Go and Sin No More
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 8, 2018 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.
I want to begin today by drawing a comparison between the healing of the paralytic in today’s reading and the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda in John’s Gospel especially the Lord’s exhortation to go and sin no more.
We know that the word sin most used in the Gospels is hamartia or to "miss the mark" as when an archer shoots an arrow and misses the target. The problem lies not in the arrow, but rather in the archer. There is a process that leads to missing the target. We can learn to recognize and interrupt the process.
Sin begins inside with an interior misalignment, a disconnection, an error in perception, a commitment to something false, an interior blindness cause by self-centeredness and egotism.
The image of God within us is never egocentric or selfish, nor angry, nor disappointed, nor afraid, nor anything of the sort. It is the cool, calm center of the storm, the oasis in the desert, the treasure house of the Spirit, the unconquerable kingdom where God dwells within us.
The problem is that most of us are not even aware that there is an interior life, that it can be observed, and that it can be transformed. Thus, we are disconnected from the spring of living water God has placed within us.
The better the archer at his art, the more likely it is that he will hit his target. This demands dedicated practice. If we carefully learn how to mind the store of our hearts and minds, then we would notice more and more when our aim is off.
This spiritual art takes practice to master just as it does for anything we want to do well. The more time we spend in contemplative prayer, the more aware we become, remembering always, as the Desert Fathers teach, no matter how adept we think we are, we are always on the verge of making our first step. As Jack Kornfield wrote, “If you think you’re enlightened, go home for Thanksgiving.”
If we became aware when something in us is off, a part of us is feeling lonely and unappreciated, or frustrated and angry, or exhausted and on edge, we would be well on the way to not yelling at the kids when we get home. When we look inside and observe what is going on we have begun to connect with the image of God within us, our true self and our true Center. The eye of the soul opens and divine compassion has a chance to flow from the depths.
I believe that Jesus is not merely telling the paralytics not to commit sins, but even more to enter into a new way of life, a life of mindfulness, watchfulness, vigilance, and consciousness so that the seeds of sin would not find in them a place to grow.
Not to sin is, of course, a wonderful thing, and if St. Gregory Nyssa is correct when he equates sin with the refusal to grow, then Christ is commanding them to grow, to change, to become transformed through the renewal of their minds, and reconnection with their hearts.
Jesus also warns the paralytic at the pool that he should be careful not to sin lest something worse befall him. That "something worse" than paralysis of the body is paralysis of the soul. An ossification and closing of the heart. Notice today that Jesus begins by forgiving the sins of Matthew's paralytic. He didn’t ask for that. The physical healing occurs almost as an afterthought; something even of secondary importance. The glorious news is that our sins are forgiven, as well, even before we ask.
To both paralytics Jesus recommends that their encounter with him be a new beginning. He is calling them to walk in the light of his grace from that moment on. What that meant for these two men, we do not know because their stories are not revealed to us. We can assume, I think, that their lives were altered significantly.
Sin arises from a faulty and egocentric orientation which is in opposition to the truth of who were are and were created to be. Our awareness must pierce the veil of our ego, the hard and thick skins of fear and desire that cover the heart, so that the can begin to operate from our Center in connection with the image of God that defines us, and the interior Kingdom of Heaven that enlivens us. This is the Lord’s call to the paralytics and to us.
I will end with a quote from the great Meister Eckhart, a truly amazing Roman Catholic mystic who is much like the our own Simeon the New Theologian in his daring and provocative writings. In fact, they often sound very much alike.
“If you want to be ready for and worthy of the Spirit of God.” he writes, “just look inside and see your spiritual being. Can you see how you already resemble what you seek?”
The Good News is this: salvation is a given, it is accomplished in Christ and within us lies a life-transforming power waiting to be discovered.