Faith’s Approach to Christ (The Healing of the Paralytic)

This Sunday’s gospel reading, the sixth Sunday after Pentecost, comes from St. Matthew who records the healing of a paralytic. The paralytic was brought by friends before Christ on his pallet to be healed. Their faith brought them to Jesus: “And Jesus, observing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘Take courage child, your sins are forgiven’” (Mt 9: 2).

The gospel text two weeks prior to this Sunday put forward the the account of Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s paralyzed and suffering servant (Mt 8: 5 – 13). In this reading, Jesus observed the remarkable faith of the gentile centurion. In both cases Jesus observed faith, and his observation led to his healing action.

There are often obstacles to the exercise of faith. The centurion had no obstacle placed before him. His access was immediate. The paralytic and his companions had a different situation. Jesus statement, “your sins are forgiven”, is met with the Jewish scribes objection: “This is blasphemy!” The scribes of the Law tried to shut things down by their supposed authority. However, it is Jesus who has true authority! He then speaks to the scribes: “In order that you might know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, “Get up! Take up your pallet and go to your own home” (Mt 9: 6).

The paralytic and his companions had faith. By that faith which Christ observed, he acted to bring healing without any regard to the scribes’ powerless barrier which they put up to stop our Lord.

We too have our own infirmities and paralyses which are primarily spiritual. We approach Christ with our faith no matter how weak or feeble our faith may seem to us.

Within any temple (church), we approach Christ by faith in two sacraments: the Eucharist and Confession. By these two sacraments sins are forgiven and washed away. But, be certain that objections will arise in our minds, even possibly by the actions and objections of others.

Christ is encountered in confession. We read this from St. John’s first epistle:

If we should walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of his son cleanses us from all sins. If we should say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we should confess our sins, he is faithful and just, that he might forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1: 7 – 9).

We encounter Christ in this sacrament. Before each confession the priest reads these words to his spiritual child:

Behold, my child, Christ stands here invisibly, and receives your confession. Therefore, be not ashamed, neither be afraid, and conceal nothing from me, but tell me, doubting not, all things which you have done, and so you shall have pardon from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The act of confession in this sacrament can have obstacles of fear, shame, pride, stubbornness, and self-deception. These obstacles would have us yield to their false authority and keep us in darkness and death. Rather, we are to submit to Christ’s authority as it resides in this sacrament, and enter into his light, communion, and life.

Christ is encountered in the Eucharist. Our Lord’s own teaching regarding the Eucharist is found in St. John’s gospel:

Therefore, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who is eating my Flesh and is drinking my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him in the last day. For my Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink. The one who is eating my Flesh and is drinking my Blood abides in me and I in him (John 6: 53 – 56).

The Holy EucharistBy the communion of the Eucharist, we receive his life and a union of being with Christ into ourselves. We also receive cleansing and forgiveness of sins. The Church understands this and communicates this truth to the communicant receiving the Body and Blood of Christ: “The servant/handmaid of God [his or her name is stated], partakes of the precious and hold Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and unto life everlasting.”

I, and my fellow priests at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Tacoma, Washington, observe a perplexing and frustrating obstacle placed before the Eucharist. It is the custom of very infrequent communion by adults who have come to America from a number of eastern European countries. Parents put forward their children to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, then turn away from the Sacrament themselves. They starve themselves spiritually. One is never “worthy” to receive the Body and Blood of Christ by one’s own effort. Christ makes us worthy. In his worth we walk in his ways and participate in his gifts of the Sacraments by faith. Shame on the clergy and faithful of those countries who have in the past fostered such a pernicious habit of abstinence!

Our Lord’s forgiveness, life, and relationship await us in these holy Sacraments. Thus, dismiss the hollow, powerless objections of psychology and culture! In the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near! Come, taste and see that the Lord is good!

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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