【 主日讀經 約翰福音5：1～15 】
【 東正教 李亮神父 講道 】
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At that time, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water; whoever stepped in first after the troubling of the water was healed of whatever disease he had. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.’ “They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.
Sermon by Fr. Jonah
Just to say a few things about the Gospel for today. Today is the miracle of the healing of the paralyzed person. Some of the details of the Gospel are very interesting and we could look at them one by one.
First, we see sometimes that God can be using using things to heal. So water this time, not every time but sometimes, was healing the people who entered it. And we also have other holy places where the Grace of God is present and many people are healed or find some comfort, so it is a very natural thing for the Church to have this kind of place. And from this point of view we can understand that when the Grace of God is operating through things, it is in these things.
But you see, this was just a small healing and it happened only once a year, and somebody would need to enter inside in order to be healed. This time there were many people there, waiting for the miracle, but they were unaware that the real miracle was Jesus Christ since they did not know Him. Jesus saw, better than anyone else, this person who had been there for many years, and so He went to that person, not the others. Of course we don’t know why Jesus chose him instead of the others, but there is a meaning there. We can say that for his whole lifetime of thirty-eight years, this person had been waiting and he could not find any help from anyone. And when there is no help from any person, God goes there.
Jesus then asks this person a very strange question. He does not ask if this person believes or other things like that, He asks only one simple thing: “Do you want to be healed?” Some people could be surprised that when He was asking a sick person He would need to ask the person if he wanted to be healed. But we see from modern psychology and modern medicine that in practice, people may pay money to their doctors but they don’t really want to be healed of their disease. Especially with psychological conditions, and there can be a very big resistance to healing. The person actually does not want to be healed, and the hardest task for the doctor can be to overcome the resistance from this person who does not want to be healed, and only after this can the healing begin.
We don’t know what hidden things were in the mind of this paralyzed person, holding him there. This person doesn’t give Jesus a clear answer, saying that he wants to be healed; he does not say this, although of course he does want it. But we can hear his cry for help, that “I am here and I don’t have anyone to put me inside.” The words “I don’t have anyone,” are so painful, like a knife, a cry of pain from this person. It is probably also the reason for his disease, why he has no one to help.
It is possible that his family are all dead. But how could he have no friends? We can see that this loneliness can sometimes arise because a person has a problem with his character, sometimes because there is a very big temptation, sometimes because the others are bad and they hate a good person. You can see in the Old Testament that Joseph, who was sold by his brothers, not friends but his own brothers sold him as a slave and abandoned him. And we see that with Job, who was such a good person, when he was sick the others went to accuse him, not to help him.
But it is clear that disease and problems with sociality are connected, and that actually sociality can be the healing. There are sick people whose sickness is that they have built a wall between themselves and the others, hiding their own sickness in the accusation of others. And this is a very big sickness and sin together.
So remember that Christianity speaks very deeply about sociality. The Church is the celebration of sociality. The Greek word for the Church is ecclesia, though I don’t know how to translate it into Chinese concepts, but it means a gathering of people together, and this is the most important thing. And nobody can go alone to God: it is not a situation of “me and God;” it is “we and God.” And because we are together here, this is why God can come to become the Body of Jesus Christ.
So this person was suffering, and his main problem was with sociality, not with his physical handicap. He may have cause this to himself, or others accused him for some reasons. But remember, the Church cannot be present if everybody comes only for his own reasons, he does not talk to his brothers and, instead, hates them in his heart. This would be no Church. There is a psalm for the celebration of vespers yesterday afternoon that says “You say that you don’t have anyone. But I am God and I became human for you.”
So, Jesus Christ found this person and he became a person close to him, restoring his sociality. Jesus does not tell him to go to the pool because there is no need for that; Jesus is the real healer. And for the healing to be perfect and for everybody to understand it, this is why Jesus tells him, “Rise, take what you were lying on and go home.” Many times Jesus is using the instrument of a person’s pain, and in this case that had be going on for thirty-eight years the person’s small bed was his prison. And Jesus Christ is changing this prison to a victorious flag, so this person held it high and went home, so happily.
We can see that the thirty-eight years of suffering then had a meaning. What was the meaning? It was that it was worthy because finally he met Jesus Christ. I could ask any one of you, would you be willing to sacrifice thirty-eight years of your life just to meet Jesus Christ, and only once? Someone could answer, “Not only thirty-eight years, but all my life!” But there is no need for us to do this since we meet Jesus in the Eucharist. We meet the same Jesus who cured this person. So remember this: we don’t have now to suffer years, Jesus is here and we can see Him and pay attention to Him, as many Orthodox today do.
How many times have I told you that if I put a price on the Holy Communion that you would have to pay, what would be the cost for the Body of Jesus Christ? Or if, instead if the Body of Jesus Christ, I was giving a diamond to each one of you, if instead of putting the Body of Jesus Christ into your mouths I was putting a diamond into your hands, do you know what would happen here? The police would be putting people in line from here to the Xiaobitan Metro station because there would be thousands of people would want to get this thing that was so much less valuable. But you see now that people don’t care.
So, the Pharisees and others saw the man walking with his pallet, and they were very surprised. And we should first note something very strange here, that this person did not say any word of thanks to the person who cured him. This is very strange, and Jesus then left concealing himself within the crowd of people. But that the person did not say thank you is not a good sign. And when the Pharisees saw him they asked, didn’t he know that it was a sin to carry something on the Sabbath day. Of course, the Pharisees knew that this person had been healed, but they were not happy about that. They saw only a small infraction of the Law in moving his pallet.
Actually there was a list of thirty-nine tasks that you could not do on the Sabbath. The Jews were counting everything, and this was their tragedy. But this case was not so clear since it was not like the person was moving his things from one house to another; it was a very unique thing. And this person told them not to accuse him since it was the person who had cured him who told him to do that. Then the Pharisee continues and the conversation continues on another level, with the Pharisee asking, “Who is the person who made you well?” And the person said he didn’t know, since Jesus had disappeared after the miracle.
From this point of view, we can see that people are not caring about the miracle that had happened to the paralyzed person, although if the waters had started to move and a person entered them and was cured, they would care about that as a great miracle. So we see again how people can distort everything, misuse everything, misunderstand everything.
Jesus then appears to this person again, finding him after some time, and He told the person not to continue to sin because if he did continue to sin, then something bad could happen to him. So Jesus appears to this person, which is a good thing, and tells him that the reason for his problem was some sin he had committed, and he had continued to do. We do not know what this sin was, and the Gospel does not say that every evil or disease had some sin as its cause, though some diseases may be because of some sin.
But it seems this person was truly a sinner. And how do we know this? When Jesus tells the person that He had cured him, we do not see, as in other Gospel stories of other miracles things such as the cured person falling to Jesus feet and saying, “Thank you my Lord,” and other things. There is nothing. But we can see that this person immediately runs to the Pharisees and tells them, “You asked me who made me well and told me to move my bed. Now I know: it was Jesus.” So he went and betrayed Jesus to the Pharisees because he wanted to be accepted by society. And if we continue to read the Gospel beyond what was read today, we can see that it was from this time that the Pharisees were considering that Jesus was breaking the Law. Jesus had told this person that something worse could happen to him, and what was this worse thing? The Gospel does not tell us, but we can see that he betrayed Jesus.
The last thing that I will say to you is about the misuse of religion. It is very easy to make our relationship with God into a set of regulations. Unfortunately, many Orthodox people think that the Church is a set of regulations, especially in things like the way of singing or some of the procedures of the Church. For example, making red eggs on Easter. That really has no connection with Easter. But people can insist on preserving some details and end up losing Jesus Christ. We should understand that we should not so easily accuse the Pharisees because it is very for us to make our own Church into a set of regulations. I have heard in the past, when I had just come to Taiwan, some Orthodox people asking, “What is this church? Where do you put the candles?” Or, “Where are the covers? This is not a church.” And they didn’t understand that these things, the candles and so on, are not the Church. The Church is the continuation of the Grace of God through the bishop and the priest.
This altar table, can be any table where we do the canonical Liturgy. This is why I have done Liturgy for some of you in your houses. Is that not a canonical Liturgy? Of course it is. And to say as much of the text as you can if, for example you were in prison, with no singing but just the text of the Church. So, once more I say we should not be like the Pharisees because it is very easy to be that way and to think the Church is a set of rules and a set of national habits.
And all of us should remember that, when we are in difficult times and feel that we have no one and are all alone, God says to us, “I come for you in your loneliness.” So we can continue with the Liturgy at this point.
(Transcript by Professor Timothy Baker)