Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 15, 2022
I want to focus on the Gospel reading today even though I am tempted to speak about current events. I won't go there today although I will leave that door open for the future.
There are some important spiritual lessons for us in the story of the paralytic's healing that may not be immediately obvious. First some information about the Pool of Bethzatha.
There are many unanswered questions about this pool. Did the waters themselves have healing properties? What caused the water to bubble up? Was it really an angel that stirred them or was that just a folktale attached to this particular place? Was the pool used by the Jews for ritual washing or was it built by the Romans as a place for devotion to their god of healing? We do not know. But all of that really is beside the point.
The obvious point is that Jesus healed this man and sent him on his way on the Sabbath which tells us a great deal about the priorities of the Lord. People before laws. Healing on the Sabbath (except in cases of life or death) and carrying a palate was considered work and work was forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus ignores both. We see this same issue rising throughout the Lord's earthly life. To this Jesus had a response at another time. "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." In other words, people matter more than rules. I would like to think that this is the reason Orthodoxy employs oikonomia in pastoral care. That is, because Jesus clearly did.
Last week in the prison we took a look at one of the dialogues in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, a so-called "gnostic gospel." My guess is most of us have not read it. I found it fascinating (but you know me). Anyway, one verse among many stood out to me. Jesus addressed them saying, "Go forth and proclaim the Good News concerning the Kingdom. Beyond what I have already given you, do not lay down any further rules or issue laws, lest you too be dominated by them." Is this an authentic Jesus saying? I don't know, but it resonates with other verses like this one from St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians (5.1), "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." We, as you know, have not followed that instruction. Unfortunately, the Church is as burdened with rules as was First Century Judaism.
Oh well, let's move on. Here are the lessons.
The paralytic lived the majority of his life dreaming of the future. "If only the water would be troubled. What if someone would come to help me get in the pool first? What if I wasn’t paralyzed? Then everything would be fine." He probably said things like this to himself many times as he waited by the pool. Most of us ask ourselves "what if "questions" hoping for a different reality than the one we are living. But living in the future is, of course, impossible. That path always leads to disappointment and eventually despair. God dwells in the present moment, not in the nonexistent past or future.
Into his life walked the Savior who showed him that he did not need the pool nor anyone to help him enter it nor to dream of the future or resist his present situation. The "what if" questions faded away. Instead the paralytic's questions were answered in the words, "Take up your palate and walk." Right now. At this moment. The healing waters have come to you. They are even now rising up within you. Did Jesus not say “out of your bellies shall flow rivers of living water”? The light of Christ illumined him, focused him, and saved him from his fruitless way of life.
Instead of hoping for life to be different and hoping for a better future, we can learn to recognize the Lord's presence in every moment of our lives and give thanks for all things. God is always present and if we open our hearts and minds to this simple article of faith, we will experience a real often extraordinary positive change in our lives. It is possible to live as St. Paul did, rejoicing in the Lord always, because we are always in the Lord, if we choose to inhabit the moment in which we live. Our thoughts determine our lives. They really do.
Carol and I went to Scott Hakim's funeral and stayed in the Marriott in Teaneck, New Jersey. I was astounded by the kindness of the employees. Everyone met us with smiles and openness. I asked one of them why this was so. He told me that three full weeks of training in hospitality was the reason. Their minds were molded by teaching and practice to be kind and of service. It would be wonderful if we all could go through that training. Actually, we are, although we may not have noticed. The Body of Christ is a training ground for compassion. I’m afraid many have missed that.
There is a living pool of Bethzatha not in Jerusalem. This living pool is the heart. The Divine Life bubbles up from within, not from without. We must redirect our attention from the distractions of life to the glorious center of our being and cultivate godliness. To quote the Gospel of Mary Magdalene once more, the Lord said, "find contentment at the level of the heart, and if you are discouraged, take heart in the Image of your true nature," that is the Image of God in which we have all been made. It continues with this beautiful blessing, "Peace be with you. May my peace reside within you. Guard carefully that no one misleads you saying, 'Look, he is here,' or 'He's over there,' for the Son of Man already exists within you."
What glorious Good News is that!