The good news today draws on the heavy topic of paralysis. Not just the regrettable bodily variety, but also the all too familiar and yet very tragic soul crushing type that we as humans are accustomed to.
Paralysis, the inability to move and sometimes even to feel, is often in scripture an example for the loss of one’s freedom, resulting from personal trauma caused by sin. This loss of ability removes fundamental freedoms, such as one’s personal agency to act and live as one pleases.
It is as though one were put under a new rule of obedience, a rule which runs counter to our innate desire to be free and fully alive. Such a rule is less like that of the monastic fathers such as those of Sts. Benedict or Pachomius which aimed for saintliness. Rather the rule of paralysis caused by sin, is terror.
We see this spiritual paralysis everywhere. The inability and frustration witnessed each day of what should be a very easy thing is, sadly, too common in human existence. In the words of St. Paul, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”
From the great to the small things, we are often unable or unwilling to leave systems of personal destruction behind. We cleave to them because as numb as they make us feel, it is a familiar numbness, unlike the uncharted waters of a life fully alive in God. There is safety after all in the predictable and boring stream of living our lives lying down on our backs, isn’t there?
Sin Is Effortless
We stand for nothing, oppose nothing, nobody asks much from us. And -- most of all -- we convince ourselves that everything we are not able to accomplish is too hard and not worth the effort anyway. Paralysis from sin is a boon for all the evil plans and machinations of this world, because after all, evil thrives on the inactivity and numbness of supposedly good people.
Despite what we may think, sin takes no effort at all, and that is why sin is inherently terrible. Sin is the great No to life. Or rather the great No to the one who is life.
From jurisdictional divisionism and infighting within the Church of Christ; to the neglect of the needs of others especially the most vulnerable; to the very personal and real torment of those empty wells we return to each day to numb the difficulties of life. We see the problem, but we also complicate the solution.
Like the Scribes in today’s gospel, we seek to justify our lack of participation in what is right and worthy, by justifying our disinterest in praising what is right. Rather than marvel and give God praise for raising a paralyzed man to his feet, the scribes remain stiff themselves without words, and likely without any movement at all. As stiff and as delicate as their prim robes and vestiture.
So stiff, that it must have looked as though their very robes would shatter if anyone were to even gently touch them.
While the world rejoiced as this invitation to life was granted to this faithful paralyzed man, there they remained -- living as though paralyzed. Because they did not want to share in the joy of Jesus’ ministry. Not then and likely not ever. Locked out of life, but not by some higher authority, no -- sadder still -- by their own hardness of hearts.
Raise the Paralyzed
Woe to us when we become so deadened by the sins visited upon us that we give in and allow ourselves to be destroyed. Woe to us when we remain indolent and slow to dispel the darkness, when we ourselves can at the very least kneel and pray. Woe to us when we would sooner choose to push away the mercies of God, than to be visited by them.
Let us not give in to the spirit of indifference, and despondency. The good work which God has begun in us is not yet complete. God desires to only to raise the paralyzed from their beds, He more daringly calls even the dead, back to life!
As you may know, recently a member of our parish, underwent a successful organ transplantation.
And so today he embodies the message of this Gospel reading. As one raised up to new life in Christ he chooses to remain free and fully alive. As the Lord said, “Arise, take up your bed and go…”.
Today he continues the journey of theosis, to live with all the possibilities union with God affords - not needing to be under the yoke of any conclusion or idea which does not give life.
Now that you have been raised up, do not live just for yourself, but as Christ speaks today of having authority, discipline yourself to imitate that very same authority. Christ’s authority is not one of power or personal gain, but of sacrificial servitude: even the servitude of the cross.
Glory be to God forever.
--Fr. Paul Tadros
So many of us have or will encounter a near universal crisis of faith.
Why is it that God doesn't seem to answer my prayers?
This can be both a feeling of deafening silence, and of many requests that go unfilled. Doesn’t the bible say that with faith of a mustard seed you will move mountains? Yet so many of us continue waiting on that request from 10 years ago or tormented by the loved one that died despite the prayers.
This gospel is a beautiful account of the encounter of man with God and just may be a message of hope to this prayer crisis.
We have a story of a Centurion, a leader of 100 soldiers and supporting units (although the title was sometimes used generically for more senior officers of the Roman legions) who comes to ask Jesus to heal his servant.
The Centurion loves this particular servant so deeply that he risks humiliation by begging publicly for his life. He, a Roman soldier, the occupier in the streets of Caperneaum, comes before a bunch of Jews who at best will tolerate him, and more likely hate him, to beg for help from a traveling rabbi.
This is scandalous.
What could possibly motivate this?
We don't know much about this Centurion. Was he a believer in God, an atheist, or somewhere in between? Did he call God “Jupiter,” or “Mithra,” or the “One God?” Did he even have a name for God?
How many people had he wounded, sent to prison, or killed? What was his upbringing? Good family? Orphan?
We don’t know anything at all about him except that he was a man capable of a deep and utterly selfless act of love and compassion.
Stop talking and ask for the right things
The Centurion does something that we ourselves so rarely do. He has become self-emptying. Or rather he has cast aside the worries of this life and to take a profound risk. The motivation of compassion overwhelms any barrier of social propriety and he comes to Jesus purely for the need of another.
The image of God shines brightly in the Centurion. The Lord, being the perfect image of the Father, looks at this soldier and sees himself.
The deep calls out to the deep and Christ is moved to compassion.
The Centurion shows us that in order to be heard by God we need to be asking for the right things. The Centurion wants not riches or fame, but the welfare of another.
And the Centurion, has done the rare act of turning from the talk track of his life and is focusing on Jesus and his servant. There is nothing but willingness to submit, to encounter, to take whatever is given.
Sometimes we need to stop talking. Most of our prayer life can be a one sided argument. Perhaps, God is waiting for us to finally finish and say “you done?”
But too often, our prayers are twisted ego-fuelled talk tracks. Compassion can be the key that can release us from our inward muddle.
In the life of St. Porphyrios, someone asks, how can I get the gift of healing? And St Porphyrios replies that one has to be willing to take the sickness of another in order to ask God for a miracle. “If you will heal them, I will take their place….”
In this Centurion's actions, we witness a profound faith. A faith demonstrated by a Gentile and not one of God’s chosen people, a recurrent theme of the stories of Jesus.
The Centurion gets who the Lord is. He doesn't put him into a box. He doesn't see the Lord as just a good moral rabbi, or someone who can help with this small area of his life. Instead he bears witness to Christ as the Cosmocrator, as the one who has supreme and divine authority.
Note the Centurion says he is under authority. The Centurion’s authority comes via a Preator from the emperor.
Through his entreaties for his servant, the Centurion is acknowledging that Jesus has power over everything. He knows that if Jesus wills it, healing will come. So all you have to do is speak it – to be Jesus' role as the Word – and it will come to pass. It doesn't matter where Jesus is, just that God can do all things. The Centurion says with the humility of a pure request, that it is up to God to do what we need.
In this request, there is a pure trust. This leads Jesus to proclaim that he hasn't seen faith like this in Israel. You see it's not the belief that God will do an act – the so-called “name and claim” pushed by certain TV preachers – it's not a magic incantation.
Rather it's the belief that God can do this, has the power to do this, “If it is Your will… Thy will be done.”
Take courage and approach
Finally we see humility. As I mentioned earlier, this is a man of considerable status, but one that sees Jesus and knows that he isn’t worthy. He simply asks.
The Centurion is asking without expectation. He accepts that if Jesus is to grant healing, it's not because the Centurion did something or is something. But because God just chooses to act in love. He knows if God will act it’s not because of what or who he is, but because of God’s mercy.
So we have a roadmap of true prayer in this episode of the life of Jesus and the Centurion. We have self emptying love motivated by compassion for others. The Centurion is asking the right thing, grounded in complete faith in God's willingness to do it; but motivated by the compassion to accept that God is in control. God has complete power, and it is up to Him.
In the end we must come to God, broken and knowing there is no reason to receive.
One of the great communion prayers that our church gives us as we approach Christ bears the same words as the humble Centurion: ‘I know, O Lord my God, that I am not worthy that you should enter under the roof of the house of my soul.” But recognizing the Lord and His goodness we say, “but since You in Your love desire to dwell in me I take courage and approach.” Let us then take courage and approach and taste and see that the Lord is good!
May God give us that true heart, and that we may continue to be conformed to His likeness.