Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Homily for the Second Sunday of Great Lent/St. Gregory Palamas - (March 4, 2018)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Father and Hierarch, Gregory of Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika, pray for us!

Man’s deepest need is not for fairness, but for forgiveness. Forgiveness is the power to liberate from past sin and restore to an individual a sense of self-worth. Forgiveness is the power to deal with justifiable guilt, not by ignoring it, but by eliminating it. Forgiveness is a cool drink of water to a dry and parched tongue. It is the medicine which heals us at the deepest level of our being. We all need forgiveness.

While we have the power to forgive others, we need to be forgiven ourselves. And we need to be forgiven by one who has the authority to forgive. Good friends who mean well may say, "Don’t worry about it," but our sin is not against them. The Bible teaches that sin is against God. When David had sinned by taking Bathsheba and having her husband killed, he cried out, in Psalm 50/51, "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned." Though we may sin against people, sin ultimately is against God. And while we need the forgiveness of people, we ultimately need the forgiveness of God. Only God has the authority to forgive sins.

In Jesus, we see the authority of God. So far in Mark, we have seen Christ’s authority over temptation, authority over the lives of men, authority over nature, authority to establish the truth, authority over demons, authority over sickness. Now, we will see a new authority revealed – it is Christ’s authority to forgive sin.

Our Gospel reading this morning is a rich passage. Many sermons could be preached from these verses. The gems here do not even have to be mined. They lay right on top of the ground. We shall see the faith of the paralytic’s friends, the compassion of Christ, the dealing with the root cause of all misery, and a call to obedience to the word of Christ. It is all here to instruct us on how to live.

"And when He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, even near the door; and He was preaching the word to them." (Mark 2:1-2)

The scene is Capernaum. The house in which He taught is thought by many to be Peter’s. No sooner had Jesus arrived than the news spread to those around. Luke tells us that there were Pharisees and Doctors of the Law present from Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. This was probably a delegation sent to check this new preacher out and report back to the Sanhedrin. But a great crowd had gathered to hear what this man had to say, and perhaps to see some mighty work.

There were several others who had also heard that Jesus was in town teaching. These men had a friend who was a paralytic, and they cared for him. They knew that if they could just get him to see Jesus, that Jesus would heal him. They had faith in Jesus. So, they each picked up a corner of their friend’s bed which was probably a small cot or mat and they set out to see Jesus.

"And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. And being unable to get to Him on account of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying." (Mark 2: 3-4)

We see several things in the action of the friends. Firstly, we notice that they had a faith born out of need. The need was the healing of their friend. It was out of this motive that they came to Jesus. And this must have been one of the things which made their coming even more special to Him. They believed Jesus could heal their friend. The opportunity was present for this man, and they were his friends. So, they could not just sit around and let this opportunity pass him by. Now that is true friendship. They had faith, and that faith demanded action. It was a faith born out of need.

But next, notice that their faith produced fruit in them. It was the fruit of works. This is the mark of true faith. If we have real faith, our faith will show in the things we do. James says, "I will show you my faith by my works."

This narrative reads as if told by an eye-witness. And if we accept the theory that Mark was writing Peter’s recollection of the life of Christ; and if this was, in fact, Peter’s house, we can understand why it was told in so much detail; much more than St. Matthew or St. Luke.

So, they brought their friend to Jesus. But when they got near the house, they saw that there was no room to get through. Now, if they had quit at this point, they could have had a good excuse or reason to go home. But they were not looking for a way out. It is amazing how many are looking, it seems, for a reason to get out of something. They always have a reason for their unfaithfulness to the things of the Lord. The Bible calls them excuses. But these men did not want to quit. They could not bring themselves to say, "We cannot." "We cannot" is the coward’s word. "We must" was their word. That is the earnest man’s word. That is the word Jesus would like to hear from our lips more often. They were determined that nothing would stop them from seeing Jesus. This man had the sickness and Jesus had the healing. And they must get the two together, even at cost to themselves.

And that is precisely what it took – a cost. It cost them the time to carry their friend to the house. It cost them the effort to carry him to the roof of the house. It cost them the trouble to tear up the roof and let him down. It cost them the favor of the people on whose heads the rubble was dropping as they ripped up the roof. And it cost them the money to pay for the roof to repair it. But that was what they did. That was their solution to the problem. And it was a radical solution at that. And it probably increased their faith, because difficulties test us, and thereby cause our faith to grow. But it showed their faith. It made their faith visible to Jesus and to any who saw it. Our actions will make our faith visible to the watching world. A visible faith is a faith that works and bears fruit to the glory of God.

"And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’" Notice the answer of Christ to their faith. Christ notices all sincere faith. He saw their faith and was impressed with it. If you want to impress the Lord, put your trust in Him.

Throughout the Gospels, wherever Jesus came upon people who displayed faith, He commended that faith. Our Lord is always looking for people who display faith in Him. The sudden and unusual interruption of these men was no inconvenience to Jesus. Though many of the doctors of the law were probably miffed at this disturbance, Jesus was not. But the thing which makes us indignant is our own pride. I heard one person say that the only thing they wanted out of life was a continued and exaggerated sense of their own importance. Unfortunately, that was what many of these Pharisees were laboring under. But Jesus had no such pride to make Him upset that He was being interrupted. He saw it for what it was – a calling out in faith for help. And He met the real need. He saw their faith and had compassion on them. And He went to the real source of this man’s problem. He forgave his sin.

This is a general principle in Scripture and in life. Sin is the root cause of all misery. Because of the Fall of Man, sin entered into the world. And sickness is a result of that fall in a general way. That is not to say that every cold a person might have is a direct result of some specific sin. But it is a result of the fall. Now, some sickness is a result of a specific sin committed. Such might have been the case of this man. His paralysis might have been the result of fast living in his youth. We simply do not know. But what we do know is that Jesus forgave him.

"But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?" (verses 6-7). 

Notice the attitude here of the scribes toward what Jesus had done. The scribes had an inclination toward unbelief. This was especially true when what was going on did not fit their traditions or doctrines. And this certainly did not. Take note also of the logic of the scribes’ reasoning against Jesus. Here was a man proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to this sick man. But only God can forgive sins. And only God knows if sins are forgiven. It is not something you can see with the eye. "What does this man think He is trying to get away with? He is just a man. He is not God, yet He is saying something that neither He nor we can verify. Is He saying that He is God? Why He blasphemes God!" 

And so went the reasoning of the scribes. It sounds logical and seems as well like a sound argument, except for one thing: they had failed to observe the evidence and possibility that Jesus was divine, and thereby had the power to forgive sins. But they, too, were caught up in their own self-sufficiency and absorption in external trivialities to notice this fact. So, they were doubters, skeptics. They had a presupposition that Jesus was not the Christ and they could not see because of it. So, they were not even honest doubters. They did not want to see. Their doubt came from a moral condition of their heart. Because they were lifted up in their own pride and self-sufficiency they had closed off their heart to anything other than what they thought was right. This is the disease of the skeptics.

Saint Mark tells us that they “murmured in their hearts against Jesus.” This is always the outcome of unbelief. There is always murmuring. But though their murmuring was not spoken, even in their mind, it was not hidden.

"And immediately Jesus, perceiving in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven;" or to say, "Arise, and take up your pallet and walk?" But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.’" (Mark 8-11) We see here the authority of God. This is Jesus’ response to their disbelief. Notice what He did. Firstly, He challenged their unbelief. Remember, they were just thinking these things. But Jesus wanted to confront them with the truth. So, He turned the murmur into an opportunity.

Jesus exhibited His authority to forgive by healing the man. Remember the scribes had been reasoning in their hearts that Jesus could not have the power to forgive sins because He was not God and only God has such power. And they were partly right. Only God can forgive sins. But they also acknowledged that sickness was caused by sin. Jesus had only spoken the word that this man’s sin was forgiven. He had done something which could not be seen. If He really had power, then let Him heal this man.

So, Jesus caught them in their own trap. He acknowledged that it was easier to say something one could not verify. One thing could not be verified – the man’s forgiveness from sin. Another could – his healing. So, Jesus manifested His power to forgive sins by healing this man. He demonstrated His power or His authority to forgive and release this man from the root cause of his sickness, and thereby release him from his sickness. What was done already in the unseen realm was manifest in the seen. The invisible was made visible. This was how it was. And this is how it should be in our lives.

Many say that they love the Lord. But if we have a commitment to Christ, it would show by what we do visibly. Many folks write their own rules about commitment. They say they love the Lord. Yet, they are not faithful to Him or to His Church. They say in their heart they love the Lord, yet they do not obey His commandments. They hold ill feelings in their heart towards people, but they say they love God. They do not tithe or support the Church and Her work, but they say they really love the Lord and everything they have is His.

I believe none of it, not for one minute. It is just simply a lie. They are not deceiving God, they are deceiving only themselves. If you really love Jesus, you will be faithful to His Church. If you really love Jesus, you will forgive your brother and sister. If you really love Jesus, you will tithe and joyfully and willingly help to maintain Her and support the work she does in God’s name. If you love Jesus, you will do right. If you love Jesus, you will live by His Word. If you love Jesus, you will seek Him out and bow down before Him, worshipping, adoring, and honoring Him all the days of your life.

It is high time we spoke the truth to one another. The world looks at the Church and sees so-called Christians professing to love the Lord, yet not living for Him. And they call that kind of person a hypocrite. Do you know they are right? It is time we told the truth. If we say we love God and do not follow Him, we are hypocrites. If we love Jesus, it will show in the way we live our lives. True discipleship is our love being manifested in the visible commitments we have to Christ.

"And he arose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all; so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’" (Mark 2:12)

The authority of God manifested in the healing of this man produced the amazement of the crowd. Notice the healing and its effect. The first thing we see is that obedience to the command of Jesus was necessary. Jesus spoke the word to the man to get up and take his bed and go home. Now, this was exactly what the man could not do for himself. This was his problem. And the Lord called on Him to do what He could not do. This is what He does to us as well.

The man had a choice to make at this point. It is the same choice you have today: Will you obey the command of Jesus to do what you cannot see how to do yourself? Many of you are not obeying God in an area of your life because you cannot see how you can do it. But that is where the grace of God comes in – just at that point of obedience. This man could not see how he could walk. But he obeyed because Jesus asked him to. And the power came at that moment to walk. He was healed at the moment he obeyed the command of the Lord.

And the crowd was amazed. They may have also been caught up in the scribes’ disbelief. We do not know. But more probably, they just had never witnessed the power of God in action. They had never seen the root cause of misery dealt with, and with mercy and grace at that. So, they were amazed.

But being amazed is not being convinced. We have no indication that this crowd was convinced enough to do something about it. And we are sure that the scribes were not convinced. Even the miraculous does not convince those who have already made up their minds. But for those who will learn the lessons of faith contained in our passage today, God will meet you and do for you what He did for this man. He will touch the root cause of your sickness and minister His forgiveness and grace, His mercy and love to you.

We must see, today, the determined faith of these men for their friend. It was because of their faith that he received healing. Our faith can have such effect on others. Because of our faith, others’ lives can be touched, just as this man’s life was touched. But we must also see that true faith always produces visible action. It is a faith seen by works. Faith is the "substance." It is the "evidence." What has your faith been saying lately?

We must also see that many of our problems have a root cause in sin, which must be dealt with first. We must treat the disease instead of the symptoms. It may be that the problem you think you have is only a symptom of a deeper problem, which only Jesus can solve. Come to Him today and allow Him to heal what ails you.

Finally, we must see that if we would receive from the Lord, we must respond to Him in obedience. Even though we cannot see how we can do what He says, we must respond that we may receive that power. And it will be there when we do respond.

We must not allow ourselves to be like the unbelieving scribes. We should not be skeptics. St. Paul tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians that "Love believes all things." That does not mean that we take everything without thinking. But it does mean that we remain open to what the Lord would tell us. It means that we will listen to hear the voice of God speak to us. What is the Lord saying to you today?

The Great Physician of our souls stands ready to heal us of the deepest diseases of the human heart. Place yourself in His skilled hands today and receive His grace and healing.

Amen.



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