Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
In the Gospel reading for today we hear the account of the healing of the paralytic. Our Lord Jesus Christ had just returned to Capernaum from the country of the Gergesenes, where he had healed the men possessed by demons. A small crowd awaited Him upon His return and brought to Him this man who was sick and paralyzed by his illness. The sick man’s friends cared for him and had faith that Jesus Christ could heal him.
It is interesting and important to note that the Gospel indicates that when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven thee’. Whose faith was Christ responding to? Our Lord was recognizing and honoring the faith not just of the man who was sick, but primarily of those who loved him and brought him before the Lord. Their faith and their supplications mattered… God recognized and responded to the love and faith of those who brought the sick man before Him.
This is an incredibly important lesson for us! It is sometimes the case that we get discouraged in our spiritual life: what does it matter if I fast, if I skip my prayers?
Well, as today’s Gospel reading helps to illustrate… yes, your faith and your supplications before God matter! Your faith has implications and influence upon the rest of the world. Our Lord healed the paralytic in response to the love and faith of those friends who brought him before the Lord.
I think that this recognition of the impact of our prayer life, the impact of our spiritual life upon the world around us and upon our brothers and sisters in the faith is profound.
There is much that is sick and paralyzed in today’s world. I’m sure we all feel it. I hear from so many of you how concerned and confused you are by what is going on in the world. Everything from the impositions and restrictions placed upon us by the Covid virus, to the fears and uncertainty that this has brought into our lives, to the frustrations and anger spilling over onto our streets, to the closing of the churches and the separation being wedged between ourselves and those we love.
These are very trying times… no doubt about it. Just at the time when this world needs our prayers more than ever, the doors of the church are shut tight and we are alienated from being with and praying with those we love.
How should we move forward? How can we be effective Orthodox Christians in times such as these?
I think that today’s Gospel has much to say about this…
While it may be true that we cannot physically gather together in prayer and fellowship the way we used to do, we must understand the bond of spiritual kinship that we all share. As Orthodox Christians we are all members of one body and, as the Holy Apostle Paul puts it: ‘if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.’
Though the present circumstances may obstruct our ability to be together, we must diligently and courageously never allow them to separate us. Our unity is founded in Christ our Lord and this foundation can withstand any storm the world may throw at us! We must stand firm in knowing and leveraging our connection to one another. And this connection lives and breathes in our prayers for one another and with one another in our supplications before the Lord.
And just as our Lord Jesus Christ heard and honored the supplicatory prayers of the friends of the paralytic, so too will He hear and honor our prayers as we intercede for one another and as we join our voices together in prayers of thanksgiving and praise and for God’s mercy upon us all.
Though you may be stuck at home, do not allow the evil one to suggest to you that you are alone or that your prayers are impotent. You are the body of Christ and individually we are all members of it. Your voice of prayer is just as important and just as desperately needed as the voice of any of the rest of us! And it is by the collective prayers of those who share the same faith, who have the same Blood of Christ flowing through their veins, that Christ’s promise is fulfilled that: ‘whenever two or more are gathered in My Name, there I am in the midst of them.’
We don’t know how long this current pandemic will be with us and how long this new reality we are dealing with will last. We are all tired, we are all stressed, we are all worried about what the future may bring. The danger and the temptation for each of us is to feel isolated, to feel alienated, to feel separated from one another. Yes, the impact of this virus and of the governmental restrictions do physically isolate us and separate us. But we must be very adamant to NOT allow the temporal physical separation seep into our souls! Yesterday we read Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 8 which said:
‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
Do you hear this my brothers and sisters in Christ? If we will unite ourselves to Christ and thereby unite ourselves together in Christ, nothing shall separate us! These are trying times and I know that we are growing weary, we are being tempted, we are getting frustrated. But let us endure everything for our Lord’s sake!
These past few days we celebrated the Royal Martyrs… these noble souls who faced persecution and deprivation with such incredibly dignity. These should be our models! Do not be discouraged! Let us lean upon one another, let us console one another, let us rise up to the full stature of who we are and who we must be as the Body of Christ. This is our identity and this is our calling - and such a Presence has never been needed more in this world than it is needed now.
When each of us extend our hearts in prayer to the Lord, that voice is the voice of the Body of Christ. No matter where you are, no matter what your circumstances… when we unite ourselves in prayer, we stand firm as the Body of Christ. And this connection which we have with one another unites us and stands as a testament of the otherworldly and unbreakable bond of brothers and sisters in Christ. The evil one is playing a terrible game of ‘divide and conquer’ with the world right now. Let us stand against it as the Body of Christ!
God grant us the awareness and wisdom to remember who we are and who we are called to be. We may profitably think of the world as the paralytic in today’s Gospel. I think we can agree it is an apt analogy. We, as Christians must rally together in prayer and intercession for our sick friend, the world, who is deeply paralyzed. Let us bring the world before Christ in prayer and compassion. We do this as a community, as the Church, no matter where we may physically be. The key is for us to build and to retain an Orthodox Christian worldview which understands our connection to one another and our connection to God. If we can do so, we can weather this season of physical separation through deeply experiencing the inseverable unity of our life in Christ.
May God grant us to know and realize our life together in Christ. And may we leverage that unity to pray for one another and for the good of the whole world.