The Orthodox Pages
TALK ON THE READINGS FOR
SUNDAY OF THE PARALYTIC
7th MAY 2009
This coming Sunday is known as the Sunday of the Paralytic. It is dedicated to the miracle Christ performed on the man who was paralysed for thirty eight years and who waited by the pool of Bethesda which was associated with regular miracles. The Apostle reading is also dedicated to another miracle of the Palsy and to someone being raised from the dead by Peter.
We call something a miracle when an extraordinary and supernatural event takes place, which happens with the intervention and power of God. In Holy Stricture and especially in the New Testament, we see the use of various names to characterize these miracles. They are named “Powers” because by this they are revealing the power of God. They are called “wonders” and “Signs” because of the effect they cause on the people that see them, and they are also called “strange” and “works”.
Christ’s miracles are signs of his presence among us. They comprise the element by which Christ reveals God, that is, through “work and word” through “signs and wonders”. Christ reveals to us the mystery of God through his words, through his works, and especially through his miracles and his Resurrection. The Gospel proclaims that Christ came to set free, to cleanse, to give life and save mankind. A miracle is proof of this salvation. Without miracles, which renews and saves the body, undoubtedly we would not be able to perceive that Christ brought salvation for the whole of mankind. The miracle is the proof of the presence of the kingdom of God among us. Christ not only speaks of the coming of the kingdom of God, but at the same time materializes the works of this kingdom. The miracles testify to Christ’s dominance and Lordship over everything, over the body and of the things of this world. But a miracle is not just a show of power; Christ places his divine power in the service of love. His miracles are actions of love and charity and reveal his mercy.
Miracles also certify the divine calling and the divine mission of those that perform them. This is valid for Christ and also his Apostles. The Miracles of Christ represent his action as the Son of God among men. They are works common to the Son and to the Father and reveal that the Son was sent by the Father and that they share a common glory, knowledge and power.
But the miracles of the Apostles are also signs that confirm the authenticity of their mission as preachers of the Gospel. St. Mark’s Gospel ends with the words “And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen. (St. Mark 16:20) The Acts of the Apostles verifies that “the Lord - gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” (Acts of the Apostles 14:3) And according to St. Paul the miracle certifies the calling and the preaching of the Apostles: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. (2 Corinthians 12:12-21) Thus the miracle comes and certifies the Apostles’ words and gives authenticity to their mission of preaching the Gospel. The many miracles that accompany their preaching verify that what they are preaching is the truth and helps to strengthen and make firm the people’s faith. It was necessary for many miracles to be done by the hands of the Apostles so that people would believe in Jesus Christ and come to the Church.
Today’s Apostle reading gives the account of two of St. Peter’s miracles – the cure of Aeneas in Lydda and the raising of Tabitha in Joppa. So, let us hear the reading which is from the Acts of the Apostles chapter 9 verses 32-42.
“In those days, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy. And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately. And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord. Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and alms deeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.”
32) “In those days, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.”
The spreading of the Apostolic preaching beyond the town of Jerusalem had as a result the sudden appearance of many other local churches. In the previous verse Luke mentions the peaceful state of the churches throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria. It is to the churches of these places that Peter now visits to strengthen the faith of the new Christians. From this journey Luke gives us the two miracles that took place in Lydda and Joppa. Peter reaches Lydda after having passed through all quarters. With the phrase “all quarters” we should understand the places and the lands of those who had received the word of God. It could also be interpreted that he passed though all the saints, which would agree with what is said in continuance that he came also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. Saints is one of the names of the first Christians. In the Acts of the Apostles it is used sparingly, but Paul in his Epistles makes greater use of the name. In the Hebrew tongue Lydda is known as Lod (1 Chron. 8:12) and was also known by the Greeks as Diopolis. It was found on the road from Jerusalem to Joppa and at the most 20 kilometres from Joppa.
33) “And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.”
In Lydda, Peter meets probably by chance, a man named Aeneas. From his name we can assume that he was a Greek Jew and possibly that he was already a Christian, because Peter does not make a condition for curing him that he must first believe in Jesus Christ. Luke who is also a physician gives us the length of time and nature of Aeneas’ illness. For eight whole years he was paralysed and bedridden. This information given us by the writer which show Aeneas’ tragic condition, allow us to think that neither Aeneas nor those near him could have had any hope of a possible cure from the grave illness he suffered. And it is this fact that makes more wonderful Peter’s miraculous intervention. There where the boundaries of hope end, the almighty God can give miraculous solutions.
34) “And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.”
Peter does not ask Aeneas if he believes in Jesus Christ neither if he desires to be cured; possibly, because as we have already mentioned, Aeneas was already a Christian. St. John Chrysostom says that the miracle happened in answer to many supplications and that when Christ began his miracles, he did not insist on faith and so also the Apostles did not insist on faith. St. Peter’s words “Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole” emphasises that the person who performs the miracle is not himself but Jesus Christ. This emphasis by Peter helps to strengthen the faith of the new Christians in Jesus Christ and also helps to draw others into the new faith by convincing them of the power of the name of Jesus. At no time did the Apostles allow to pass through their own minds and in no way did they allow people to believe that the miracles occurred through their own power. They always acted with faith in the Name of Christ whom they preached. On many occasions, the people were ready to worship them as gods so it was important to get the message across that the miracles occurred through the power of Jesus and not their own. What Peter says next “arise, and make thy bed” and the immediate response by Aeneas, not only informs us of the realization of the miracle, but at the same time comes and unquestionably verifies that it took place. The man who for eight years was bedridden and completely dependant on others can now rise and also make his own bed. By telling Aeneas to make his own bed, Peter gives proof of the miracle and an opportunity for others to check and verify that it happened.
35) “And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.”
Such a great miracle could only produce great feelings of emotion. Saron was a great fertile plain found near the Mediterranean Sea and stretched between Caesarea and Joppa. Peter’s miracle not only impressed the people who saw it but also a great many who heard about it and was cause for them to turn to the Lord.
36) “Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and alms deeds which she did.”
From this verse begins the account of the second miracle which happened in the town of Joppa. Joppa, known today as Jaffa, was a coastal town of Palestine and one of the most ancient and well known ports of the eastern Mediterranean. It is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. Originally it belonged to the Philistines and later during the reign of King David, it came under the control of the Israelites. From Joppa we see the transportation of the great cedars of Lebanon which were used for the building of the Temple. From here, the Prophet Jonah set sail for Tarshish. And from Joppa the Apostle Peter saw the vision where God told him that he must preach the Gospel also to the Gentiles.
As Luke begins his narration of the miracle, he gives us the name of the woman as Tabitha. As is usual for him, he mentions her Hebrew name first and then immediately gives us the equivalent of what her name would be in Greek - Dorcus which actually means a deer. St. John Chrysostom, says of the name Tabitha that her name is not mentioned by chance, but so that we may learn that she lived up to her named because she was as watchful and careful as a deer. Tabitha is characterized as a disciple, in other words a disciple of Christ. In all the New Testament, this is the only occasion where this characterization is given to a Christian woman. Luke also tells us that Tabitha was full of good works and alms deeds which she did. A characterization which defines the charitable activity that Tabitha developed among the faithful of Joppa.
37) “And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.”
In those days, Tabitha became ill and died. In those days is associated with the period when Peter was staying in Lydda. The washing of the body means that they prepared everything that was necessary to be done for the dead. The washing of the body as a preparation for the dead was a Greek custom and nowhere is it mentioned in the Old Testament so that we might assume that the Jews had a similar custom. Having washed and prepared the body, Tabitha’s relatives and friends laid her body in an upper room. The upper room should be understood as the attic of Tabitha’s home. The attic was not a room for general use, but was used for putting up visitor’s and also for private prayer and reading. The weather conditions and the Jew’s views for the dead body determine that the burial of the dead must be carried out immediately after their death. So the preparation of Tabitha’s body and placing her in the attic has nothing to do with her burial, but rather with the presence of Peter in the neighbouring town of Lydda as is made clear in the next verse.
38) “And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.”
Joppa was very near to Lydda and so it was very easy for the Christians of Joppa to be informed that Peter was there. Two men were sent to beseech Peter to not delay and come to them because it was impossible to leave the dead body for too long a period without burial. Luke doesn’t tell us the reason why Peter was called to rush to Joppa, but we can assume that he was called either to be present at the funeral or because the people of Joppa didn’t believe that Tabitha was completely lost to them. In other words they believed with certainty that as Peter would have been able to cure her of her illness, then even now that she was dead, that he could raise her from the dead.
39) “Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.”
Peter responds to their supplication and immediately rushes with them to Joppa. On reaching Joppa he is lead to the upper room where Tabitha’s body had been laid. While there, all the widows came weeping and showing him all the coats and garments that Tabitha had made for them. In verse 36, Luke mentions that Tabitha was full of good works and almsgiving. Here, among the tears of the widows who had received Tabitha’s love, her charity work is pointed out. The widows, while crying and beseeching for Peter’s compassion, present him with tangible examples of Tabitha’s gook works.
40-41) “But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.”
Peter asks for everyone to leave the room. His action reminds us of a similar occasion of the Lord when he raised Jairus’ daughter, a miracle that Peter had knowledge of because he was present. St. John Chrysostom asks: “Why did he put everyone out of the room?” And he answers: “So that he would not be confused or upset by all the crying and noise.” The fervent prayer by which he was to beseech God to raise Tabitha required complete silence and dedication. The living communication of Man with God through prayer always presupposes solitude and undisturbed silence. But also another reason for wishing to be left alone was to avoid a vain exhibition. By kneeling he was not just doing something that was customary, but showing the intensity of his prayer and his dependence on the power of God. God doesn’t allow all miracles to be performed with the same ease. Peter who cured so many with only his shadow now has to do much more to raise Tabitha from the dead. After his intense prayer, Peter turned to the dead body and says: “Tabitha, arise”. His word brings Tabitha back to life. Tabitha first opens her eyes and sees Peter then she sits up and then being given the hand by Peter, stands upright. Old interpreters say that by calling Tabitha, Peter gave her life and then by giving her his hand he gave her the strength to stand. After Peter raised Tabitha, he called the saints and widows, and presented her alive. But, why the two categories of Saints and widows? He showed her off to the saints, in other words to the Christians so that they would rejoice that they once again had their sister in Christ alive and also because they were found worthy to be witnesses of a great miracle of faith, and he showed her off to the widows so that they would continue to receive the protection and care which Tabitha gave them before she died.
42-43) “And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.”
No matter how big the town of Joppa was, such a miraculous event could not remain confined to just the witnesses who saw it. In just a short time, the news of Tabitha’s resurrection spread rapidly and became the common knowledge of everyone living in Joppa. And just as Aeneas’ cure in Lydda was reason for many to come to the Lord, so also with Tabitha’s resurrection, many believed and turned to the Lord. The miracles of the Apostles which were done in the name and power of Jesus, were indisputable proof of who Christ was: that he was truly the Messiah of God. All those people who, with good intention, saw or heard of these miracles, believed in the person of Christ whom the Apostles preached, recognizing him as Lord and God.
After the miracle, Peter did not depart immediately, but remained in Joppa for many days. The newly established Church and the many who came to believe in Jesus because of the miracle had need of his help and his teaching so Peter stayed with them to teach them the Gospel and to give them support in the new faith.
As mentioned in the beginning, this Sunday is known as the Sunday of the Paralytic because of the reading which is dedicated to the miracle of the Paralytic of Bethesda. Let’s hear the reading which is from St. John, chapter 5: verses 1-15.
“At that time, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.”
Being that we are in the forty day period where we celebrate the Resurrection until the Ascension we would expect the Gospel readings for these Sundays to make direct mention of the Resurrection just as they did on the previous two Sundays – Thomas Sunday and Sunday of the Myrrhbearers. One might ask; what has today’s reading got to do with the Resurrection? If fact it has a great deal to do with the message of the Resurrection. The Lord’s Resurrection is his victory over sin and the devil, his triumph over death which was the result of sin. Our own resurrection is the putting to death of our sinful passions which bring about death and our return to the Lord: our resurrection is the renewal of our relationship and communication with him. Our union with Christ, our sanctification and deification, which is our personal resurrection, is the purpose for which Christ suffered the Crucifixion and then Resurrected. But the complete life of Christ, all his teaching, all his miracles and every station of his life have but one aim, one intention, one target – the Resurrection which again has only one target – our own resurrection. In other words the abandonment of this mortal life which is our fall and our union with Christ so that we might live with him forever. This is the purpose of creation and recreation, this is the whole work of God for as Christ said “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” (John 5:17) The divine work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is our resurrection from death and our union with God. Our sanctification is our resurrection, our deliverance from the captivity from the passions of sin. Our suffering in this world is a result of man’s fall and his captivity to the sinful passions. To be delivered from this suffering means to be cured not only of the bodily ailments but also of the ailments of the soul. This is what we see in the miracle of the Paralytic of Bethesda.
The Paralytic was by the pool of Bethesda together with a great multitude of others, who suffered from various illnesses, and who waited for the moving of the water. As it says in the Gospel reading, an Angel came down from heaven at a certain time and troubled the water giving it a sanctifying and therapeutic grace. The first person who managed to enter the water was cured of whatever illness he had and then the water lost its miraculous quality and everyone waited for the next coming of the angel. Through this action the Spirit of God what to show us that man’s cure whether it be in body or soul can only come from heaven: health is a gift of Grace. How often the angel came down and troubled the water is not known. Some say that it was once a year, but this would not seem logical. If it was a yearly visit, then everyone would have gone to their homes and returned nearer the time of the yearly visit. In all probability the troubling of the water must have occurred many times during the year.
It would seem that the person who faced the greatest calamity and pain was the Paralytic, not only because he was paralyzed but also because his condition was chronic: he had been suffering for thirty eight whole years. For all this time he was bedridden not being able to even sit on a chair. The hymns of the Church say of him that he was as “An unburied corpse” and that “his bed became his grave”. The hymns also transfer his bodily condition to his soul which was not like an innocent bystander, but was also paralyzed from sins and improper actions.
The Paralytic waited like all the other people for the coming of the angel, but he couldn’t by himself move and fall into the pool. The others probably suffered less and could move or they had help, but the Paralytic was motionless had no-one to help him and this was his greatest sorrow – the human abandonment. He had no support, no comfort, from either family or friend. He was deserted from every help. Nowhere was to be found someone unselfish enough who would sacrifice a little of his love for his neighbour, just to show him the remotest affection by pushing him into the water and put an end to his martyrdom.
In spite of all his suffering, the Paralytic doesn’t become despondent and neither does he abandon the pool to go home and cry for his suffering without human comfort and wait for his death. He endures and waits patiently for such a long time. He believes that one day Grace from heaven will come for him also. Why else would he have remained by the pool for so many years?
Christ is always near to the suffering, invisibly of course, and takes care even of the least of men for as he assures us “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Luke 12:7) He gives strength to his creature whom he loves, so that he can withstand the pain, which he allows, so that the suffering will contribute to his salvation. When a man is weak and unable to withstand a trial, God will not allow it. In the case of the Paralytic who required superhuman strength to withstand so much pain for such a long period of time, God would surely have given him the strength.
Christ, as the all wise provider, judges that it is now time for the Paralytic to be cured. He will crown him for his great endurance, for his fight with the pain he suffered for thirty eight years, for his virtue of patience, for his faith and for his hope. Christ visits the pool by himself and goes straight to the person who had the greatest need, who had no help from anyone and asks him: “Do you want to be made whole” The question was not made out of ignorance but to reveal the Paralytic’s patience, his will and his desire to be cured. Of course he wants to be whole again. But Jesus’ question is valid for every person, who even though someone might not have a bodily ailment, his soul is definitely full of disease. We all suffer from the illnesses of the soul, in other words, the passions of sin. With his question, Jesus wants to stress the great importance he gives to our free will and consent before he gives us his Grace and grants us bodily health and more importantly health of the soul. If we reject his saving grace he will not impose it upon us by force, we will remain without his grace and self condemn ourselves to decay and death.
Christ not only has the power to cure us, but also to make us saints if we so wish. He respects our freedom. We can at any time accept or reject his sanctifying grace, and everyone who desired and said yes to his calling became saints no matter what sins they had beforehand. All sins are forgiven when man desires to accept with repentance the grace of God. That is why thieves and harlots, publicans and persecutors of the Church became apostles and martyrs, and other who said no like the Scribes and the Pharisees rejected salvation from Christ. Thus, apart from divine grace it is also necessary for our own free will and consent.
But there is another reason for Christ’s question, so that the Paralytic’s answer would be heard when he said: “I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool:” The cruelty, the stone-heartedness and the indifference of the people was due to the absence of God’s grace within them. When we break the relationship and communion with God and live by our own laws, we become strangers not only to God but also to other humans and we neither care nor sympathise nor feel sorrow for the pain others suffer. The passion of atomism and egocentricity makes us blind to the suffering of others. We are bereft of God’s grace which loves even one’s enemies.
The first and great reward for the Paralytic’s patience is that he was accounted worthy to have a dialogue with Christ. This alone was worth all his suffering. The Paralytic did not know Christ, but hearing him speak, he possibly believed that at last there was found someone who would help put him into the water. Little did he know that the healing quality of the pool was nothing compared to source of all healing that now stood before him. Christ then says to him: “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” How absurd that must have sounded to those that heard him. Everyone knew that the Paralytic had to enter the water to be cured. But he had never been in the water and now receives an order to not only get up and stand on his feet, but also to immediately walk and also lift the weight of his bed upon his shoulders and go home: And all this after being motionless for thirty eight years. Even the best doctor would say that it was absurd and impossible for all these things to happen in an instance, without exercise, without physiotherapy. The normal and natural procedure is to proceed slowly until the limbs gain the lost strength.
The Paralytic who knew his own disability could have thought that it was all a joke and laugh with what this stranger had told him. But it didn’t cross his mind because it would seem that first his soul was cured of its paralysis which then moved towards Christ with faith. And because he believed what was unbelievable to others, he obeyed, got up, stood on his feet, lifted his bed and took the road for his home. The miracle was complete. It was made in full view of everyone and no one could refute it.
The Jews considered the miracle a sin because it happened on the Sabbath. The Law clearly states that all work is forbidden on the Sabbath. But Christ is the New Creation that came into the world to make everything new and renews even the laws concerning the Sabbath. He gives it a new meaning, which helps in the renewal of man for which everything was created. That which justifies us is not our abstention from work on the Sabbath but our abstention from sin. When man is united with God, he will do God’s work even on the Sabbath just as he would do on any other day and avoid only the works of sin and the devil. Thus what Christ is telling us is that the only thing that tires and exhausts us and needs to be rested is sin. With this new way, man receives God’s grace which saves him as it did the Paralytic. Christ said to him Arise as he also said to the son of the widow from Nain and to Jairus’ daughter. The Church, interpreting these miracles says in her hymns that “Christ as God and man gives a double cure to man”. When he says “arise” he means arise according to the body and according to the soul. Christ is not interested only in one part of man but in all of man. And the Paralytic arose completely; according to the body from his bed and according to his soul from the passions of sin.
So now the Paralytic is no more the Paralytic; he has received from Christ mercy, grace and his own resurrection. But there is one more thing he must do of his own free will: he must not walk carelessly, but walk in all righteousness the ways of the Lord so that his soul may continue to live the resurrection it received from its fall. From the reading it appears that the paralysis of his body was the result of his soul being first paralyzed through the transgression of the divine commandments. That is why when Christ met him again in the temple he says to him: “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” This is something that we should all think on: that sin is the greatest paralysis which obstructs our movement towards God which is our destination.
The Paralytic certainly appeared to have come to his senses. As we see, Christ met him in the temple and not in some place of enjoyment trying to make up for the lost time he had during his illness. His chronic suffering helped him return to God and be united with him and also with his fellow brothers and sisters even if they didn’t show him the least compassion.