Homily 221 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
July 31, 2016
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Christ left the land of the Gergasenes, and traveled across the lake.
As we read last Sunday, he was asked to leave. His holiness would have upset the lives of the locals, so he was asked to leave, and he did.
When he got to the other side, He encountered a paralytic. His friends had apparently seen Jesus coming across the lake, and brought him to the lakeshore.
Christ sees their faith. The people had already heard of this miracle worker, and were perhaps quivering that he had noticed them. Here it was – they thought – here is our friend’s moment.
And Christ did not disappoint. He told the man, be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven!
Huh? That’s it? Sins forgiven?
We don’t understand how important forgiveness is for us. We live in a very physical world, and the things we pay attention to are physical things.
But the most important things are not physical at all. They are spiritual.
We’ve discussed before how the center of our being, the Greek word is “nous”, that center used to govern everything we did.
The body and the intellect looked to the nous for direction and guidance, even look to the nous for control on some levels.
But the sin that entered humanity upset the natural order. The physical and intellectual took over the nous. The nous didn’t die, but it no longer was the source of our humanity.
That source became the physical and intellectual – not God. Before the fall of humanity, the source of humanity was God Himself. We are made in his image and likeness.
And, sadly, the source became corrupted. Substandard. Illegitimate.
And it became the new normal.
When Christ told the paralytic “Be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven!” the religious lawyers of the day thought to themselves –
Only God can forgive anything. And this guy – Jesus of Nazareth – ain’t God.
The story tells us what happened next – Jesus proved he was God by healing the physical.
Our lesson, though, is about perspective and priorities. We expect physical healing, because our world is ruled by the physical and intellectual.
But that isn’t reality.
In the real world, the one God created, before the fall, it is the spiritual – the nous – that is the ruler. Not the physical and not the intellectual.
When Jesus said to the paralytic “your sins are forgiven” he was saying to him “I am healing the essence of who you are – I am restoring your nous, the connection to God the source of all life.”
Even if Christ had done nothing else, the paralytic would have been whole – complete, unfallen. And indeed, the physical corruption would have likely been restored also.
This is perhaps the way to understand heaven and hell. Heaven is the enlightened nous, with the physical and intellect in the proper relationship to the nous, with God as the source of all life.
Hell is the opposite – the nous is not enlightened, and the presence of God sets off an internal struggle within each of us – the self, the ego, the intellect and physical struggling to maintain superiority over the nous.
And that is torture – we experience it now, and we will experience it for eternity.
Unless we repent – unless we change our focus. The Church offers us the Way, the path, by which we can pursue Heaven – an enlightened and restored nous.
Through asceticism – the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – we can place ourselves squarely on that Way, that path.
It requires repentance. It demands asceticism. And we need to begin now.
It isn’t intellectual assent. Our evangelical brothers and sisters speak of intellectual assent. It isn’t the physical acts, either. What might be called “works.”
Rather, this salvation, this enlightenment of the nous, is a spiritual act – an act of grace, by God, through the incarnation, the death, and the resurrection, of Jesus Christ.
God cleanses us – restores our nous – by forgiving us. Reconnecting us to him.
Then it is up to us, with his help and encouragement, to place our intellect and our physical natures back in the proper relationship – in submission to the nous. It is a trinity of healing.
The Church calls this “the mind being placed into the heart.” It is a phrase you hear over and over and over in the wisdom of the Church.
So what’s our takeaway here?
First, that the essence of our salvation begins with repentance, which restores our ability to connect to God.
Second, if we don’t pursue God here, and now, the world to come will be literal hell for us.
Finally, the Way, the Path, of asceticism is the path to true freedom, true healing – and true life.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!