Fr. Richard's Sunday Homily, April 22, 2018
Sunday of the Paralytic Man
Putting Christ First
Epistle: Acts 9:32-42
Gospel: John 5:1-15
For centuries the Pool of Bethesda had been lost. Nobody knew where it was. Some scholars suggested St. John had invented the place. But around 1850 a German Protestant missionary began digging in Jerusalem and he found the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda, as well as the Byzantine church that had been built at that site. Mel and I saw those ruins when we were there, not far from the Roman Catholic Church of St. Anne, at the place where the Mother of God was born, and not far from the Orthodox Church where the Mother of God was buried.
In St. John’s Gospel there doesn’t seem to be anything that sets the paralyzed man apart from the other sick and wounded gathered at the pool. He doesn’t call on Jesus. He’s just one of the crowd. But for some reason Jesus calls on him and asks if he wants to be cured. “Yes” he replies. Jesus tells him to pick up his mat and go. The man is healed. He picks up his mat and goes. It never struck me before this year how strange one element of this story is. The man doesn’t say anything to Jesus after he is healed. Now it’s true the Gospel says Jesus slipped away into the crowd, but surely not before the man had a chance to say something to Him. The paralytic doesn’t seem to have any kind of spiritual response at all to his cure, and certainly not one to Jesus, unlike many others in John’s Gospel.
When the Jewish leaders ask him who told him to carry his mat, he has no idea who it was. It was just “the man who healed me.” For the Paralytic Jesus was just one of the crowd. The man doesn’t look for Him to thank Him or ask Him any questions. Jesus is just one of the crowd for him, and nothing seems to connect Him to this man’s life or his faith now that he is cured. Jesus is just the guy who healed him. He doesn’t even know His name.
As we look around our society today we see more and more people who are less and less spiritual, despite their claims that they are only avoiding religion. Prayer and worship are not a part of their lives. They reject the idea that the Christian faith or the teachings of the Church represent and explain the truth about our lives and the truth about God, and the truth about our relationship with God. They often focus on the moral teaching of the Church, deciding what they will accept or reject based on their personal feelings about the issues. Sadly, there are even Catholics who do the same, and have no problem doing so. Such decisions are rarely based on a careful and thoughtful study of the teaching of the Church, but on an emotional reaction to whatever the topic is, and, it seems to me, that they are also often heavily influenced by what the media tell them is the attitude and position of smart people. Most people would agree that to take care of the poor and the homeless is a very important value to have, but they have no idea that this value comes not from the pagan world, nor the secular world, but it comes from the Christian faith.
So we find a lot of rejection of worship, prayer and moral standards that the Church represents. But there is usually one thing we do not find: a rejection of Jesus. That doesn’t mean there is an ACCEPTANCE of Jesus. It means that Jesus is not even in the picture. He’s just one of the crowd. Like the Paralytic, so many people have no idea Who He is, or how He is connected to the Church. As I mentioned earlier, and if you reflect on this I think you will agree, there are many young people today who have no idea of Who Jesus is. They never even hear the names “Jesus” and “Christ” except as an expression of swearing and cursing in the movies and on the street.
And this is the question that so many religion-free people, unlike the Jewish leaders in the Gospel, never ask of us: “Who told you?” Who told you about the need to pray? Who told you that the unborn and the sick and elderly have a right to live? Who told you about what a real marriage is? Who told you what sin is, what virtue is, what the purpose of your life is? Who told you?
Our answer, each time, and all the time, must be Jesus even if we are not asked. We must help those who reject the way of faith to see they are not rejecting an institution, or a culture, or a religion invented by people, but in fact they reject Jesus. For we carry His words, His teachings and His grace as Christians. We do not belong to the Church because of any other reason than that the Church is the Body of Christ. We do not hold our moral and ethical standards for any other reason than that they are given to us by Christ. We do not pray and worship for any other reason than to give what is due to Jesus Christ, God our Father, and the Holy Spirit. That must be firmly planted in our own minds first before we speak with those who do not agree with us. He is the source of all we believe. Naturally just bringing Jesus into the picture will not necessarily convince people, but at least we are standing in the right place.
Unlike the Jewish leaders who asked the man, “Who told you to pick up your mat and walk?” it is not likely people who disagree with us, or do not have faith, will ask us, “Who told you to believe that?” But we should always be ready to speak of Him, to talk of the life He offers, to teach His truth and glorify His name. For us, it is often so easy to forget that Jesus Christ is Lord. And as St. John tells us, He is Light and Life.
It is easier to just want to be one of the crowd, like the parents of the Man Born Blind we will hear of in two weeks. But we must put Christ first in all things or else we risk losing our way. We must put Christ first in all things so that we may happily invite others to follow Him in joy as we do. May it be so!