Gospel Reading: MATTHEW 9:1-8
Link to Reading: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.
In this Gospel that the Church chose for us on the 6th Sunday of Matthew, we have many nuances that we need to pay attention to in addition to the great miracle itself. This Gospel is full of surprises!
The first surprise is that the Lord Jesus chose to get into the boat. Why did the Evangelist Matthew felt that it was necessary to mention how Jesus travelled? It is because the Lord has so many methods to achieve His will. Even though He is able to walk on water, He is the creator of water, and He can do with water what He wants. Yet he didn’t. He chose to do what humans do, and not show His Divinity. In this there is a great lesson for us, because we restrict the Lord with a limited set of methods or ways that He needs to follow when He deals with us, and if He does not listen to us, rather than wait on Him, we doubt His divinity. Even though He emphasizes in Isaiah 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
We forget that He is God, and we are the creatures. Unfortunately, we act as if it is the other way around. As if we were God and We tell Him what to do, and He should listen! Rather than wait on Him to teach us what He can do with us. In Proverbs 23:26 He says: My son, give me your heart, And let your eyes observe my ways.
The second surprise that we see happens when the Evangelist says: when Jesus saw their faith. It is usually the faith of the person that is mentioned. We hear the Lord speak so many times: Your faith has healed you, go in peace. Or If you have faith I will, or Woman, your faith is great, let it be as you want. But this time it was different, because the Evangelist does not mention anything about the paralytic’s faith. What is surprising is that this time it was irrelevant, the faith of those who were around him was what moved them to carry this paralytic to the Lord, and consequently moved the Lord to heal their friend. And this has two messages for us: the first is that people around us need our faith, our faith is not only necessary for us, but for everybody around us. Your faith can lift those who are around you. It can heal them, if not physically, then spiritually. Which is more important as we saw in today’s Gospel. Our faith is communal, never individual. You cannot have fire inside your heart and those around you cannot feal its warmth. The other message is what our Orthodox Church follows strongly, who connects this Gospel to many verses in the Bible, especially James 5: 16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. This is one of the reasons we ask for the prayers of the Saints, because their prayer actually works. This is what this Gospel tells us today. Intercession is not an invention of the Church, it is the experience of the Church, and in today’s Gospel, we see the experience of the healed paralytic whom his friends interceded for him.
The third and most repugnant surprise is the reaction of the Scribes who thought about Jesus: “He is blaspheming!” The Scribes were the teachers of the masses. They were not priests, but writers. They spent their whole lives in a very rigorous and mundane task: to copy Scriptures from one scroll to another. This task included cleaning before writing, writing a preset number of letters on each line, and a set number of lines on each scroll. If they made a mistake, they had to through the scroll away and start from scratch. They literally memorized the scriptures doing this for a living. What does the Scriptures teach other than to get closer to God and repent of your sins, so your sins are forgiven. Isn’t that the purpose of the law? They dedicated all their lives to writing the law. If their true purpose was to help people repent, then they of all people should be the first to become extremely happy to see that somebody’s sins are forgiven! If anyone of us was in their place he would’ve been ecstatic that forgiveness of sins is finally at hand. Any of us would’ve asked the Lord Jesus: “Can you really do that?” But this is not what the scribes did, the purpose of their lives was not to help people repentance, but to grow in stature in the eyes of others. They were serving themselves. This, my brothers and sisters, is real paralysis. When you are constrained to your thoughts about what other people think about you. Real freedom is caring only about what God thinks about you. Pleasing Him, and not people! The true shame is that people who were reading and writing about repentance all their lives, never received it. They wrote something that they never really believed.
This also reminds me of what happened to many of the Christians during COVID, they were receiving Holy communion all their lives, they said that they believed it was the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. But when COVID hit, rather than running TO the Holy Communion to be healed, they ran away from it. They didn’t believe with all their hearts that the Holy Communion was a taste of the Resurrection, the taste of Incorruption, a foretaste of the eternal and everlasting life. However, rather than judging them, it is our duty that we pray for them, so our faith can help them, like the faith of the paralytics’ friends.
The fourth surprise that we see today is that Jesus healed the paralytic, but not in the way that the people are looking for. Jesus saw what is more dangerous, what is more paralyzing, what is deeper, and what has more substantial effects. The people were expecting physical healing, but that is not why Jesus came, Jesus came for us to heal us from sin, not from sickness. If you are sick and you are praying to God to heal you, and God allowed this sickness to help you in your path of repentance, I promise you brothers and sisters, that God will listen to your prayer by healing you from sin but will keep your physical sickness. You would say: God is not listening to me, but He indeed is. You are just praying the wrong prayer. The healing of physical sickness is temporary and is easy for the Lord. He even said it is easier! but the healing from spiritual sickness has eternal effect, and this is why it is harder, because it is not only in God’s hand, it needs our collaboration with him. God needs our will to repent from sin so He can help us heal from it. This is what Jesus always has on His mind. All the people that Jesus healed died, but not all of them repented. What Jesus cares about is repentance, the healing from eternal sickness. When you are sick where do you go? To the Hospital. The Church is the spiritual hospital, and the Medicine is the Body and Blood of Christ, along with His teachings and the teachings of His living Body, the Church, the fathers, the saints.
The last surprise that we see today, is that the Evangelist said, they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. He did not say, who had given such authority to Jesus, but rather to men. This authority Jesus gave to the Apostles in John 20:21-23:
“Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This is why we come to the Priest for repentance. The priest received the Holy Spirit from the Bishop, who received the Holy Spirit from His Bishop all the way back to the Apostles. This is the teaching of Christ, this is the teaching of our Holy Orthodox Church!
May God guide us in our walk of healing from the real sickness of sin, through the prayers of our Holy Mother and of all the Saints, Amen.