Epistle Romans 12:6-14
Gospel Matthew 9:1-8

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

The ministry of Christ in the world is the reconciliation of God and man. Every sermon, every trip, every miracle, every chastisement, they all have the goal of showing the audience the way back to God. In our Church, this can’t be stressed enough. The Christian life doesn’t get its purpose from our being good, or following laws, its not a life of morality. The Christian life is also not a selfish life focused on our earthly or even heavenly satisfaction. The ministry of Christ was to reconcile God and man. Everything in the Christian life is revealed to us to heal the rift that sin has caused between every human being and their Creator. This is the purpose of the Christian life. We are created to live with God; this includes following His will and partaking in His blessings…as effects of the primary goal—my life with God.

This is why many of the Church Fathers use the image of a hospital for the Church, Christ as the good physician, the sacraments and the ascetic life as medicine for our healing. Obviously, it’s not an exactly parallel image, but what this image reveals to us goes right to the heart of our lives as Christians. Christ was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary to bridge the gap between God and man, to bring healing to the broken situation of humanity. This is our focus—what must I do so that the work of Christ will not be for nothing? Or in more worldly language, as the rich man asked Christ—what must I do to be saved?

In the Gospel lesson this morning, we have this question addressed by both words and actions. Firstly, we must always remember that no matter what we might do, the work in the spiritual life of the Christian is the work of Christ. It doesn’t matter what the friends of this paralytic do for him, and it doesn’t matter what he does for himself, none of that will heal him. He would remain paralyzed apart from Christ. So the friends bring the man, obviously with his cooperation, he’s brought to Christ. And it’s at that point that healing begins. The healing happens with Christ; He heals. But it’s also important to remember the work that the man and his friends did—that’s the smallest part of the work, but essential. The paralytic was brought to Christ; without this action, the miracle wouldn’t have happened. Christ does the work of healing our souls and bringing us to the Father; but what we do does matter. We do what Christ has asked us to do in the Gospel, love God, love our brother, the Beatitudes, this small part we offer, and then God works the miracle of our soul’s healing as He knows is best (His timeline).

Second, the “work” pointed out in this miracle, and in many of our Lord’s miracles, is faith. “Jesus saw their faith…” (Matthew 9: 2). In other places we hear, “your faith has made you well,” or “I haven’t seen such faith as this in all of Israel,” and then a miracle is performed. Fr. Jonah Paffhausen, soon to be an assistant bishop in our diocese, writes that faith and belief are different things (using these two words to make a point about what faith is not). Belief is a rational acceptance of God, and that’s not enough. And even the most committed Christians sometimes struggle with belief, because our faith can’t be indisputably rationally proven. Faith is much deeper; we know, as Christians, in the depths of our soul that our Orthodox faith is True. Faith changes one’s life. The friends of the paralytic didn’t just believe some facts about Christ, they had a faith that enabled them to act and bring their friend to God. God reveals Himself to the human soul, and this revelation is the strengthening of our faith. So even when our rational belief falters, our faith can remain strong. Don’t get down, the Fathers teach, when the demons attack us with doubt, because these doubts are on a rational level and they don’t come from our minds. Our relationship with Christ is built on faith—on our living and active relationship with God.

We also see very vividly this morning the focus of the ministry of Christ—“your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9: 2) He tells the man. Later comes bodily healing, but whether the man can walk or not has no bearing on his relationship with God. The state of his soul determines his relationship with God—his sins are forgiven, and in that moment he’s reconciled with God. The work that Christ has come to do is done. The other miracle, the healing of the man’s physical infirmity, St. John Chrysostom tell us this is done to witness to the scribes present the fact that Christ was the Messiah. Because of sin in the world, because of humanities separation from God by sin, physical infirmities plague an enormous portion of the world’s population. Sometimes, Christ heals these wounds. But this paralytic, his body is not completely whole—eventually he dies. Even Lazarus, raised from the dead by Christ, he dies again. Our Great Physician makes us right with God; we’re healed for all of eternity when our sins are forgiven and our life is “hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Physical suffering is part of life on this earth, and as Christians we know that this suffering is evil, but we also know that it’s temporary, and ultimately it’s not our focus in the Christian life. These “Christians” that preach health and wealth are entirely off the mark; Christ never promises physical health, but total spiritual healing—which does bring “earthly happiness” in the sense that we’re fulfilling the purpose for our creation when we’re in a proper relationship with Christ. The Fathers the Church teach that spiritual health is our attainable goal in this world, and physical health is a gift of the next.

Finally, this walk with Christ, this healing offered to us by the Great Physician, is a source of unending joy. “Be of good cheer,” Christ tells the paralytic this morning (Matthew 9: 2). The peace that passes all understanding, true and lasting joy, comes to us only when we’re in a right relationship with Christ; only when we’re entirely given to the work of God in our lives. Any other state we find ourselves in will be hell, because man finds his only fulfillment in Christ. As Bishop Kallistos (Ware) is so famous for saying (perhaps repeating), God became man not only so that man could become god, but firstly, so that man could become truly man.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Advertisements