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The Healing of the Paralytic

Today’s Gospel is the usual reading for the ‘Third Sunday After Pascha’. This is the third in a series of six Sundays between the feast days of Pascha and Pentecost, which help to form the fifty-day period between the Resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It should be noted that the oldest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament do not include verse 4 of today’s reading, about the angel stirring the water – which would cause healing to occur. The earliest dated appearance of verse 4 is around 200 A.D. This would indicate that it was added some time after the original Gospel of St. John was accepted as part of the New Testament. Probably, it was added as an attempt to offer additional explanation about the understanding of the original text.

Today’s Gospel reading begins a series of six chapters in the Gospel of St. John which relate to disputes over the words and deeds of Jesus, and growing disagreements over issues of faith and unbelief.

We might notice that after the healing, when the Jewish legal authorities confronted the paralytic about carrying his bed on the Sabbath day, the paralytic did not know ‘who’ it was that had healed him. Apparently Jesus could no longer be seen among the crowds of people in that place. Thus Jesus could have remained an ‘unknown’ benefactor of this paralytic, free from accusation by the Jewish legal authorities. But instead, Jesus ‘finds’ the paralytic a second time, and the paralytic learns that it was Jesus who made him well.

We might ask, “What was so important that Jesus felt he should find this paralytic a second time and thereby reveal his identity to him?” or was this second meeting a result of pure circumstance, with no particular intent on the part of Jesus?

From the Gospel reading we learn that Jesus told him: “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”(v. 14) This healing should have given the former paralytic faith in Jesus Christ and should have resulted in him living a righteous life. Instead, this man reported the identity of Jesus to the Jewish legal authorities, even though it seems he would have known that it would create greater difficulties for Jesus with the ‘authorities’ in the future. Perhaps the paralytic thought that the authorities might be converted to faith in Christ as a result of his witness to them. Perhaps Jesus intended for the paralytic to report His name to the authorities. One obvious motivation for Jesus would have been to give this paralytic an opportunity for faith and eternal life -- to be renewed not only physically but also spiritually. Most likely, he was simply willing to pay the price of notoriety, because his ‘act of healing’ was not yet complete. Thus we see that there are multiple possible motivations. Let us also remember that after other healings, Jesus would specifically tell those who were healed to “tell no one”, and yet those who were healed, who ought to be grateful enough to obey the command of Jesus, would immediately go and do otherwise. (Mk. 7:36)

The greatest sin here is the failure to believe in Jesus.

When Jesus began his public miracles, beginning with turning the water into wine at the Wedding in Cana, it represented his stepping out onto the public stage, and into confrontation with the Jewish authorities.

During his public ministry Jesus gave many justifications for his actions on the Sabbath day, in response to his accusers:

  • A. the example of working as the Father works (Jn. 5:17-47)
  • B. the example of David and the showbread (Mt. 12:3-4) (Mk. 2:25-26)
  • C. the example of priests in the temple (Mt. 12:5)
  • D. the example of a sheep falling into a pit (Mt. 12:11-13)
  • E. the example of doing good and healing (Mk. 3:1-6)
  • F. the example of leading an animal to water (Lk. 13:15-16)
  • G. the example of circumcision (Jn. 7:22-24)

But it appears that his accusers had hearts of stone and ears that could not hear, and each new appeal or miracle only increased their hostility and hatred toward him. The most serious issue or point of disagreement appeared to be Jesus’s claim to equality with God, which cannot be accepted, except through the grace of God by faith.

Fr. Walter Hvostik


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