And he went out about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom of heaven, and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.
The last part of that sentence is especially significant because at the onset, St. Matthew summarizes the nature of Christ’s public ministry: it was one of traveling, of teaching, of preaching and of healing.
It’s not a coincidence then that the stories we read in St. Matthew’s gospel also follow this sequence in each subsequent chapter. Immediately after the baptism of Christ by St. John in the Jordan which we find in Chapter 4, we read that he travels out to the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Then he travels back to Nazareth and then departs for Capernaum, and walking by the sea of Galilee he calls his disciples and together they begin to travel throughout Galilee.
While they are traveling, Christ is preaching and teaching. And this is reflected again in the subsequent chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel. In Chapter 5 Christ is preaching the Sermon of the Mount and explaining what it takes to be a true Christian, he teaches about righteousness, about self-control, about forgiveness. Next, in Chapter 6, he teaches about stewardship and generosity, about prayer, about fasting, and how to trust in God for all things. Then in Chapter 7, he preaches about the sin of judging others, he teaches about the importance of preserving in difficult struggle of the spiritual life. Finally, at the end of Chapter 7, after he finishes offering this long sequence of divine teachings that are full of wisdom and truth, he then says to watch out for false teachings that are full of lies and which come from false prophets.
Traveling. Preaching. Teaching. And then, beginning in the very next chapter, we read about the healings. The healing of the Leper, the healing of the centurion’s servant, of Peter’s Mother in Law and the two demoniacs. Chapter 9 begins with the healing of the paralytic which we heard today, next comes the healing of the woman with the issue of blood, the raising from the dead of the little girl, the healing of the two blind men and the healing of another demoniac.
It’s really an amazing structure within the Gospel of St. Matthew. And if you read the text closely, you’ll notice that this sequence then starts over again in Chapter 10, Christ and the disciples again travel, and now they are the ones teaching, preaching and healing along with Christ, and this sequence continues all the way throughout the Gospel of Matthew and finally culminates with the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Much of what Christ does in terms of traveling, teaching, preaching and his healing power that we read about throughout the Gospel of St. Matthew is concentrated and summarized in the story of the healing of the paralytic.
Here are just a few of the parallels between this gospel account and Christ’s ministry that can be observed.
Christ travels to seek and find the lost. The friends of the paralytic travel to find Christ.
Christ teaches and preaches about the blessedness of having faith, perseverance, generosity, prayer, and trusting in God. The friends of the paralytic demonstrate all these qualities and receive a tremendous blessing.
Christ teaches about the love, mercy and forgiveness of God and that the destiny of our souls is more important than anxiety about our bodies. Even though he was suffering in the body, the paralytic desired the spiritual healing that could only come from God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. And he received both the spiritual and physical healing.
The Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Aramaic and intended primarily for the Jewish people, to convince them that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Son of God. Without realizing it, the Jewish scribes and pharisees themselves declare that Jesus is God when they say in their hearts, “Only God can forgive sins.”
Christ reveals that he indeed is God because only God can know the secrets of hearts, only God can forgive sins, and only God can perform healings merely by the power of his word. Just as he created the entire world by simply calling it into being with a word.
The paralytic symbolizes fallen humanity, paralyzed by sin and death which was in need of spiritual and physical healing. And as the paralytic was healed and rose up and walked home, so Christ restores and heals our human nature so that, through him, our souls and bodies may rise from the paralysis of sin and death so that we also can journey back to our heavenly home.
St. Ambrose of Milan points out something very important. Writing on this gospel reading he says that Christ, “commands the man to perform an action of which health was the necessary condition, even while the patient was still praying for a remedy for his disease…(He tells him to stand up.) St. Ambrose continues to say that “It was our Lord’s custom to require of those whom he healed some response or duty to be done.”
Our Lord continues to have this custom. He continues to require from us who want to be healed some response or duty to be done. When your body hurts, you go to the doctor and the doctor figures out the problem and gives you medicine to alleviate the pain and heal the illness. We gladly accept the advice and treatment of the doctor because we want to be healed, we want the pain to go away.
But we tend to not apply the same reasoning or behavior when it comes to our spiritual life and spiritual pain. If we want to be healed, our response, our duty, should first be to identify what’s broken. But unlike going to the doctor, only Christ can reveal to us what’s broken in our souls and in our hearts. This happens through Grace. But how do we attain this Grace? What is our response or duty that will attract this grace of Christ so that this pain, this suffering, this paralysis of our souls and hearts can be revealed to us and be healed. There is only one thing we can and must do in this life that has been given to us. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, it is the very first thing that Christ preaches, and it was one word: “Repent”
Our duty, our response is to strive for Repentance. This happens when we empty ourselves of conceit, pride, ego, and self-will. It’s when we take up our cross and endure with perseverance, faith and hope. It’s when we devote ourselves to prayer, fasting, to coming to the services, to reading the bible, to supporting the work of our Church. It’s when we love God and desire him more than anything else in this world. It’s when we finally decide that we need to stop playing around and just be who we are: Orthodox Christians.
As we do these things, Christ will reveal to us more and more, all the things that are keeping us from becoming like him, becoming holy, becoming perfect. Christ will reveal to us all our hidden sins, all the secrets of our hearts that he sees. And when we acknowledge these sins in the Sacrament of Confession, we are forgiven by Christ himself, just like the paralytic was. It’s important that we understand the teaching of the Church on this matter. Without participating in the Sacrament of Confession, there is no true repentance and therefore there is no forgiveness of Sins. It is that simple and that serious.
As St. Paul says, we must “work out our own salvation”, through the grace of Christ. Salvation is a gift. Our life must be a beautiful thank you card to God for this gift.
May we have the faith, perseverance and repentance of the Paralytic so that we too may be healed and rise and return home to our Heavenly Father. Amen.