May 6, 2012

The Paralytic's Endurance and the Meaning of Life

Homily For the Sunday of the Paralytic

By Metropolitan Augoustinos Kantiotes (John 5:1-15)

"And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years."

The question is asked, beloved, what is life? Is it enjoyment? Is it amusement? Is it dancing and fun? Is it "let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die"? Many people think this way, especially the young of our times, who are carried away by materialistic and atheistic ideas and think that the few years they are going to live on this planet must be lived as happily and as hedonistically as possible. They have as a kind of motto the Italian phrase dolce vita, which means "sweet life". For them, sweet life means living day and night at various amusement centers, dancing wildly, singing obscene songs, engaging in loud behavior, and taking drugs to achieve a chemical paradise of pleasure for a few hours. Once those hours pass, these unfortunates fall into a terrible state of depression and gloom.

For those who examine things deeper and think philosophically, life has a greater meaning. The life of virtue and duty is not like a smooth paved road, landscaped with shrubs and flowers for passing motorists to admire; it is like a narrow, hilly road, on which motorists shall meet many obstacles, afflictions, and trials. As Job observes, man's life is a trial. And what is a trial? It is a life full of temptations, sorrows, and tribulations. Just as gold comes out of the depths of the earth unclean and is thrown into a fiery furnace where all the worthless elements are burned away and the gold runs pure, in the same way man has to pass through the fiery furnace of affliction and temptation to be cleansed of his faults, vices, and passions.

There was a time, however, when man did not have to be cleaned. He was pure and clean. When? When he lived close to God in paradise. But when man sinned, sin contaminated the world of his soul and he became full of evils and faults, like impure gold in need of cleansing and purification. From then on, after the fall of the first man, the sufferings, the sorrows, and the temptations started. The earth, which was pure and fragrant with the aroma of beautiful flowers, became wild and started to send out thorns; to root out the thorns and make the earth productive, man had to bloody his hands. Tame animals became wild and turned into beasts whose roars frightened man. The rivers filled up and overflowed, causing floods and cataclysms. The earth started to shake with fearful quakes. Man, too, who once was healthy and immortal, was infected by illness, pain, and death because of sin.

Afflictions, then, came to man from the upheavals of the elements of nature, from earthquakes and floods. Afflictions came from sicknesses and death. They also came from his fellow man; these were the greatest. The afflictions hardest to bear are those that come from friends and relatives, who because of the evil within them, pour affliction out like a poison. Out of this evil from his fellow man, man has suffered many and great afflictions. Injustice, theft, insult to family honor, fornication and adultery, lies, calumny and slander, injuries, killings, crimes, horrifying wars that make the earth an endless trial - all of these constitute a great well of affliction for man.

Wherever man goes he shall face afflictions, sometimes from the elements of nature, sometimes from the evil and malice of his fellow man, and sometimes from himself. Some afflictions come from the devil, who tries to destroy man. Finally, some afflictions come from the omnipotent, all-benevolent and all-wise God for the purpose of bringing about the purification of a sinful humanity.

Man travels within an ocean of sorrows. Christ confirmed it when he said, "In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" [John 16:33]. There was not, there is not, and there shall never be a person who does not have to confront affliction. When there is an island that is not surrounded by the sea, then there shall be a man who is not afflicted by sorrows.

The problem is, how does man confront affliction? Many people glorify God when they are healthy, their wallets are full, their children are thriving, and their lives are on course. But when affliction interrupts the tranquility, they lose their composure and curse the day they were born. Some become so desperate that they end their lives through suicide.

Oh man who is afflicted in this world! You have to arm yourself with patience to conquer sorrow. To receive patience, you must open up Holy Scripture and read what it says about affliction and the purpose it serves; read about those superb examples of patience.

In Holy Writ, there are many examples of patience. One such example is the paralytic in this Sunday's Gospel reading. He is a hero greater than those who are victorious on the fields of battle and get medals for courage.

Let's look at the life of this hero. He lived inside an ocean of afflictions. Not days, not weeks, not just a few years but for thirty-eight years he was sick, completely paralyzed. And yet he didn't howl, he didn't blaspheme, he didn't curse the day he was born. With a patience that reminds one of the patience of Job, he passed the days of his affliction believing that God had not abandoned him, but would someday show His mercy to him. And God did show His mercy. He came Himself, Jesus Christ, the true God, and cured the paralytic. All who saw were amazed by this miracle. On that day, the paralytic, that hero of patience, received from Christ, the Ruler of All, the reward for patience.

May it be, my beloved, that we all - men and women, any of us who suffer afflictions - be rewarded for patience. In order to endure, let's think of those heroes of patience like the paralytic and especially the king of pain and sorrow, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who said: "In the world you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."

From Drops From the Living Water: Orthodox Homilies On the Sunday Gospel Readings by Augoustinos N. Kantiotis; pp. 60-64.