06 May 2012

Homily on the Paralytic, 2012

Where were you thirty eight years ago? I was fresh out of high school, working at a drug store for a dollar an hour, thinking about heading off to college in the fall. Richard Nixon was the president. Gold was about $165 an ounce. The #1 song was “Locomotion,” done by Grand Funk Railroad. Thirty eight years ago, most of you weren’t born yet. For all intents and purposes, 38 years is a lifetime ago.
 I raise the question to highlight how long this man had waited, helpless, at the pool of Bethesda. St. John mentions that the pool had five porticoes. From time to time an angel would come down and stir up the water; the one to enter the water first would be healed.
Perhaps we can see here a veiled reference to the Law of Moses. It was made up of five books; it was ministered by angels…but it lacked the power to bring about change. The problem wasn’t the Law; the problem was, as St. Paul says elsewhere, that through fear of death we were subject to lifelong bondage. So close, and yet so far away.
The paralytic wanted to be healed. Why else would he stay there for thirty eight years? But, as he told the Lord, “I have no man to help me.” Wanting to be healed wasn’t enough. “I have no man to help me.” He spoke those words to the one and only man who could help him—the God-man, Jesus Christ. With one word from Christ, thirty-eight years of waiting come to a sudden end. “Get up,” the Lord says, “take up your bed and walk.” And at once the man got up.
Beloved, this paralyzed man has much to teach us—first, that self-help strategies count for nothing, unless we are connected to Christ. If we could change those things that trouble us by ourselves, wouldn’t we have done it by now? And yet we think, “Why trouble God with this problem? I should try to fix it myself. If I could just find the right self-help book…” Listen to the paralytic—he gets it right. I have no man to help me. There can be no healing, no forgiveness, no change in my life apart from Jesus Christ.
Second, he reminds us about patience. How many of us give up on prayer for some great need because our prayers are not answered at once? How many of us consign ourselves to hopelessness because our weak wills aren’t able to bring about change in our lives? God is faithful to his promises. Ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.
And let us reflect on the pool of Bethesda—literally, “the house of mercy.” Like so much in the Old Testament times, it was a foreshadowing of something greater to come. This healing water, touched by angels, points forward to the greater and better water of Holy Baptism. Bethesda healed bodies; baptism cleanses souls. Bethesda healed one only, and from time to time; baptism washes each and every one who comes, no matter when they come.
When, then, we struggle with our own paralysis, let us return to our baptism. For there we were joined to the God-man, Jesus Christ. We were buried together with him by baptism into death, so that as he rose from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Let us not grow faint because the struggle is long; but let us read and ponder God’s promises and cling to Christ in prayer.
And finally, as Christ gives us healing let us guard ourselves from falling back to where we came from. When Christ meets the man in the Temple he tells him, “Look, you are made well. Sin no more, lest something worse befall you.” Don’t read this as a threat—it isn’t. Christ doesn’t say, “Sin no more, lest I get angry with you.” He says, “lest something worse befall you.” Christ does not heal us so that we may seek our own will; he heals us so that we might seek his will.
 So if the struggle is long—keep at it! Wait on the Lord in prayer. Seek his face. He isn’t ashamed to help paralytics, and tax collectors, and prostitutes. The only folks he has no time for, are those who have no use for him. Return to your baptism, and trust that he who joined you, there, to Christ, will continue to work in your life until he brings you at last to his Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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