Take Up Your Bed And Walk: A Reflection For the Sunday of the Paralytic Man

Take Up Your Bed And Walk: A Reflection For the Sunday of the Paralytic Man May 12, 2019

Robert Bateman: The Pool of Bethesda / Wikimedia Commons

In the Byzantine tradition, the Fourth Sunday of Pascha commemorates the Sunday of the Paralytic. On it we remember when Jesus healed a paralytic man at the Sheep Gate pool. When we reflect upon the story, not only are there moral lessons to be learned, it also can be seen as a representation of how Jesus comes and heals us from our own spiritual infirmity.

In the Gospel story, we are told of the pool of Bethzatha in which an angel is said to come and disturb the waters; it was believed that the first person to enter that pool when the angel comes would be healed of whatever ailments they had. The paralytic man had long wanted to enter into the pool and be healed, but he could not do it by himself. He had been able to get near the poor, but not into it at the right time:

 When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”  The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the sabbath. (Jn. 5:6-9 RSV)

In this story, we see that the paralyzed man was routinely ignored by his peers; he needed help in order to get healed, and yet no one was willing to give him that help. We do not know why everyone would pass him by. Certainly some did out of selfishness, wanting into the pool themselves. But others would have seen him there in need, without any need themselves; instead of helping him get healed, they ignored him.  If we think about it, we can find something very similar going on today, as many ignore the plight of the poor and needy.

Perhaps the responses we hear today to the poor are the kinds of responses the paralytic heard in his day. “I’m not my brother’s keeper.” “I am needed somewhere else.”  “If he wanted it bad enough, he would find a way.” “Someone else deserves it more.” “Why should I help him, when it is obvious that he is being punished for his sins?”  “I don’t have the time.” “Who cares?”

Likewise, there are many people today, many people sick with illnesses which could be cured, who do not have the resources to get that cure. They are also like the paralytic. Their needs are neglected and ignored as they lie down sick and, in much pain, and distress. Many needlessly die due to lack of money or insurance. We are expected to be good neighbors, to see their needs are met like the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parables. The way we do this might differ from the Good Samaritan or Jesus himself, but the means are there, if only we would promote them: we must look after those who could be healed, who could get what was needed, and make sure they get it. If we do not personally have the means to do so (as many of us do not), we can still do something about it, such as arguing for a better health care system in which their needs are not neglected. Promotion of social justice with health care reform is a way for many of us to make sure we do not pass by analogues to the paralytic man in our lives: instead of passing them by, ignoring them, we should do what we can to lift the up, and that includes demanding the government to follow its dictates to create a just society.

Likewise, spiritually, we are often like the paralytic, finding ourselves stuck in a place all so near and yet all so far from spiritual healing. Like the paralytic man, Jesus offers us the means by which we can be healed. Jesus, as he did with the paralytic man, tells us we must get up and walk. That is, though we have been taken down by our struggles, we must not use that as an excuse to think Jesus will heal us without any effort of our own. We must get up and walk: we must get up and act as Jesus has told us to act. We must do more than sit lie down, hoping that his grace will save us without any cooperation with that grace on our part. How do we do that? We do what Jesus told us to do. We get up and walk, we get up and do things. We obey Christ. We embrace the core of the law, the law of love, and treat others through the dictates of love. We must force ourselves to act, to overcome our sloth, so that instead of resting on the Sabbath, we find ourselves moving beyond the Sabbath and into the everlasting Eighth Day. Faith in Jesus Christ is not found apart from works, but in those who do what he said to do. If we believe in him, we will do what he said, just like the paralytic man who, despite his history, despite his infirmity, got up and walked.

Jesus, in healing the paralytic’s body, offered proof of the spiritual healing which he gave to the paralytic man and to all of us as well. “Accordingly,” St. Augustine said, “to the soul that should believe, whose sins He had come to forgive, to the healing of whose ailments He had humbled Himself, He gave a significant proof by the healing of this impotent man.”[1] St. John Chrysostom, therefore, explained that by telling the paralytic to take up his bed, he was wanting to offer physical proof of the paralytic’s healing:

Consider now, I pray you, the exceeding wisdom of God. He raised not up the man at once, but first makes him familiar by questioning, making way for the coming faith; nor does He only raise, but bids him “take up his bed,” so as to confirm the miracle that had been wrought, and that none might suppose what was done to be illusion or a piece of acting. For he would not, unless his limbs had been firmly and thoroughly compacted, have been able to carry his bed.[2]

Likewise, then, in our spiritual healing, Jesus wants us to show forth the grace we have received by a transformation in how we act. He wants us to get up and follow him, to do as he would have us do. It has to be a real spiritual transformation, and not just some sham act. This is why James said that faith without works is dead (cf. James 2:14-29). Without getting up, picking up our bed, and walking, that is, without actually acting out our faith and doing what Jesus told us to do, we are not yet spiritually transformed. We can’t honestly talk about grace perfecting us if we do not live out that perfection. We must pick up our bed: we must no longer be slothful. Then, we can show our faith because we live it out, and we live it out because Jesus truly has healed us.

By Your divine intercession, O Lord, as You raised up the paralytic of old,  so raise up my soul, paralyzed by sins and thoughtless acts;  so that being saved I may sing to You:  “Glory to Your power, O compassionate Christ!” (Kontakion, Sunday of the Paralytic).

Without Jesus healing us, we will be stuck, but if we have faith, when he tells us to get up and do something, we will do it, no longer arguing with him about the distinction between faith and works. We seek not after an illusory salvation in which we pretend we are spiritually healed and yet find ourselves far from the perfection Christ asks of us. We are to act because we are told to act. We are to have faith in the one who told us to act that he will help us to act. The two go hand in hand.  It would have been absurd for Jesus to tell the paralytic man he was healed, therefore he needs never walk again, and so it is absurd for us to believe Jesus spiritually heals us, so we should never do anything. Jesus gives us what we need; he will help us even if no one else will. But he expects us to get up and walk, to come follow after him. Then we will help others in the way he has helped us. That is why we must remember the moral lesson of the story: we must never be like those who saw the paralytic man and dismiss him and his needs, lest we find ourselves dismissed as we are unwilling to do what Jesus expects of us for our perfection. The two, our spiritual healing and our moral activity, go hand in hand.

[1] St. Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of St. John in NPNF1(7):111 [Tractate 17].

[2] St John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. John in NPNF1(14):129 [Homily 37].


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