After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”
The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me said to me, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk.'” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet, and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. (John 5:1-15)
Let us consider just one phrase from the Gospel lesson:
The Paralytic tells Jesus, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool…”
Some of you know that throughout Great Lent we sang hymns which describe God as being to us “a helper and a protector.” The words come from our Scriptures. God is our helper in life. We are not alone in the world or when we are in crisis, God the Lord of the universe is also helper to each of us.
The Gospel of the Paralytic brings to mind, what if God is not there to help us? The Paralytic was lying amid invalids for 38 years the Gospel says, and the paralytic laments that in all this time, there was no one to help him.
In Genesis 2, we know that God created the 2nd human being for a purpose – to be a helper to the first human being. Adam too had no one to help him, but God decided to fix that situation by creating a 2nd human being to help the first.
Some unfortunately conclude from the creation of the 2nd human being, who also is a woman, that God intended all women to be subservient to men, but the narrative only addresses an issue of being left alone and being a helper. The next human being is to help those who exist before them. Each human being comes into existence to be a helper, not just women. For God in Scripture as we already noted is said to be a helper to us. We each are created to be God like which implies we too are to help one another. Being a help is not subservient, but being god-like. No human being should ever truly be left with no one to help them – if we each were being fully human.
After creating the 1st human, God says in Genesis 2: “It is not good for man to be alone.”
Now I am by nature a true introvert and very shy. So whenever I read that verse in which God says, “It is not good for man to be alone”….. I always think, I don’t know God, maybe you should have let that experiment run a little bit longer. It may be that being alone wasn’t good, but I know where the story is going, and what happens with the creation of the 2nd human being and subsequent human beings does not bring about even more goodness!
But the aloneness of the first man is the first thing that God ever determines is not good. In Genesis 1, after everything God created the Scriptures repeats the refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” All this goodness abounding, but then God sees that being alone for a human is not good, and that humans need helpers for one another. God sees what is not good for humans as well as what is good for us.
So besides God being our helper, God creates for each of us helpers other beings to be just like God. Our fellow human beings are created so that we each might help one another. God saw the goodness in this.
God commands us: “Be fruitful and multiply” – God wishes to have a world full of helpers, of His people whom He loves, all willing to serve and help Him as well as each other.
Our Scriptures totally envision a universe full of helpers. The Old Testament Scriptures do not envision God living alone in the vastness of any empty heaven. That idea of a God all alone unto himself is a particular image of a pure and perfect oneness, a monad lost in mental monologues completely detached from His creation comes from the imagination of philosophers. It is not the God of Scriptures. For the God of Genesis too digs into the mud of the earth to create humans, as well as trees and everything else. Our God is not OCD when it comes to messiness!
The Scriptures envision a heaven, God’s Kingdom, full of all kinds of beings – angels, bodiless powers, invisible and spiritual beings, even gods. All are to be God’s helpers. The kingdom of Heaven is bustling with the activity and life of a multitude of beings. God is not alone, dwelling in solitude thinking soliloquies. God is not an introvert. Christianity – never envisioned this monad God living within His own oneness and singularity. Rather in Christianity God is always imaged as a Trinity of Persons. Perfect relationship, three divine Persons loving not only one another but creating an entire universe with whom to share their divine life and love.
We Christians understand that God created us to be relational beings, sharing in God’s life and love but also sharing life and love with one another. To be human is to be a helper to others, including to God.
If we think about the Gospel of the Paralytic, we can ask:
Is the paralytic truly alone? Is there truly no one to help him at all?
How long can a human live without food or water? Maybe a month.
How long was the man laying with invalids? 38 years.
So someone was giving him food and water. He has basic bodily functions and needs. To be there for 38 years means someone was caring for him. Maybe no one met his expectation of helping him to be healed, but the Gospel surely suggests that there is someone, or maybe several someones who have helped him survive for 38 years. These are all invisible care givers in the narrative.
Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us we are to be helpers to one another. We are to help each other so that we can live in this world until that day that we meet Christ Jesus our Lord.
And then we have to help each other continue to live. It is not enough just to be opposed to abortion, for example. We need also to care enough to help people to continue life, to continue living, even if in difficult circumstances. We have to be the invisible people of the Gospel lesson who helped the Paralytic to live 38 years despite his problems, challenges, illness, differences. He is not alone. It is not true that there is no one to help him. There is us and we are to be helpers to every such person in our lives.
Of course there is a problem in the Gospel lesson: the paralytic is in basic competition with the rest of the invalids trying to get into those healing waters first when a miracle might occur. All the others humans at this pool, including all the other helpers have become competition to this one man. He sees none of them as his helpers, as his fellow human beings. They are only competitors whom he has dehumanized.
Again, we can think about God’s words in Genesis 2, “It is not good for man to be alone…” Really? Wouldn’t this one paralytic be better off if there were no others around him? No one to compete with him?
And the answer is no, for it is only this great crowd of people which draws Christ to that location, to that one person. And now God truly becomes the helper to this one human being, not by lifting him up, but by telling him to raise himself up. Christ does not say to this person, “let me help you up”. No, rather he shows the person that he is capable of doing things, and so shows him that he is totally capable of helping others. God turns this man into someone capable of helping others, Christ turns this one person from a pathetic paralytic into a full human being. Christ totally recreates this one person into a true human being.
And what do you think, did he become a helper to others – to one other at the pool?
The man who complained with such great self-pity, “there is no one to help me”, do you think he simply walked away from that pool and all those suffering people? Or do you think he became a Christ to even one someone else and ministered to them?
As hear the Gospel proclaimed, we are to think not just about past history, but about who am I in this Gospel lesson? Am I the paralytic before the encounter with Christ, full of self-pity and always wanting someone else to help me? Or am I the healed person capable of coming back and helping others? Am I the invisible helper who works quietly and silently behind the scenes for 38 years, helping even one someone else to survive?
In the Liturgy of St. Basil we pray to God saying:
For You, O Lord, are the Helper of the helpless, the Hope of the hopeless, the Savior of the bestormed, the Haven of the voyager, the Physician of the sick. Be all things to all people, O Lord Who knows each of us, and our request, our home and our need.
Indeed, we pray that God will be a helper and a protector to us. And then we hear Christ say, “love one another as I have loved you.” We are to become and be that helper to each other.