Joy of All Who Sorrow

Homily for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost & Martyr Hyacinth

Gospel: [Matt. 9:1-8 (§29)]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear Father, brothers and sisters:

Today’s Gospel reading follows directly on from last week’s reading where, if you remember, we were with our Saviour in the country of the Gergasenes or the Gadarenes, in the small village of the Gergesa, in what is today known as Kersa. Despite the great miracle which had been worked in their midst, with the release of the two demonaics from their complete captivity to satan, these Gentile people of the Decapolis actually beg the Saviour of the world, God Incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ to leave their country. And so, with great meekness of heart, our compassionate Lord, assents to their request, and steps back into the boat and crosses over the sea of Galilee, this time to the north side of the Lake, to what St Matthew calls His ‘own city’, the town of Capernaum, where Jesus started His ministry.

Again, just as our Gospel reading last week seemed very similar to another better-known account in the other synoptic Gospels of Mark and Luke, the healing of the man with a legion of devils, so this week’s Gospel may also have a similar effect upon us where we hear of a ‘man sick of the palsy’, a paralysed man, carried by his friends and healed by Christ in Capernaum. This may remind us of again the better-known version preserved in Sts Mark’s and Luke’s gospels with the detail of the top of the house being removed, and the paralytic man being lowered down before Jesus. As with last week, the Fathers see St Matthew’s account as referring to exactly the same miracle. To understand today’s reading, therefore, let us turn to one of our closest fathers amongst the saints, St Nikolai (Velimirovic) – the Serbian Chrysostom – who served just over an hour away from where we are now in that beautiful and historic Shrine Chapel in Walsingham.

St Nikolai reminds us that this passage marks the completion of a series of three miracles all around the Sea of Galilee: the calming of the storm, the healing of the demonaics and finally the healing of the paralytic. As St Nikolai says –

In the briefest time, the Lord revealed three immeasurably great blessings to men: His power over nature, His power over demons and His power over sin and sickness.

We can thus see that throughout this chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel, Christ is showing us His total power and authority over the forces of the natural world, over the spiritual powers, who have to ask His personal permission to do anything, as well as – in today’s reading – over all human infirmity but even sin itself.

And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed:

In St Matthew’s more laconic account we lack some of the key details that we find in the other synoptic gospel, but the first evangelist confirms that the paralytic was indeed brought to Christ by other people, presumably his close friends, and that he was so infirm that he was lying down on a bed. What a deeply moving scene this is. To carry a sick and paralysed man such a long way must have taken not only physical strength and stamina, but also, more importantly, great faith in the ability of Christ to help and shining through all a great love for their deeply sick friend. Our Lord, in a moment saw all this. And as St Nikolai reminds us, He doesn’t just see their hearts, their love and their faith, in this immediate moment when he is presented in front of Him,

The Lord Jesus saw their faith, not only when they let the sick man down before Him, but when they lifted the bed on which the sick man lay, and set out from the house to Him.

Christ as the Alpha and the Omega, sees everything and all of us in a way which is unrestricted by space or time. He is not restricted to seeing us externally, but is able to see inside us into our hearts and can perceive the strength of the flame of faith which is kindled therein. So, our compassionate saviour looks at these friends carrying their friend and, in the words of the Gospel,

seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

There is much to unpack in this short verse. In many of the Gospel miracles, our Lord’s decision to heal someone was directly related to their person’s faith in Him. However, this is by no means the case always. Think, for example, of the recent example of the demonaics, whose demonic possession was such that they were certainly incapable of voicing anything themselves. Or think of the healing of the Centurion’s servant that we heard of about the week before. Our Lord would often be moved to heal on the basis of His compassion for the person, as well as the faith or love that was demonstrated by their friends or relatives. This again, should remind us all of the real importance of praying for the living and the departed, as even if the person we love is unable or unwilling to ask God themselves, our Lord may still heal or grant mercy on the basis of our own weak faith and our own prayers.

St Nikolai, turning specifically to the men who were carrying the paralysed man, draws attention to how their love for their friend as well as their faith in the Lord outshone all other considerations, most particularly the concern about apprearing foolish as well as any doubt or despair in the Lord’s ability to heal.

Just think what a risk these four men were taking, and what ridicule they would receive from their neighbours, were they, after such effort and the breaking up of the roof, to have to take the man back unhealed!

When the Lord exclaims – ‘Son, be of good cheer’ we could see here an acknowledgement that the man was both faithful and that He had repented. Again, as St Nikolai asks –

‘Would Christ have called an unbeliever “son”? Would He have been able to say to an unrepentant man: ‘Thy sins are forgiven Thee”?

It is important to pause here and note the fact that the forgiveness of the paralytic’s sins and his physical healing from his paralysis are two distinct actions. The first and most important thing of these two of course, is to reassure the man that his sins have been forgiven, and our Lord gives primacy to this. As St Nikolai quips – ‘it is much more important to forgive a sick man his sins than to raise him to his feet’. The granting of physical health and healing to this man comes later and was only given subsequently in response to the cynicism of the Scribes.

And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.

Again, just as the Lord saw into the hearts of the friends of the paralytic, and the paralytic himself, and sees their respective love, faithfulness and repentance, so too, in an instant, does He see the hardness of heart, the bitterness and jealousy of the Scribes and their silent accusation that our Lord blasphemes in claiming equality with God to grant forgiveness of sins.

The Lord sees and laments that within the Scribes there is no love, there is no faithfulness, there is not even real or open curiosity. They followed the crowd of people to this house in Capernaum not in order to see the Christ, but only to find grounds to condemn Him.

Despite the evil in their hearts, look again at the meekness of Christ’s response to them –

And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?

Look at the Lord’s patience and mercy. Although they condemn and criticize, He only asks with a certain innocence – why? As St Nikolai says –

Not the most careful doctor could have addressed his most dangerously-ill patients more gently than the meek and gentle Lord addressed these insane persecutors: Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts, when you could be thinking good, looking for good and rejoicing in good?

But in order to show to the Scribes and to the crowd that had followed Him the fullness of His divine authority and power, the Lord then says –

that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.

And, in the same way that the wind was calmed by a simple rebuke, and the legion of demons were removed with a single word, ‘go’, so now our Saviour heals and restores the paralytic back to health with a single phrase – Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.

By the end of our reading the people are divided in two: those who greet Christ’s coming, the coming of the One who has authority over nature, demons and sins and sickness with faith and joy in their hearts, and those lost souls, who behold all the miracles, but are so filled with hatred and envy that they can only scoff, criticize and condemn. As Nikolai says –

Christ is like a watershed. Wherever He appears, men are immediately divided into two camps: those who rejoice in good and those who do not. It is so today with men, and it was so in the days when the Lord walked the earth, clad in human flesh.

My dear father, brothers and sisters, let us resist the pride and blindness of the Scribes and Pharisees. Let our hearts not grow hardened lest we fail to rejoice in the works of the Lord, in the manifestation of His presence, His work in our lives, here and now. Rather let ours be the faithfulness and joy of the disciples in the miraculously becalmed boat, of the healed former demonaics of Gergesa and the the healed and forgiven former paralytic. As St Nikolai says,

This joy will open our eyes to see the fulness of truth in the Lord Jesus it will open our lips to acknowledge and glorify Him as the Son of God, the only Saviour and Lover of mankind. To Him be glory and praise, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit – the Trinity consubstantial and undivided, now and forever, through all time and all eternity. Amen.