We Should Help Those Suffering From Spiritual Paralysis

We Should Help Those Suffering From Spiritual Paralysis April 21, 2024

National Gallery of Art: Léonard Gaultier – Jesus Heals Man From His Paralysis / Wikimedia Commons

Jesus brings salvation wherever he is at. “Wherever Jesus appears, there is salvation. If He sees a revenue officer sitting in his office, He makes him an apostle and evangelist. Laid in the grave, He raises the dead to life. He bestows sight on the blind, hearing on the deaf.” [1] He overcame the power of sin, that is, the corruption and destruction it brings, so that those who have been wounded or paralyzed by it do not have to find themselves stuck in spiritual paralysis. Now Jesus offers everyone the grace the need not only to be restored to what they were before sin hindered their rightful development, but to go beyond their original state and find more and more freedom as they are deified. As this is one of the fruits of the resurrection, it is fitting that the Byzantine tradition represents the way it was foreshadowed in Christ’s temporal ministry by the way he healed a paralytic man:

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethzatha, which has five porticoes.  In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 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.  So the Jews said to the man who was cured, “It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.”  But he answered them, “The man who healed me said to me, `Take up your pallet, and walk.'”  They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, `Take up your pallet, and walk’?”  Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.  Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.”  (Jn. 5:1-14 RSV).

The paralytic man, to be sure, is more than a mere symbol; he was a man, someone who should have been honored and respected due to his own inherent dignity, someone, therefore, whom Christ healed. But, as Jesus often works in and through history to represent eschatological realities, Christ’s physical healing of the paralytic man can be seen to show us not only what Jesus did for him, but what Jesus is doing for everyone. What sin has destroyed, Christ heals in the eschatological kingdom of God; those who have been paralyzed by sin will find themselves able to get up and walk, that is, explore their new relationship with God and with each other.

Those who have been incorporated into the body of Christ are called to share in his work, to help others like he did. We are, therefore, called to help people get out of their spiritual paralysis and begin their own proper spiritual journey. In the life of St. Syncletica, we find that one of the ways we do this, indeed, one of the best way we do this, is not only through exhortation, but praise, where we affirm the good others have done, using that as the foundation to encourage them and make sure they do not otherwise fall into despair

It is necessary, therefore, to put a stop to the bourgeoning of vainglory at the right moment, but also again at the right moment to give praise and to express admiration. For if the soul has been found negligent and slothful, and even paralysed in the growth of goodness, it is appropriate to give it praise. And if this soul does some good, one should admit it and flatter it. Its serious and inhuman faults, however, should be spoken of as very slight and of no account. For in his desire to overturn everything, the devil tries to conceal previous sins in the case of zealous and ascetic persons because he wants to increase their pride. But in the case of the newly converted and less firmly committed souls, he places all their sins before their eyes. To such a soul he suggests: ‘Since you have committed sexual impurities, what forgiveness will there be?’ And to another he says: ‘Since you have been so greedy, you cannot obtain salvation.’ Souls, then, that have been thus shaken should be comforted in the following way –‘Rahab was a prostitute, but she was saved through faith (Cf. Heb 11:31); Paul was a persecutor, but he became a chosen instrument (Acts 9:15); Matthew was a tax collector, but no one is ignorant of the grace granted him (cf. Matt 9:9); and the thief stole and murdered, but he was the first to open the door of Paradise (cf. Lk 23:43). Keeping these people in mind, therefore, do not give up hope for your soul.’ [2]

While pride and vainglory can be, and often are, an issue, they rarely are issues for those who are just beginning their spiritual journey. We should take note of this and so treat people with care, making sure we do not become legalistic or judgmental and condemn those who already feel the pain and sorrow for the mistakes of their lives, because all that will do is drag them down and make them paralyzed in fear. We must encourage them, making sure they not only feel appreciated, but loved; then, we shall share the burdens of life with them, helping them as they struggle to do more and more of what is good.

If we, therefore, have found that Jesus came to us, shared us love and grace, and lifted us up with it, helping us beyond the paralysis of our own sin, we must help others receive that same opportunity. We must be caring and loving as he is caring and loving. We must help people in whatever way we can. We might not be able to get those who are physically paralyzed to move, but we certainly can help those who are spiritually paralyzed by giving them a good word, and others, who find injustices bearing down upon them, we should lift up by confronting those injustices so that, like Christ, we find ourselves tearing asunder the structures of sin.

[1] St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “Sermon on the Paralytic” in The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem. Volume 2. Trans. Leo P. McCauley, SJ and Anthony A. Stephenson (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1970), 209.

[2] Pseudo-Athanasius, The Life And Regimen of The Blessed And Holy Syncletica. Trans. Elizabeth Bryson Bongie (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005), 35-6.


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