Saturday, May 06, 2006

Do You Want to be Healed?

Jesus healed a paralytic on a Sabbath (John 5:1-17). It almost seems like He deliberately chose the Sabbath on which to work most of his miracles. He says that his Father continues to work, and so, as the Son, He continues to work as well. Even the Jews had to concede that, while God Himself rested on the seventh day and so established the Sabbath, He still gives birth and takes life and keeps the universe in good running order even on the Sabbath. So here Jesus is making an indirect claim to divinity. The claim wasn’t lost on the religious authorities, who then and there decided He should die for blasphemy.

But back to the paralytic. We have to make some spiritual applications to what we read here, if this is going to be anything more for us than an edifying story. First of all, let us look at all of the sick people in this account. “A multitude of invalids,” it says, were by the healing pool, “the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed.” What advantage do they have over most people today? They knew they were sick, and hence they sought healing from God. Most people today are more like those Laodiceans whom Jesus reproached in the Book of Revelation: “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing’—not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (3:17). The world is full of blind, lame, wretched people claiming their autonomy and indulging in their lusts, as if they were strong and healthy, as if a severe judgment were not awaiting them. The first step, then, toward healing is the awareness and admission that we are sick, abandoning our proud self-assessment and embracing the humility by which alone we can see the truth.

G.K. Chesterton was well aware of this. Once the London Times asked him to write an essay entitled, “What is Wrong with the World Today?” He sent them a very short one. It went like this: I am. Now there’s an honest man. What is wrong with the world today? You are. And I am. Anyone who commits sin is what is wrong with the world today, for sin produces only corruption, defilement, destruction, and unhappiness.

The paralytic in the Gospel is a rather unattractive character, and he did not learn the lessons that the Lord’s goodness should have inspired in him. The Lord asked him, “Do you want to be healed?” That question was rather unusual—and the answer should have been obvious—but since the Lord knew the man’s heart, He was aware that the man was not only physically lame, but that his heart had grown sour and bitter over the years. The man answered with a whining complaint. But Jesus in his mercy healed him anyway, though it became clear that while divine grace entered his body, the man resisted its entrance into his soul—unlike the other paralytic Jesus healed, whose sins were forgiven along with his bodily healing. So Jesus gave him a stern warning: “Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” This man is the only one who ever received this warning from Christ after having been healed.

The first level of healing was insufficient. We can take this to a spiritual level and look at our own lives. If we commit sin, we must go to confession in order to receive forgiveness. While this is necessary and indispensable, it is not enough. Forgiveness must be followed by a deep inner healing. In psalm 40(41), the psalmist does not say to God: “forgive me, for I have sinned against You,” but rather “heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.” Sin creates wounds and vulnerabilities in our souls. A bodily wound can be disinfected and stitched up, but it might take a long time before it is fully healed, and there may be a scar that never goes away. Forgiveness removes our guilt before God, but there is much work that needs to be done before our souls themselves are healed. We need to receive Holy Communion, to pray, to struggle against the temptations that we allowed to enter our souls previously—for every time we sin, we make it easier for the devil to walk that well-marked path into our souls. So we can’t just whine and complain to the Lord like the paralytic when He asks if we want to be healed. His question implies a lot. Do we want to do all that it takes to receive and maintain the health of our souls, to do the hard work of penance and self-denial and training our wills to do only what is pleasing to God? Be sure that if we persist in sin, something worse will befall us.

We can’t wait around for a miracle to happen, for an angel to appear in the troubled waters of our souls and make everything better without any serious effort of our own. We have to work with God; that is the meaning of synergy, the process by which divine grace, and human choice and effort, work together to produce the spiritual fruits that enable us to live in communion with God in this life as well as in the life to come.

So let us start by realizing our need for God, and not just in some general, abstract way: “Oh yes, since everyone needs God, I guess I must need Him too.” But really, feel and acknowledge your wounds, your emptiness, your sin-sickness, your spiritual paralysis. A perfunctory “Lord have mercy” is wholly inadequate. If there is no deep and sincere cry from your heart to the Physician of souls and bodies, you will remain in mediocrity and hence without the life-giving and transforming power of God, who makes all things new—for those who realize that all things within them must be made new, if they are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Come to the chalice of spiritual healing, the Holy Eucharist, and begin anew the process of renewal of life. It’s not a quick fix, but part of the lifelong program for a complete healing of the soul—that you may get up and walk freely in the Spirit of the living God.