prayer, fasting, and simple spiritual reading and contemplation, can be the means by which we develop, strengthen, and perfect our love of God and love of neighbor.
So be like Saint Joseph of Arimathea who we are told craved the body of Jesus. He desired nothing more than to give a proper resting place to the Lord, and so he placed Him into His own tomb. Seek to receive the body of Christ as often as possible, to invite His life-giving body into the tomb of your soul that it might receive His life.
Be like Nicodemus who had much to lose, but wanted to offer sweet spices to our Lord and to anoint Him for burial. Offer to God the sweetest spices you can – a virtuous life of love and service.
Be like the Myrrh-bearing women who with courage stayed near our Lord as He went to His passion and who watched where He was entombed that they might return after the Sabbath to anoint Him. Be courageous in following the Lord, and be looking for the opportunity to serve Him.
Be like the Mother of Our Lord who stood at the foot of the cross. The gospels do not tell us this directly, but she was the first to see the risen Lord, before any of the others. Desire nothing more than to be with the Lord. Through the difficulties and pains of being a Christian, remain with Him always, and when it is still early, go to meet Him.
Be like the women who with fear and trembling left the tomb, saying nothing to anyone along the way, but telling all to the disciples. Even if we are eager to share our joy and wonder with one another, sometimes we bear this joy and wonder quietly and with reverent fear. We are not all called to proclaim our faith from the rooftops, but to hold it with sincerity of heart.
On this day, we also remember the sisters of Saint Lazarus the four-days dead. We remember Saint Martha who was careful and troubled about many things, and Saint Mary who chose the good part – sitting at the feet of the Lord and hearing His words.
In the epistle reading this morning we heard about the apostles appointing and ordaining the first deacons because it was not desirable that they should leave the word of God and serve tables.
We should encourage those like the apostles and Saint Mary of Bethany who hear, contemplate, and even preach the word of God, but we should also give honor to those who simply serve, who offer what they have for Christ, and for others.
The joy of the remembrance of the Holy Myrrh-bearers is that in them we see a way to live a Christian life that is accessible to all of us. It requires a certain amount of courage, it requires sacrifice, it requires service, and it requires proclaiming the truth. These are all part of the Christian life for everyone, but they are expressed as dutiful acts of love. When our faith is weak or lacking, when we feel a certain amount of hopelessness in our situation, there is always love, and love demands action. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Ask God for this love, but when He gives it to you, be prepared to act. Be ready to lovingly serve others.
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