On the Healing of the Paralytic
2nd Sunday of Great Lent | Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas
This Sunday, the biblical reading tells us about the healing of the paralytic of Capernaum. After the Lord Jesus called His first disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, He entered Capernaum, and there, on a Saturday, He cast out the unclean spirit from a man. Afterwards, He entered Peter’s house and healed Peter’s mother-in-law also (Mark 1: 21-30). He also healed many of the sick who had various diseases and He cast out many demons (1:34).
The reading begins when Jesus “returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that He was at home“. What is this home? It’s not just any house, but a well-known home. Most likely the home of Simon and Andrew mentioned in the previous chapter who was previously visited by Jesus. And when the crowd heard that Jesus was “at the home”, many gathered together to witnesses miracles that He performed in Capernaum. Jesus was also preaching the Word to them. For Jesus, it was insufficient to just perform miracles without also preaching the Word, the life-giving Word of God, about which the Apostle Paul says: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” (Hebrews 4:12). The Evangelist Mark uses the term “The Word” to refer to the good news of the Gospel (look to the parable of sower Mark 14:14).
And while He was preaching the Word: “they came, bringing to Jesus a paralytic carried by four men”. After hearing that Christ was in this house, the paralytic was brought to Him, carried by his friends, encountering clashes with the large crowd that had gathered and was blocking the entry to see Jesus. Moved by the power of faith, this paralytic and his friends devised an astonishing idea to overcome these obstacles, “And when they could not get near Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay”. St. Mark the Ascetic wrote: “The paralytic let down through the roof signifies a sinner reproved in God’s name by the faithful and receiving forgiveness because of their faith,” (The Philokalia).
Here we see that Christ does not just hear about faith in words, but he looks for and sees faith through the actions of the faithful. He saw the effort and struggle to overcome obstacles in order to be in His presence. He saw the faith of the sick man himself since he would not have allowed himself to be carried unless he had had faith to be healed. Many times, the Lord healed the unbelieving sick on account of the faith of those who brought them. Similarly, He often healed the one brought to Him because of that man’s faith, despite the unbelief of those who brought him, like the healing of the servant of the centurion (Matthew 8: 5-13) and the healing of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5: 22-24) and others.
Jesus took the first initiative and said to the paralysed man: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” First, He forgives the sins of the paralytic, and then He cures the disease, since the most severe illnesses occur, for the most part, as a result of sin, bringing us to the issue of the association between physical sickness and sin. Christ forgives the soul its sin, making it healthy and clean from the source of its sickness and weakness.
We read that the paralytic was carried by four men. The number four is very symbolic. It refers to the four Evangelists who represent the universe in its four diagonals. They carry every paralysed soul by sin and bring it into the presence of the Lord Jesus for the soul to be healed through forgiveness and by the power of the Word.
When the Lord said that He could forgive sins, the Pharisees falsely accused Him of blasphemy, saying: “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But the Lord gives yet more evidence that He is God, by revealing what was in their hearts. God alone knows what is in the heart of each, for, as the prophets say, “thou alone know the hearts of the sons of men,” (2 Chron. 6:30). And God alone can forgive sins: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins,” (Isaiah 43:25). St. Irenaeus wrote, “How can sins be rightly remitted unless the very One against whom one has sinned grants the pardon?”. (Against Heresies)
Although the Lord had revealed their innermost thoughts, the Pharisees remained senseless, not conceding that He who knew their hearts, could heal their sins as well. By healing the body, the Lord makes credible and certain the healing of the soul as well, confirming the invisible by means of the visible, and the more difficult by what was easier, though it did not appear so to the Pharisees. For the Pharisees thought it was more difficult to heal the body because it was something visible.
After Jesus healed the disease of the soul, that is sin, He said to the paralytic: “Rise, take up your pallet and go home. And he arose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all”.
The word “immediately” has particular symbolism and is of particular interest according to St. Mark. It refers to the power and efficacy of the word of God who commands to be obeyed and asks the sick to fulfil the request. “Take up your bed,” to prove the greater certainty of the miracle, showing that it is not a mere illusion, and at the same time to show that He not only healed but gave strength. So that what was the proof of his sickness (the bed) may now give testimony to his soundness. The bed of pain becomes the sign of healing, its very weight the measure of the strength that has been restored to the sick.
This miracle caused astonishment in the hearts of those present and was a cause of glorification to God. “So that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, we never saw anything like this!” Acting as a double miracle, this healing act of Christ not only pertained to the body but also to the soul. It did not only heal what is visible but also what is invisible.
On this Sunday, the second Sunday of the Great Lent, we also commemorate St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica. The first Sunday celebrates the restoration of the Holy Icons therefore known as the “Sunday of Orthodoxy” or the “Triumph of Orthodoxy”. The act that St Gregory’s feast follows on the second Sunday implies that his teaching and his victory over his adversaries were recognized as a continuation of the previous Sunday’s celebration. As nothing less than a second Triumph of Orthodoxy. Saint Gregory was one of the great defenders of the authentic spirituality of the Orthodox Church and its Hesychastic way. He wrote about the Divine Light, the uncreated light, the light which the disciples were able to see on the mountain of Tabor. He also wrote about the role of divine grace and the importance of noetic prayer; the prayer of the heart to achieve Theosis, that is union with God, which is the utmost goal of our Christian life. Every askesis we practice, all prayer and fasting, and any asceticism we observe are merely instruments and tools to assist us in achieving this purpose, our deification through the uncreated divine grace.
+ Metropolitan Basilios