Explanation of Scripture read by Orthodox Christians - The healing of the paralytic

Scripture read by Orthodox Christians - The healing of the paralytic


In the scriptures, physical afflictions like paralysis, blindness, and leprosy often indicate or point to an even more serious problem. What is it?







Physical afflictions are often an indicator or reminder of the more serious affliction that besets all men - sins, and the passions which are the major cause of them. Our passions are like blindness or paralysis, because they impair our ability to live a righteous life, and cause us to miss the knowledge of God, as a blind man cannot see and a paralyzed man cannot go where he wants. This connection between the passions and sin and physical afflictions is well known in the mind of the church. This is not to say that sin always CAUSES physical afflictions. This is possible, however, in every case, afflictions are a reminder of our primary affliction and need for God.

Our Lord makes the connection between sin and afflictions repeatedly. In many cases, He forgave a man's sins before he healed him of his physical infirmity, to affect a complete healing and regeneration of the man. In other cases, he healed someone of their physical infirmity first, then later enlightened them concerning Himself (such as in the case of the man born without eyes), or reminded them about sin, which is their major affliction. One could say, and reclaim a highly charged word, that he is a "holistic" healer. The whole concept of healing and well being is profoundly different in the mind of the church than anywhere else. Physical infirmity is recognized as sometimes grievous, and sometimes as a great blessing, but healing from any infirmity is tied closely with the entire healing of soul and body that all Christians should seek.

As of old Thou didst raise up the paralytic, O Lord God, / by Thy God-like care and might, / raise up my soul which is palsied / by diverse sins and transgressions / and by unseemly deeds and acts, / that, saved I may also cry out: / O Compassionate Redeemer, O Christ God, // glory to Thy dominion and might. (Kontakion for the Sunday of the Paralytic, Tone 3)

Let us site some examples of how Christ ties physical healing to the entire spiritual healing of a man.

  • Healing from sins, then physical infirmity:

    "And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. ... {6} But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. (Matthew 9:2,6, also recounted in Mark and Luke)

  • Healing from physical infirmity, then enlightenment:

    "And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. {12} And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off.. {14} And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. {15} And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, {16} And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. {17} And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? {18} There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. {19} And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole." (Luke 17: 11,14-19)

    "{1} And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. ... {6} ... He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, {7} And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing. ...{35} Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? {36} He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? {37} And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. {38} And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. (John 9:1-38, parts)

    "After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. {2} Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda ... {5} And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. {6} When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? ... {8} Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. {9} And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked... {14} Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee". (John 5:1-15, parts)



According to the scriptures, the witness of the fathers, and the overall mind of the church, what are at least two causes or reasons for physical infirmities?







It is clear that physical infirmities are sometimes because of a man's sins. The story of the healing of the paralytic shows this truth, as Jesus warns the man about his sins when He finds him in the temple. Some sins directly cause infirmity, such as smoking or alcohol abuse, or promiscuity. Sometimes sins cause physical infirmity in a less direct way, and the Fathers understand these afflictions to be a call to repentance of the erring man.

In some cases, however, there is no sin in a man's life, but the affliction is present for his edification and enlightenment, and sometimes to show the glory of God, whether the man is eventually healed, as was the case in the man born blind, or bears up under his infirmity with courage, patience and thanksgiving, as was the case in Lazarus, who lay at the gate of the rich man.

" A FEARFUL thing is sin, fearful, and the ruin of the soul, and the mischief oftentimes through its excess has overflowed and attacked men's bodies also. For since for the most part when the soul is diseased we feel no pain, but if the body receive though but a little hurt, we use every exertion to free it from its infirmity, because we are sensible of the infirmity, therefore God oftentimes punisheth the body for the transgressions of the soul, so that by means of the scourging of the inferior part, the better part also may receive some healing." (ST John Chrysostom, Homily 38 on John)

"'What then,' saith one, 'do all diseases proceed from sin?' Not all, but most of them; and some proceed from different kinds of loose living, since gluttony, intemperance, and sloth, produce such like sufferings. Ibid.



What was the reaction of the Jews when Jesus healed the paralytic? Why?







The Jewish leaders were incensed when they saw Jesus heal on the Sabbath day, because of jealousy and hardness of heart.

"...And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the Sabbath day. (John 5:16)

"A word alone made strong the paralytic, / since it had been uttered by the universal Word, / Who had appeared upon the earth out of His love and compassion. / Wherefore, he departed hence and went forth bearing his own bed, / and the scribes, although they saw / this great deed which was brought to pass, / since they were held by evil and palsied in soul by their envy, // they endured not." (Sessional Hymn after the third ode of the Canon at matins for the Sunday of the Paralytic, sung in tone 3, special melody "Awed by the beauty")



Tell the story of the healing of the paralytic by the sheep's pool in your own words.







During a particular feast of the Jews, Jesus went to Jerusalem, and encountered a paralytic who had been laying for 38 years by the "sheep's pool", which was a place where the sheep were washed before sacrifice. Once a year, an angel would stir up the water, and the one person who reached the water first was healed of his infirmity. The paralytic waited for healing, even though he had no one to help him get into the water. Jesus healed him, and told him to take up his bed and walk. He was healed on the Sabbath day, and the wicked Jewish leaders interrogated the man concerning this, and were greatly angered. Later, Jesus found the man in the temple, where undoubtedly he was thanking God, and warned him to take care to sin no more, lest a worse thing befall him.

There is much meaning in this small, simple story. We can see a pointer towards a great Christian mystery, and we see Jesus as the only "man" who we can have to heal us of our infirmities - physical and spiritual. We also see the outrageous inhumanity (or, shall we say, ungodliness, since man is made in God's own image) of man, when he is consumed by jealousy.



The healing took place during a feast. Speculate as to which one it may have been. In the services, the answer seems to have been given.







The Jews celebrated three main feasts, Passover (or Pascha), Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles The Evangelist does not mention which feast, but the proximity of the commemoration of healing of the paralytic to Mid-Pentecost in the Paschal season, causes one to surmise that it was at Mid-Pentecost that the paralytic was healed. The Jews celebrated Pentecost as a "feast of weeks" being 50 days in duration, and Mid-Pentecost was celebrated at the midpoint of this time. Christians have continued this practice. The services for this Sunday mention Mid-Pentecost:

"In Solomon's Porch there lay a multitude of sick. / And at Mid-feast Christ found there a paralytic / who had been bedridden for eight and thirty years. / To him He called out with a voice of authority: / wouldst thou be made whole? / And the infirm replied: / Sir, I have no man, / when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool. / And He saith unto him: / Take up thy bed. / Behold, thou art become whole, sin not again. / By the intercessions of the Theotokos, // O Lord, send down to us Thy great mercy." (Glory at the Aposticha, Vespers for the Sunday of the Paralytic, Tone 8)



Why and how long did the paralytic wait for healing at the sheep's pool? Why is this pool so called? What made the water have healing properties?







The paralytic waited for thirty-eight years beside the sheep's pool for healing. This pool was used to wash the sheep destined for sacrifice. Every year, an angel would "trouble the water", and whoever entered the water first after this event was healed of whatever infirmity he had. Of course, the water had no special properties. It was the power of God that gave the water healing power, and the angel was merely the servant of His holy will.

" And "an Angel came down and troubled the water," and endued it with a healing power, that the Jews might learn that much more could the Lord of Angels heal the diseases of the soul. Yet as here it was not simply the nature of the water that healed, (for then this would have always taken place,) but water joined to the operations of the Angel; so in our case, it is not merely the water that worketh, but when it hath received the grace of the Spirit, then it putteth away all our sins."(St John Chryostom, Homily 36 on John)



What is pointed to by the healing in the water?







The healing of one man every year in the sheep's pool clearly points to the Christian mystery of baptism. As in all "types" which point to Christian realities and mysteries, this one is deficient. Only one man was healed at the sheep's pool, and he needed a helper so that he would reach the water first. All men can be healed by holy baptism, and Christ Himself will help everyone to have all that he needs. It is important to understand that baptism is not only the entrance into the church, and not only a cleansing, but it is the way in which a man is made whole and healed of all his infirmities. The healing of bodily infirmities in the sheep's pool only points to the total healing offered by God through baptism and the subsequent living of the Christian life.

"Of old an Angel came down to the sheep's pool and healed one man every year; but now Christ doth cleanse endless multitudes by divine baptism" (Canon of the paralytic, Ode 1, Troparion 4)

"What manner of cure is this? What mystery doth it signify to us? For these things are not written carelessly, or without a purpose, but as by a figure and type they show in outline things to come, in order that what was exceedingly strange might not by coming unexpectedly harm among the many the power of faith. What then is it that they show in outline? A294 Baptism was about to be given, possessing much power, and the greatest of gifts, a Baptism purging all sins, and making men alive instead of dead. These things then are foreshown as in a picture by the pool, and by many other circumstances. Baptism was about to be given, possessing much power, and the greatest of gifts, a Baptism purging all sins, and making men alive instead of dead. These things then are foreshown as in a picture by the pool, and by many other circumstances." St John Chrysostom, Homilies on John, Homily 36, on John 4:54; 5:1



Who was the angel who "troubled the water"? Why do we know this?







The Holy Archangel Michael troubled the water at the Sheep's pool each year. The canon for the paralytic makes mention of Michael (who is known by the church as the "Supreme Commander" of the Heavenly Hosts) and asks his intercession several times. It is a shame that so many Orthodox and even priests eschew this holy service and deprive themselves of its mellifluent teaching. In so doing they deprive themselves of the heartfelt acknowledgement of the constant and powerful intercession of the Archangel Michael, the grandeur of the incarnation, pious and joyful meditation on the resurrection, and countless other "food for the soul". Truly, we are in the last days if Christians barely pray even on the weekend, and consider their "duty" to have been fulfilled by a scant hour on Sunday morning, and do not know even the simplest things.

"Together with the Hosts on High, O Archangel of God, make supplication for us who praise thee with faith, preserving and protecting us from falling into the passions of life" (Canon of the paralytic, Ode 3, Troparion 4)

"O leader of the Angels and guide for the erring, O Supreme Commander of the Lord, come into our midst at this hour, and bear the prayers of us all unto the only creator and Master (Canon of the paralytic, Ode 4, Troparion 5)



What is significant about the paralytic's explanation for why he was not healed?







The paralytic told the God-man that he had "no man" to help him. The priest, whose temple he was near, could not help him, no would the Levite come near. Only the God-man could help him. The same exact meaning is also conveyed in the parable of the "Good Samaritan". The man who is attacked by robbers, who represents all of humanity, is left half dead on the side of the road. The priest and the Levite pass by, because they cannot help the man. Some take this "passing by" to be an indication of their lack of charity, but the fathers have mined a deeper and more powerful meaning from their passing. Neither the law nor the prophets, not any mortal man or teaching can save us. Only the God-man, Who is the Samaritan who helps the half-dead man, can effect our complete healing.

At the Sheep's Pool, a man lay in illness; / and on seeing Thee, O Lord, he cried; / I have no man, that, when the water is troubled, / he might put me therein. / But when I go, / another preceedeth me and receiveth the healing, / and I lie in illness. / And straightway, taking compassion on him, / the Savior saith unto him: / For thee I became man, / for thee I am clothed in flesh, / and sayest thou: I have no man? / take up thy bed and walk. / All things are possible to Thee, / all things are obedient to Thee, / all things are subject to thee. / Remember us all and have mercy on us, O Holy One, // since Thou art the Friend of man. (Vespers for the Sunday of the Paralytic, Glory from the Litya)



Compare and contrast the healing of the paralytic at the sheep's pool with the paralytic healed at Peter's house.







Here are several differences and similarities between the two stories:

  1. Sins mentioned at different times. The paralytic at Peter's house was healed of his sins first, and the one at the sheep's' pool was reminded concerning his sins after he was healed of his physical infirmity.
  2. Both had faith. The one on the pallet had to endure much to get in the presence of Jesus, the one at the pool waited a long time.
  3. The one on the pallet had the help of four men, the one at the pool had "no man" to help him..
  4. Both were healed by a word by Jesus.
  5. Both healings were on the Sabbath.
  6. The wicked unbelieving Pharisees were angry both times.
  7. Both stories are read during the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday of the Paralytic, which is the Fourth Sunday of Pascha.
  8. Look at these two stories yourself - don't just read the answer!


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