the purpose of miracles

Homily 352 – Second Sunday of Great Lent
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 24, 2019
Epistle: (304) – Hebrews 1:10-2:3
Gospel: (7) – Mark 2:1-12

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

What is the greatest miracle of Christ?

We encounter in the gospels a multitude of miracles. The first miracle, changing the water to wine at the wedding in Cana.

The healing of the blind. The casting out of demons. The healing of the lame.

The man born blind. The raising of the child from the dead, or the raising of Lazarus. Or, what we find today, the paralytic.

There are arguments to be made for all of these being great. Particularly if they happen to you! And yet on this Sunday when we commemorate St. Gregory Palamas, that great saint of the 14th Century, we read about the paralytic who was healed.

And the healing of the paralytic wasn’t even the point!

This man, who cannot walk and must be physically carried from place to place, is let down to Christ through a hole in the roof. Obviously, to anyone with eyes, this man and even his friends had great faith.

And obviously, this man desired to be healed.

Christ said something different, though. He said “Your sins are forgiven.” More than that, Christ put it in the past tense – “your sins have been forgiven.”

Immediately, the scribes – the keepers and caretakers of the laws – said “Hang on – only God can forgive sins! Who does this guy think he is? Blasphemy!”

Little did they know the truth of what they spoke. And Christ knew their thoughts. Frightening to realize that Christ knows our thoughts. At least to me.

Knowing their thoughts, Christ heals the man. Not in order to demonstrate his power. Many throughout history had power to perform miracles. Throughout the Old Testament we find miracles performed by the prophets.

Miracles, to be candid, weren’t all that special in the Jewish mind.

Christ did miracles to demonstrate his authority. The authority to forgive – which the scribes thought impossible – that authority was indeed possible because Christ was God.

While many could, and did, perform miracles, only God could forgive sin.

In that respect the scribes were absolutely correct.

That forgiveness is the reason for everything – absolutely everything – that Christ came for. He established himself as the uniquely-begotten Son of God, fully God, fully human.

In whom all authority to condemn or forgive, to judge or to grant mercy, had been bestowed. Before the beginning of time.

Fast forward 1,300 years. A well-educated monk, who held a university chair at the primatial university in Constantinople, decided that we, in our humanity, could never experience God. Ever.

If we can’t experience God – what chance of forgiveness do we have? Not much.

Now, this monk, his name was Barlaam, was a very, very widely respected scholar. Distinguished, even. And when he caught wind of a practice by the Monks on Mount Athos by which they claimed to be able to experience God, he declared himself the judge.

He went to Athos, he went over the claims of the monks there, and summarily dismissed them. The Athonite Monks, called hesychasts, were wrong. They were, in the mind of Barlaam and those who respected him, bordering on heresy.

One of those hesychasts was St. Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory was also a very intelligent and well-read man. Yet, from the age of 20, he had lived the ascetical life on Mount Athos and experienced God there.

By the time Barlaam came to Athos, St. Gregory was about 35 or 40 years old, and had lived on Mount Athos for 15 or 20 years or so. He defended the hesychasts, in writing. In 1341, and again 10 years later, councils confirmed the Orthodoxy – the correctness – of St. Gregory’s teaching.

One could in fact experience God. We can, in fact, experience God. We are, in fact forgiven of our sins.

The miracles that happen around us, if we dare to notice them, are ever-present. The breath we take, the love we offer. The diversity of life. Life itself. This is a miracle.

To have our offering changed into the body and blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ – this is a miracle.

That we are forgiven, not through our actions but through Christ’s abounding grace and mercy, to eternal life – this is a miracle.

That we may call on almighty God – and call him “Father.” “Papa”.

This is a miracle.

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