The Courage to Be Human

John 5:1-15
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, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’” Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

This Gospel speaks about obeying God rather than looking for mere miracles/magic in one’s life, and not making rules and rubrics more important than God Himself.

But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’  (Jeremiah 7:23)

The Paralytic heard the voice of God when Christ spoke to him and he obeyed the voice of God.  Notice in the Gospel lesson Jesus doesn’t say anything about healing the paralytic.  Jesus issues a command and the paralytic walks in the way that God commanded him – literally!  He was made well – it was well with him – because the paralytic obeyed God’s voice.  Hebrews 3:7-11 describes exactly what it is like when God’s people do not hearken to His voice:

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'”

The Paralytic did not harden his heart but rather he heard God’s voice and obeyed for immediately he got up and picked up his bed.  He chose to obey this voice which apparently he recognized immediately as God’s – and as the events unfold it becomes obvious that prior to this, this man did not listen to God’s voice.

At the very end of today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the healed paralytic, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”   This seems to imply that the paralytic had gotten himself into the condition in which he was in and had suffered for 38 years.  Somewhere in his life, he had made choices that had long term consequences.  He had been ignoring God’s voice for a very long time, but at this moment he changes his life.

But there is a message of hope – even if you are in the condition you are in because of your choices, it is possible to change, to make other choices, to get things right in your life.  To learn from the past and to take path in life, even if late in life.

Jesus asks us as he asked the paralytic 2000 years ago, do you want to be made well?  Are you willing to make the spiritual changes in your life to start on a new path – to start life over again?  Are you willing to listen to the voice of God and walk in His ways?

Are you willing to change, or make the changes necessary for a new life?

And we can ask ourselves:

Do I want to give up my grudges, when I have not yet gotten vengeance on those who hurt me?  Do I want to give up my righteous anger, when I have not vindicated?  When I have not yet been validated by others recognizing the righteousness of my case?

Do I want to give up the pains, sorrows and excuses for my behavior?  Or do I want to hold on to them because they help me justify my behavior?

Do I want to give up my lusts and desires?  Or perhaps like St. Augustine I want to say, “Deliver me, O Lord, from my sexual lusts, but not just yet for I still enjoy them”?

We are human beings, we do have free will, free choice and personal responsibility.  In any given situation we can rise above our biologically determined desires  and say no to our self.  We can choose a behavior, a morality, we can refuse to do something we feel driven to do – whether by hormones or emotions.

About 20 years ago a radio talk show psychologist said:  “You know the final excuse that really gets my hackles to full quivering attention?  It’s when callers protest that they are ‘only human.’  ONLY human?  As if one’s humanness were a blueprint for instinctive, reflexive reactions to situations, like the rest of the animal kingdom.  I see being ‘human’ as the unique opportunity to use our mind and will to act in ways that elevate us above the animal kingdom.”  (Dr Laura Schlessinger, HOW COULD YOU DO THAT?, p 9)

The attitude of that psychologist fits well into Orthodox spirituality which sees us humans as being specially gifted by God precisely to rise up above our animal nature.  It doesn’t deny that we have animal desires, instincts, genetics.  It just says but God has blessed us with hearts and minds that can choose to rise above the limits of our animal nature.

We are indeed dealt some things in life – our genes or even our epi-genetic make-up,  the time and place of our birth, the family we are raised in.  We have no control over these things and they do influence our lives.

However, our situations in life are not completely determined by external conditions, they also result from our character, courage, morality, values, life-style and choices.

It is possible for us to change many things about ourselves and the choices we make.

St. Symeon the New Theologian writes:    “Baptism does not take away our free will or freedom of choice, but gives us the freedom no longer to be tyrannized by the devil unless we choose to be.  After baptism it is in our power either to persist willingly in the practice of the commandments of Christ, into whom we were baptized, and to advance in the path of His ordinances, or to deviate from this straight way and to fall again into the hands of our enemy, the devil…. We are created good by God – for God creates nothing evil – and we remain unchanging in our nature and essence as created.  But we do what we choose and want, whether good or bad, of our own free will.”

Jesus calls us to grow and to change:

A Call to repentance

Call to forgiveness

Call to the truth

Call to love.

 

Each of these are telling us to change, to become what we are not yet.  Each is a call to be courageous enough to be human – rise above your instincts, your desires, your DNA and become what God created every human to be – God like.

We, like the paralytic, need to hear God’s voice, recognize it as God’s, and to walk in His ways.

Advertisements

St Ephrem of Syria On Paradise

A person who has acquired

good health in himself

and is aware in his mind

of what sickness is,

has gained something beneficial,

and he knows something profitable;

but the person who lies

in sickness;

and knows in his mind

what good health is like,

is vexed by his sickness

and tormented in his mind.

Had Adam conquered,

he would have acquired

glory upon his limbs,

and discernment of what suffering is,

so that he might be radiant in his limbs

and grow in discernment.

But the serpent reversed all this

and made him taste

abasement in reality,

and glory in recollection only,

so that he might feel shame at what he had found

and weep at what he had lost.

The tree was to him

like a gate;

its fruit was the veil

covering that hidden Tabernacle.

Adam snached the fruit,

casting aside the commandment.

When he beheld that Glory

within,

shining forth with its rays,

he fled outside;

he ran off and took refuge

amongst the modest fig trees.

In the midst of Paradise God had planted

the Tree of Knowledge

to separate off, above and below,

Sanctuary from Holy of Holies.

Adam made bold to touch,

and he was smitten like Uzziah:

the king became leprous;

Adam was stripped.

Being struck like Uzziah

he hastened to leave:

both kings fled and hid,

in shame at their bodies.

Even though all the trees

of Paradise

are clothed each in its own glory,

yet each veils itself at the Glory:

the Seraphs with their wings,

the trees with their branches,

all cover their faces so as not to behold

their Lord.

They all blushed at Adam

who was suddenly found naked;

the serpent had stolen his garments,

for which it was deprived of its feet.

God did not permit

Adam to enter

that innermost Tabernacle:

this was withheld,

so that he might first prove pleasing

in his service of that outer Tabernacle.

Like a priest

with fragrant incense,

Adam’s keeping of the commandment

was to be his censer;

then he might enter before the Hidden One

into that hidden Tabernacle.

The symbol of Paradise

was depicted by Moses

who made the two sanctuaries,

the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies;

into the outer one,

entrance was permitted

but into the inner,

only once a year.

So too with Paradise,

God closed off the inner part

but He opened up the outer,

wherein Adam might graze.

(Ephrem the Syrian, Treasure-house of Mysteries, pp. 48-50)

Christianity is Materialist!

“My faith, finally, is that if I am canceled by the power death has in our world, then God’s greater power can overcome it.”  (John Garvey, Death and the Rest of Our Life, p. 78)

On my first visit to Armenia in 1990, I visited the home of Anahid and Kevork Oynoyan. They had lost their twelve-year-old son, Armen, in the catastrophic earthquake of December 1988, and Kevork was profoundly depressed as a result. . . .  He got up and brought back a copy of the New Testament and a book that had been distributed by the Hare Krishna sect describing the transmigration and reincarnation of the soul. He asked if I would explain the difference between reincarnation and the Christian belief in the resurrection. He said that in his atheism classes years before he had been taught that Christianity is spiritualist.  If that was so, weren’t reincarnation and resurrection essentially the same?

I suggested that we read 1 Corinthians 15, where St. Paul defends the belief in the resurrection of the body and the soul.  In silence, visibly and deeply absorbed, Kevork read that chapter not once but several times.  Then joyfully shouted, “So Christianity is materialist!”  The darkness had lifted, because in St. Paul’s teaching Kevork had discovered what he had hoped would be there but had not found in the book on reincarnation: the assurance that he would see his son again, recognize him, and be able to love him in an embrace of the resurrected flesh.  In the person of Jesus Christ, God’s love is manifested as life. Jesus’ resurrection proclaims the triumphant power of love and life over death.

 (Vigen Guroian, Life’s Living Toward Dying, pp. 27-28)

 

Obedience as Discipleship

In the writings of the desert fathers, there is an interesting interplay that occurs regarding a literal understanding of instructions and a literal understanding of the scriptures.  The Scriptures reveal Christ and so often are not understood literally or historically but rather are read as signs or prophecies or prototypes of Christ.  The Scriptures are to help us remain faithfully united to Christ – and thus their historical or literal truthfulness is not the really important issue.   The issue is how they reveal Christ to us and help us follow Christ.  In the early Church it is often the heretics who hold to a completely literal interpretation of every text and who fail to understand the true scope of the Scriptures.  On the other hand, one sees a literalism that is related to obedience in which the disciple tries to fulfill the wish of the teacher to the letter of the law.  So we read:

On another occasion the blessed Arsenius said to Abba Alexander: “Come and eat with me when you have cut your palm-fronds, but if some guests come, eat with them.” So Abba Alexander worked away evenly and moderately; when the time came, he still had palm-fronds. Wishing to fulfill the elder’s instruction, he stayed to complete the palms. When Abba Arsenius saw that he was late, he ate, thinking that [Abba Alexander] had guests, but Abba Alexander went [to him] when he had finished the palm-fronds in the evening and the elder said to him: “You had guests?” and he said: “No.” “So why did you come?” [the elder] said to him. “Because you said to me: ‘When you have cut your palm-fronds, come then,’” he said, “and, observing your instruction, I did not come because I only completed [the task] just now.” The elder was amazed at his scrupulosity and he said to him: “Break your fast earlier so you can perform your synaxis and partake of your water, otherwise your body will soon sicken.” (Give Me a Word: Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers, pp. 44-45)

Many in the early church read the sin of Eve and Adam as being one of prideful disobedience.  The corrective as they saw it was for Christians to be disciples – to follow the discipline of their teachers and not follow their own self-willfulness.  Thus we find in the desert fathers many stories of monks diligently and scrupulously obeying their elder’s instructions, even to the point of absurdity.  Of course, the point is not to do the absurd, but to emphasize the need to be a disciplined follower of Christ.

Christianity is a Hope

“Christianity, claims Michel Quenot, is not a moral structure but a hope. It is a witness to the fact that ‘Christ, by his death, has conquered death,’ and that all are now able to participate in his eternal Life. This is possible to the extent that one is willing to welcome the Word of God into the very depths of one’s being, to open one’s heart to that which the eyes of flesh can no longer see and to fulfill one’s true nature as created in the image of God. The Church Fathers teach us that man is called to become a mediator for all that became separated through sin and which Christ reunited in his person: the heart and the mind, the soul and the body, matter and spirit, heaven and earth.”

(Maxime Egger in The Resurrection and the Icon by Michel Quenot, p x)

Finding Christ in the Mystery

Attend

Notice! Jesus stands just before you,

waiting in the tabernacle shaped

for you–shaped precisely for you!

He burns with great desire

to enter into your heart.

 

Ignore the yammering demon

telling you “not so!” Laugh in his pinched face

and turn without fear to receive

the Jesus of quiet calm and utmost love.

Partake of His Mysteries often,

often as you can, for in Them you find

your sole, entire remedy, assuming–

of course–you would be cured. Jesus has not

impressed this hunger in your heart for nothing.

This gentle Guest of our souls

knows our every ache and misery.

He enters, desiring to find a tent, a bower

prepared for His arrival within us,

and that is all, all He asks of us.

(Scott Cairns, Love’s Immensity, pp. 138-139)

The Resurrection in Our Life

“How the facts of Christ’s life perplex us! Never are they exactly what we are expecting. And yet they go even further and are more positive than we were expecting. Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus, but Jesus is He whom no sepulchre can contain or restrain.

The women bring aromatic spices to the tomb; now it is a God already risen whom they plan to anoint. A woman breaks a jar of perfume on the Lord’s living body, in order to give Him glory; now Jesus says that it is with a view to His burial that she performed this act. The cross seems to destroy hope, but the resurrection destroys despair.

The divine acts, which ruin our plans, go beyond either hope or despair. Thus it is with each of Jesus’ interventions in our personal life. Every one of them makes something explode, but also makes flight possible. Jesus won’t fit into any of our plans. His presence, His word, break every bound.

(A Monk of the Eastern Church, Jesus, a Dialogue with the Savior, pp. 19-20)

Holy Myrrhbearing Women

As the true friends of the Creator were saying this,

Mary, who was following, said,

“Initiates of the Lord and his truly fervent lovers, do not think like this;

but be patient, do not lose heart.

For what has happened was a dispensation,

so that women, as those who were the first to fall,

might be the first to see the risen One.

He wishes to grant to us who mourn the grace of his ‘Rejoice!’,

he who grants resurrection to the fallen.”

On the Life of Christ: Kontakia, p. 170)

Frequently, the Patristic writers see the Gospel events as an “undoing” of the Fall of Eve and Adam.  In the poem above, St. Romanos the Melodist, explains  that the Women Disciples of the Lord learn about the resurrection before the chosen Apostles so that woman would be given the opportunity to “reverse the curse”.  Eve fell before Adam, but now the women get to share the Good News with the men.  All sin is forgiven in the resurrection as humans are put on the path to the Kingdom of God and allowed to enter into Paradise again.

Humans Were Created for Christ

St Nicholas Cabasilas  says that we humans were created by God with our unique set of characteristics precisely that we might know Christ. Adam was created with Christ already “in mind”  –  God didn’t send Christ into the world in response to a broken Adam, rather God created Adam in Christ’s image so that Christ could become incarnate as a human.   The human was designed to be capable of bearing God.   God knew where He was going with these creatures created in God’s image – with mind, desire, reason and memory.  God the Trinity was planning for the incarnation of God the Son from before the humans were ever first created.  Adam was not the model for Christ, but rather Christ was the Archetype which made the particular human characteristics necessary so that God could be incarnate as a human.  God knew what was needed in a creature for the incarnation to take place, and God created us accordingly to prepare us and the world for the incarnation.

“It was for the new man that human nature was created at the beginning, and for him mind and desire were prepared. Our reason we have received in order that we may know Christ, our desire in order that we might hasten to Him. We have memory in order that we may carry Him in us, since He Himself is the Archetype for those who are created. It was not the old Adam who was the model for the new, but the new Adam for the old, even though it is said that the new Adam was generated according to the likeness of the old (Rom 8:3) because of the corruption which the old Adam initiated.

The latter Adam inherited it in order that He might abolish the infirmity of our nature by means of the remedies which He brings and, as Paul says, so ‘that which is mortal might be swallowed up by life‘ (2 Cor. 5:4).”   (The Life in Christ, p 190)

The Risen Christ: A Drop of the Ocean

Christ is risen, chosen people! The earth cannot harm Him, nor can the tomb restrain Him. Let your souls arise, you who are filled with the grace of Christ! Let the image of God within you shine, cleansed of earth and saved from mortal decay! Rejoice and be glad, for your Messiah, the One and Only, has conquered death, that terror of all those born on earth!

The miraculous resurrection of Christ the Lord from the tomb was completely in accord with His miraculous appearance in the world. It corresponded to His extraordinary birth from the most pure Virgin, His almighty works on earth, His heavenly wisdom and mercy, His superhuman patience and dignity in suffering injustice and torture, and His divine forgiveness of His executioners from the cross. Everything is in accord. Everything resembles and corresponds to each other. Just as you can know the nature of a whole sea from one drop of sea water, you can know the entire character of Christ from one incident of His life. His entire character represents one continuous miracle, organically consisting of innumerable miracles. He is your all-powerful Messiah, O Christ-bearers, who blessed you from the cross, from the tomb, and out of the tomb.

(St  Nikolai Velimirovich, The Faith of the Chosen People, pp.45-46)