Staying in prison.
Homily 498 – 3rd Pascha
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
May 16, 2022
Epistle: (23) – Acts 9:32-43
Gospel: (14) – John 5:1-15
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Christ is Risen! Christos Voskrese! Christos Anesthi!
In thinking of Bethesda, the pool with five porches, I tried to find a modern-day example. The closest I can come to it is Lourdes in France, where people believe the Virgin Mary made an appearance and the waters from the spring are said to have healing properties.
Some 5 million people every year visit Lourdes. Not all of them looking for healing, and of those looking for healing not all is physical. By some accounts, nearly 200 million people have visited the site since the mid 19th century, and there have been 69 healings that the Catholic Church has deemed miraculous. For those of you interested in such things, that is three 100,000ths of a percent. One healing for every 2.9 million visitors.
In the scriptural account of the pool of Bethesda, we’re not told how many people were healed, or how long it had been since a healing had taken place.
What we do know is that he had been there waiting, perhaps patiently, perhaps not, for 38 years. How he knew what to do to obtain healing we aren’t told – perhaps he witnessed someone. Perhaps it was a legend that had been passed around Jerusalem for longer than he had been alive. Maybe he had been there since he was an infant, perhaps he went there as an older man.
Regardless of the circumstance, he was there, presumably by choice, and presumably in the hope of receiving healing.
But he also recognized that he would require something else. He knew he was not able to get into the pool alone – he needed help. And one of the truly heartbreaking aspects of this account is that this man had no one.
Think about that – this man had no one. Perhaps a visitor every now and again, but no one who would be with him, waiting with him, for his deliverance.
Yet the man stayed, and hoped, even though hope was not something he had much of. Talk about faith!
How many of us would have the faith necessary to get to a place, essentially live there, and know that we are unable to benefit from it, yet still continue in the hope of healing? There is such a combination of faith, and desperation, and longing that seems to show through.
The 10th stichera at vespers for this feast, which we sang last night, vividly describes the situation of the Paralytic:
The Paralytic was like an unburied corpse.
He saw You and shouted: “Lord, have mercy on me!
My bed has become my grave! Why should I live?
What use is the Sheep’s Pool to me?
I have no one to put me into the pool when the waters are stirred.
I come to You, O Fountain of healing.
Raise me up, that with all I may cry to You://
‘Glory to You, O Almighty Lord!’”
The hymn casts the paralytic in a pretty hopeless setting. But like most things in life, the man’s condition was complicated. There is an element, I imagine, of acceptance and of comfort. This was his life – the complete totality of life – for this man. While living in hope, I imagine there was, on some level, making the best of things. Enduring, as it were. He had, most likely, come to terms with his existence by the pool.
And then Christ arrives. Asking this paralytic a really seemingly ill-advised question. A loaded question. “Do you wish to be made well?” “Do you wish to be whole?” is a more direct translation from the Greek.
It seems a silly question – at least at first. Then, we begin to realize, it isn’t silly at all.
Again, in the hymn from vespers, we heard Christ’s words to those in Hell:
Christ descended to hades proclaiming the glad tidings:
“Be bold! Now I have triumphed!
I am the Resurrection, I will lead you out,
for I have shattered the gates of death!”
Not just opened the gates. Shattered – the gates. The gates which hold us in. The infirmities that bind us, that keep us tightly bound and fettered, unable to escape. Those gates are gone. We are liberated! Like the holocaust victims in the camps, we have been liberated. Set free.
But do we want to leave? Some of us – perhaps all of us at one time or another – say no. We prefer to follow our own path. Or, no, thanks, we’re pretty comfortable here. At least, we’ve come to terms with it, and we’re content. It’s what we’re used to.
Because the question that the Savior asked the Paralytic – do you want to be whole, to be well – that is what Christ asks each of us.
The paralytic was made whole. He obeyed – took up his bed – and walked.
We too must hear – follow our liberator Christ. Or, stay put in the pit of destruction and corruption and muck that we call hell.
There is no third option.
Like the paralytic, the new world of wholeness, of being healed, is pretty frightening. No longer living from the begging of others. No longer safely confined in one place, with a life that is utterly the same each and every day.
With healing – with freedom – comes risk. We are asked to leave the place where we are. There is no gate to keep us here. We are free to leave. But sometimes, we are afraid of what is outside.
Don’t be afraid! The most common phrase in the entire scripture is “peace to you.” God offers that peace through each of us to one another – me to you, and you to me.
Follow Christ, and experience everything that the Kingdom that lies outside the gates has to offer.
We only need follow Him.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Christ is risen!