So, I’ve been reflecting much lately on the story of the paralytic. There was this pool, and the people all believed that an angel would come down and stir the waters, and once the waters were stirred, the first one to enter the waters would be healed from whatever infirmities that they had. And the story focuses on one particular paralytic, who would sit by the edge of the pool. And one day, Jesus approaches him and asks him, “do you want to be made well?” Which really is the question that we are all asked by Jesus, we just don’t realize it.
See, most of us would say “of course I want to be made well.” But, notice the paralytics response. He immediately begins making excuses of why he can’t be healed. And that’s so often what each of us does as well. We want to say that we want to be made well, but ultimately, it’s a grievous but powerful testimony to the power of sin that we have allowed into our lives. Consider for a moment, if you could be healed of all of your sins; not just forgiven, but actually healed, would you? Again, I think a lot more of us would say that we want to say yes than would actually say yes. For so many of us, the struggle against sin isn’t so much a struggle against sin as it is a struggle against ourselves. We want to be holy and righteous without the need to actually be holy and righteous, because for so many of us, if we’re honest, we like our sins. I don’t drink to excess because alcohol is more powerful than God, I drink to excess because I like to drink. The viewer of pornography, the fornicator, any of a mass myriad of sinners doesn’t struggle with their sins because their sins are stronger than God, they struggle with their sins because they like their sins. Most sins actually require more effort to commit them than to not. An alcoholic has to go to the store and spend their money to buy alcohol, whereas they could easily just sit at home for free to not become drunk. The thief has to contemplate what they will steal and how they will get away with it, and then go and execute their sin; instead of sitting at home doing nothing. The actual execution of sin requires much more effort than not committing those self-same sins. So, when someone says that they are struggling with a sin, are they really? Do we really want to be healed? And, without fail, those who are truly in love with their sins end up condemning those who warn us against them.
As I contemplated this passage, over and over in my mind, I couldn’t help but ask myself even, do I want to be healed? See, we each of us sit next to those living waters, wallowing in our sins and paralyzed with fear. We sit there waiting for this mystical inspiration to come to us to take up our bed and leave, to take up our cross and follow Him who can heal us. Jesus is even standing right there, each time we’re filled with this conviction to be holy, “do you truly want to be healed?” And so often we fall into this same pattern of making excuses why we can’t be healed; we justify our own rejection of His healing. We convince ourselves that it’s okay to continue in our beloved transgressions, and we will still be forgiven for all our iniquities. But, what happens when we say yes? What happens when we say yes and He tells us that it’s time to pick up our lives and move on? That’s what scares us more than anything.
We have to ability to answer yes to Him when He asks us that ubiquitous question. Through His grace, our faith in Him can make us well, He can heal us of these ailments that we have allowed dominion in our lives. The great Physician, through His hospital, the Church, can help us to overcome these passions. We need only be willing to accept the treatment which He offers us. Through obedience to Him and His church, we can overcome the passions which plague humanity. The apostle St Paul writes of “bringing his body into submission,” lest at the end he “be found unworthy.” Through obedience to the Church, we bring ourselves to humility, accepting that we are not the ones in control. We overcome the passions of the flesh through the obedience and asceticism that the Church calls us to. And in so doing, we allow ourselves to be opened to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us to true righteousness. Much as the paralytic was told to take up his bed and walk away, so we must be willing to obey the prescribed manners in which our Lord will heal us of our infirmities.
We are saved through the grace of Christ, and in being saved we must abide in His commandments, and through His grace, we will be saved, God willing. St Paul called the Church the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), and it is through His Church that we receive the teaching which will lead us to the “righteousness of God” (Romans 1:17) rather than the “ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). It is through our obedience to the Church; fasting, prayer, almsgiving, that we are able to free ourselves from the passions, and be truly healed. To bring our bodies into submission.
Like a doctor, the Physician has offered to us treatment for our condition, and like a patient, we must follow this treatment soundly; if we truly wish to be healed. We must remember that Jesus did not come to forgive us of our sins, but to save us from them. And He will never force us to accept this healing. Love that’s demanded is never love. But, should we choose to follow Him, to give ourselves to Him, to not try to serve two masters, then He will never leave us.
Christ is in our midst.