A Paralytic, the Woman at the Well, and More on an Orthodox Political Economy

OrthoAnalyika Show: 2 May 2010

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Homily on the Paralytic: Acts 9: 32 – 42; St. John 5 : 1 – 15

Introduction: Healing, not Religion
Our readings today give examples of Christ’s ministry to mankind (in the healing of the paralytic), and how this ministry has continued through His apostles and His Church (in the healing of Aeneas and Tabitha). These are useful reminders to us…

Christ God did not become incarnate to start a religion. He did not establish the Church to protect a religion. He became incarnate and established the Church in order to bring healing to a human race and to a world that groans in agony. Everything that we do as Christians – as servants of the Most High and members of His (very real) Body – should resonate with this simple fact: Christ is among us; He is in the world; and He is here to heal. If our lives do not resonate – if they do not radiate – with this simple fact, then we have mistaken our religion for the Truth it was meant to teach and the grace it was meant to share; and (thus) we stand between Him and the thing He wants to achieve. But if we do witness to His healing power, then we become not just beneficiaries of this ministry but a mechanism of its application.

How do we resonate with the message? How do we become part of His ministry?
I shouldn’t have to say this, but in order to do this, we must be healed ourselves. It seems odd to our ears when Christ asks this man who has been suffering for so long if he wants to be healed, but the simple fact is that many people don’t. Oh, I’m not saying that the world is full of people that actually enjoy suffering. I am simply pointing out the fact that some people are not willing to do what it takes to become well, especially when it involves changing their way of life or of thinking. You can think of your own examples: the alcoholic who won’t follow the plan, the cougher who refuses to give up cigarettes, the patient who ignores the doctors advice, examples like these are commonplace.

But the best example, the one that really needs to be taken seriously, is the one that threatens all of us: it is the example of the person who willfully suffers from the effects of unrepented sin. It is this spiritual malady – unrepented sin – that causes so much grief in our lives and in our world. And it is this malady that so many people decide to leave untreated. They would rather suffer than repent; they would rather endure their pain – and inflict pain on those around them – than do what it would take to do well.

When Christ – either with His own voice or through the voices of his earthy servants – asks the general question “do you want to be made well”, such people don’t usually say “no”, they answer the way the paralytic did, with a; “yes, but…” Think about this for a minute: the paralytic man thinks that the answer to his problems is to be found in the sheep’s pool. When a real and practical solution, not a miraculous pool that operates only every so often and only for the first person who gets in when it does happen (a solution, BTW, that cannot work for a paralytic who has no one to help him get into the water), but [instead of this] the author of all miracles, the founder and sustainer of creation Himself – when this real and practical solution comes and presents itself… the man still thinks only of the pool. Do you see how easy it is to slip into this kind of mindset?

What is the pool that you sit beside, waiting to be healed? Is it a better job? Is it finding the ideal mate? Like the paralytic, Christ is here among us, desiring nothing more than to heal us with His love. But instead of turning to Him and accepting His healing touch, you point to the things you cannot reach – the things you think you need to be whole – and ask for them instead.

Perhaps your “yes, but…” takes another form; you want only to be relieved from your immediate physical discomfort, from your pain. You want to be healed from the suffering this cruel world has inflicted on your body. If you cry to Him for comfort, He will comfort you; but if you cry to Him to heal you, do not yield to the temptation of the “yes, but…”; open your heart and your body to His healing power and submit yourself to His care. He may not put you into the sheep pool, but He will heal you.

Never forget: as Orthodox Christians, you know that your body has already been healed and perfected. God has fixed it so that it will never decay or suffer. In His time, the perfect union of sanctified soul and body is already accomplished. It is as present and real as today is for us. You complain that this is fine for Him (Who is beyond time and can experience all time as an eternal now), but that you are mortal and still experience time in sequence, and that you want your perfected body now?

If so, then I could remind you of the sanctifying power of gratitude, but the simple fact is that you cannot have your perfect body, yet. You are not ready. It is not time. There is a name for people who refuse the real and perfect solution that is offered to them in favor of the imperfect one they want but cannot have. Such people are fools. The thief on Christ’s left was such a fool. His suffering was real, and he demanded of Christ; “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Whereas the thief on his right, repenting of his sin, gave himself over to Christ’s care saying; “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Which one are we called to emulate?

These bodies will return to dust; but their ultimate healing and perfection has already been accomplished; they have been remade. But what of your soul? Which brings us back to the danger of unrepented sin. What good would a perfected body be to a sick soul? Isn’t it bound to create the kind of eternal misery that makes death on this fallen world a mercy and a gift of God? Unrepented sin rots at our hearts, it causes us to suffer, but like the man by the pool, we are paralyzed to bring about the cure we so desperately want.

“Do you want to be made well?” Christ will heal you. Repent of your sins, then “take up your bed and walk.” Then “sin no more lest a worse thing come upon you.”

As I said at the start, Christ God did not become incarnate to start a religion; He became incarnate to heal mankind (He became incarnate to heal YOU). He established His Church to heal mankind (He established His Church – and this parish – to heal you). When He offers His healing grace (as He is doing so now), do not make excuses: accept it with all humility and gratitude. And then take the radiance and witness of this grace out into the world you have been called to serve.


Lesson on the Samaritan Woman: St. John 4 : 5 – 42

Beautiful story, full of insights into how Christ conducted Himself during His earthly ministry… It is also from the Gospel according to St. John: full of beautiful spiritual insights; sharing the wonderful words and teaching of Christ. Today I want to focus on the transforming conversation that led this woman to sanctification.

The conversation began simply enough; very similar to the conversation with the paralytic. The woman puts Christ into a certain box; she sees Him as a man, and as a Jew, so her conversation begins within that context;

o How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?

o He begins pulling her out of this comfort zone with His reply “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.

o She widens her expectations a bit, recognizing that, although He is a Jew, He is willing to converse with her. Her reply is clever, teasing, and if we fit it into what we later learn about her relations with men, a bit flirtatious. “”Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?

o But notice how this very human conversation gives Christ and His Spirit an entrée with this woman so that she can truly begin to walk along The Way. He makes it clear that He is speaking of something special, that He and the thing He offers cannot be fit within her expectations – but (if true) will exceed them; “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

o She then has the faith to ask for the water that Christ offers. Why? The human touch. It is through fellowship – the building up of godly rapport – that we develop the capacity to accept the Truth. In the West, we sometimes focus on the Incarnation as the solution to a logic problem… but entire world revolves around His Incarnation – it is the cornerstone of the whole edifice. This means that the Incarnation is the natural solution to every dilemma; the fitting end to every need. It was Christ’s incarnation – His humanity – that allowed the Samaritan woman to approach His divinity. Not through theory, but through His HUMAN conversation; a conversation that began in a mundane manner, but then moved into something so much greater.

Christ has entered into this conversation with us, and we all drink from this fountain. Now it is our turn – we enter into conversation with all those around us, and through this (to the extent that Christ lives within us), all those conversations are turned into opportunities for people to join us at this never ending fountain of life.


Want to see why prophets make poor neighbors in a fallen world? Pastor arrested in Britain for saying the Bible says homosexuality is a sin.

Optimistic economic trendwatcher, Professor Richard Florida, says our current reset will be long, but we’ll emerge stronger (if we don’t completely botch things on the way). Habitable cities came out of a 19th century reset, suburbs out of a 20th century reset; what will this one create? What will make it possible? He thinks that flexible housing alternatives (think Zipcar) will help and points out that it will be less materialistic (compares recent past to roaring 20’s). He’s got cred with me – knows that easy credit allowed for the (artificial) continuation of economic growth and doesn’t think much of bail-outs.

Data glitch (rather than supply and demand) may have led to yesterday’s market plunge. Wow. Are we really that vulnerable to this? Null hypothesis is always incompetence; but what if someone really was trying to hurt us?

I still don’t see how this is smart: either we’re right in AF and wrong in PK; or the other way around. Or maybe we are running a controlled experiment on the effects of drone attacks. This may lead to better policy in the future (as if!!!), but it’s not great in the short to medium term.

Volya Moment: More on the Political Economy of Orthodoxy

On scarcity: scarcity is a result of the fall. it is the cause of much ruin, and the worldly institutions we create to deal with are part of the way we perpetuate the hegemony of falleness. The only way out of this reinforcing madness is to find a blessed end to scarcity – but not through technology – through Christ.

We seem to have an instinct for this [end to scarcity]: our desires are insatiable. We always want more [see Ecclesiastes 5:10], and our economy is developed enough to deliver it. But an end to scarcity alone is not enough – in fact, it would be a disaster for us. Think of those situations where our desires have been satisfied; [lottery; more time to finish projects; etc.]. Without Christ, an end to scarcity would complete our destruction (hell – is getting exactly what you want… forever)

Remade world: no scarcity. Living water that never ends. This is what we hear in the Gospel lesson of the woman at the well.