Sin, not sickness.

Homily 588 – 2 GL
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 31, 2024
Epistle:  (304) – Hebrews 1:10-2:3 and (318) – Hebrews 7:26-8:2
Gospel:  (7) – Mark 2:1-12 and (36) – John 10:9-16

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

Every year when we read this Gospel, I’m struck that the focus isn’t where I think it should be.  My humanity wants to go to the healing as the focus.  Here is a paralytic who struggles – or, rather, his friends struggle – mightily to get him before Jesus.

Successfully, too!  In the end, the man gets up and walks out, to the amazement of everyone present, and surely to the amazement of everyone who heard of the account later.  But the more I encounter this passage, I’m reminded again and again that the healing isn’t the point at all.

This passage reveals something that applied to the paralytic, and also to us.  Christ is about healing – but not necessarily healing our physical limitations or illnesses.  He is first and foremost interested in forgiveness.  Forgiving our sins – that is to say, forgiving our imperfections.

It is almost like Christ tells us that the physical body doesn’t matter – because it will eventually pass away and die.  That doesn’t mean that we should abuse our bodies, or that we should not care if our bodies live or not.

What it does mean is that the body is a gift from God.  We became separated from God at the fall of humanity.

An important theme we will hear repeatedly during Great Lent and Holy Week is that Christ came to save fallen Adam, and by that, Christ saves us all.  All humanity.

So, in the same way, when we read Genesis, we shouldn’t read the account of the fall as happening to a special human long ago.  We should read that account as us.

We are the ones who fell, because Adam is each of us and all of us.  After all, if Christ is said to save Adam, and Adam is us, then we need to be consistent.  If we are Adam now, then we are Adam in Genesis 3.

And it isn’t just poor old ancestor Adam that questions God.  It isn’t just Adam who listens to himself rather than his creator.  It is us.  Adam represents us – Eve represents us.  Adam is us – Adam is me.

So one thing that this season should be telling us is that this isn’t about anyone else.  It is about us.  If we understand that like the paralytic we are also limited, and broken, then we need to also understand that the priority isn’t on our physical bodies.

The priority is on our eternal being.  The bodies we have are amazing and wonderful gifts of God, and we should – we must – take care of the bodies we inhabit.  Not because of some inherent value, though.  We take care of the body because it is the temple of God, which houses what was made in God’s image.  The temple of the Holy Spirit.

That is why the body is important.  But Christ makes quite clear that while we need to take care of our body, if our body gets in the way of our soul – our connection to God and connection with God – we should prioritize God.

If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  That is to say, prioritize your soul and spirit, not your body.  As Christ says it is better to enter the Kingdom maimed than not enter the Kingdom at all.

Christ isn’t focused on our appearance, nor on how we feed or clothe or shelter ourselves.  Christ did none of those things.  He had no home, He had one set of clothes, He didn’t carry food and often didn’t eat at all.

He did the minimum necessary to keep the body functioning.  When He went into the desert to be tempted, He fasted eating nothing for 40 days.  But the temptations offered to Him by the Evil One weren’t food, or clothing, or shelter.

The temptations put before Christ were human, earthly power.  Satan tried to stoke Christ’s human ego, the same way he tried to fool Adam and Eve into following their ego instead of God.

See, Satan didn’t know if this was the Son of God or not.  He never found out.  As we will hear on Holy Friday and Holy Saturday, only after the crucifixion and death did Satan get the full picture of what has happened.

In the end, it was Satan’s ego that destroyed him.  Satan’s unwillingness to acknowledge and worship God.

Yet, we who live in physical bodies still think it horrific if our bodies are not indulged.  If our ego isn’t built up.  We demand tasty food, that we never feel hunger, that we experience warmth and comfort in all seasons.  That we experience status and the praise of others.  That we have power.

But everything that is given in this physical world is an illusion of pleasure – an illusion of joy.  It isn’t real.  It fades away, quickly, and perishes.  And like a drug, it creates in us the desire to do it again.  To experience power again, to experience wealth and status and praise again.

Like our physical bodies, those passions and wants will die with our physical limitations and deformities.  Only the spirit will continue.  And in the great resurrection, when the new heaven and new earth are brought forth, we will have new bodies, bodies without limitations, bodies that will never perish.

When Christ tells us that He forgives us – like He told the paralytic – He forgives us for one purpose.  To live with Him and in Him.  To repent of the self-determination that is so common of our day and age.  To live not for ourselves, but for others.

That is the fast we undertake.  To heal us physically and mentally and emotionally is a great blessing – but we will still pass away, our bodies will return to the dust from which it was taken.

The fast we undertake is not to heal our body.  The fast we undertake is to heal our soul and our spirit.

So brothers and sisters, fast – and repent – for the Kingdom of God is here.

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