“He who perseveres to the end shall be saved.” (Mt 10:22) This statement of our Lord is given to us in the context of a much longer description by Him of the difficulties that His followers will face in the world, and especially as we near the end of the world. This is the portion of scripture that we read for the feasts of the martyrs, so why do I bring it to mind in the midst of the Paschal season? Truly we have seen the truth of this saying throughout Holy Week and since Pascha. Our Lord Himself “endured to the end” not that He Himself might be saved, but rather that we might be saved. Had He not endured the full extent of the cross and death, then the Resurrection would not have happened. During this time we also are given portraits of three of His followers, Judas (who betrayed Him), Peter (who denied Him) and Thomas (who doubted Him). Of these three, Judas despaired of hope, gave up in the midst of the struggle and did not persevere; as a result he was lost. But Peter did not lose hope in God and in repentance threw himself completely on the mercy of God, hoping for forgiveness. And Thomas, while He doubted the truth of the Resurrection, did not abandon the apostles, but remained and was granted to touch the print of the nails in the hands of the Lord and to touch His wounded side. Peter and Thomas persevered in their faith and as a result were not lost, but were saved.
Another example of perseverance is that of the Holy Myrrh-bearers whom we remembered last week. They did not doubt or waver in their faith, but through everything held fast to their trust in God. Their faith persevered even to the point where they took on the task of caring for the Body of our Lord when He could no longer care for Himself. Their faith brought them to the tomb, early in the morning, only to find that it was empty and to hear the news of the angel who proclaimed to them that Christ had risen. The persistence of their faith was rewarded for they became the first witnesses of the Resurrection and the bearers of the great tidings to the Apostles. Even among the Myrrh-bearers, we see that Mary Magdalene could not tear herself away from the empty tomb, but stayed, seeking the Lord. Her perseverance was also rewarded in that the One Whom she sought came to her – not a lifeless corpse as she would have supposed but as the Risen Lord. And it is this quality of our perseverance in faith that we should also note – it is not always fulfilled and rewarded in a way that we expect or even can grasp, but God works in great and marvelous ways which exceed our own ideas.
Today then we heard in the Gospel the account of the healing of a paralytic man. This man, who could not walk, put all of his faith in the healing power of God. He knew that men could not help him, but he did not despair of God’s help. In his faith, he saw the possibility of divine healing in the pool of Bethesda. He found a way to come to this pool and there to wait for the chance to be healed. He lived his whole life in faith – waiting at the appointed place until the time when God would reach out and touch him and make him whole. He waited for 38 years for the angel to come and trouble the waters at a time that he might be the first to enter and so receive healing. But for that whole time, never was he able to get to the pool in time to be healed – and so he waited, having faith in God that his time would come. What a marvelous example of the perseverance of faith shown to us in the life of this cripple. Throughout 38 years of suffering, with an uncounted number of disappointments still he held fast to his faith in God for healing. He didn’t give up and leave and go home to die, he didn’t complain about how it was unfair that he hadn’t been the one chosen to be healed. He didn’t speak ill of those who had been healed. He simply continued to wait in faith upon God.
And then something totally unexpected happened. The man who waited for God unexpectedly met God face to face. The man had expected to be healed by somehow being placed into the water of the pool at the proper time, but God fulfilled his faith unexpectedly in a manner that he could not have even imagined. God came to him and asked, “Do you wish to be healed?” and the man, still not realizing that God had come to him, humbly replied that he had no one to help him into the water at the proper time to receive healing. Jesus then said to him, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” At this moment the man realized that God had heard his prayers and that this was the moment that his prayers were to be answered. They were not answered as he expected, nor was he completely aware of Who stood before him. He only knew that he had been made whole – and so he obeyed; he took up his bed and walked. This cripple did not try to analyze the miracle, to figure out what happened nor did he question why he had had to sit there for 38 years before God acted. He simply continued to act in the same faith that had carried him to this point. He had faith that God would heal him, and then when confronted with a healing that was accomplished in a manner which was completely unexpected or unanticipated, by faith he accepted God’s mercy and provision and acted with obedience. He did not even know who it was who had healed him – only later did he discover the identity of his Benefactor, the God/man Jesus Christ.
Jesus healed many people throughout His earthly ministry. Most of the time, he spoke to those who sought healing from Him about their faith. But, this time, He did not, for He saw already that this man had lived his entire life “by faith”, trusting wholly in God’s mercy for his healing. Jesus saw that this man had not doubted, had not wavered or even complained. He saw the faith that was evident, so there was no reason to draw it out – He simply fulfilled the faith that was already there.
We too are called to live “by faith” – to simply trust in God that He will provide all that we need for our salvation and so to depend wholly on Him. If He gives us illness, He also gives us the strength to endure it. If He gives us poverty, then He gives us the ability to trust Him even for our daily needs. If He gives us wealth, then He gives the opportunities for generosity, charity and hospitality in order to use what He has given. Many of the fathers have expressed in one manner or another that the secret to happiness in this life is to desire what God gives to us. So often we fall into self-pity, unnecessary suffering and self-torment because we want something other than what God has given. If, however, we change our approach and recognize that God provides for us all that we need and that even those things which seem unpleasant are in fact necessary for our salvation, then we can begin to be content and even happy no matter what our circumstances are. If we trust God, that He knows our needs, that He loves us and cares for us, that He is doing everything necessary to bring us to Himself, then we can be content that whatever state we may find ourselves in at any given moment is an opportunity given by God to trust Him, to move towards Him, to patiently endure, persevere and wait on Him. Such perseverance of faith will not go unrewarded and such long-enduring faith will bring to us great riches and joy in eternity. If we do indeed “endure to the end” as did this paralytic, then in like manner God will not disappoint us but will come to us as He came to the paralytic and will make us whole and unite us with Himself.