On the Paralyzed Man in Capernaum
Excerpts from St. Gregory Palamas' homily on the Gospel reading for the second Sunday of Holy Lent on the Paralyzed man in Capernaum:
"It was love of human honor that distanced the Pharisees from faith in the Lord, which is why He said to them, “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44). Others were prevented from drawing near by lands, weddings, or worries about the affairs of this life (Luke 14:18–20), but the paralyzed man's physical weakness put an end to such things and removed them from his thoughts. There are times when illness is better for sinners than good health, because it helps them towards salvation and blunts their inborn evil impulses. Inasmuch as it repays the debt of sins by means of suffering, it makes them able to receive healing of their souls in the first instance, then healing of their bodies. This happens most of all when the sick person, understanding that the affliction is a remedy from God, bears it courageously, falls down before God with faith and asks for forgiveness, through whatever works he can manage. This was shown by the paralyzed man who did what he could, and proved by the Lord's own words and actions. The Pharisees, however, were incapable of comprehending, and blasphemed and murmured among themselves (Mark 2:6–7). “When Jesus”, it says, “saw their faith”, the faith, that is, of the bed-ridden man who had been lowered, and of those who had let him down from the roof, “he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5).
What a blessed way to be addressed! He hears himself called “son” and is adopted as the child of the heavenly Father. He is joined to God who is without sin, having immediately become sinless himself through the forgiveness of his sins. In order that his body can subsequently be renewed, his soul first receives deliverance from sin from the Lord, who knows that in the beginning when the soul fell into the snares of sin, physical illness and death followed, in accordance with His righteous judgment.
They said that they had never seen anything like this, glorifying God by their words and showing that this miracle was greater than any previous ones. But we are unable to say the same now, for we have seen many much greater miracles performed not only by Christ but also by His disciples and their successors, just by calling upon Christ's name. Let us then, brethren, glorify Him now by our actions, regarding this miracle anagogically as a pattern for virtue. Anyone addicted to sensual pleasures is paralyzed in his soul, and is lying sick on the bed of voluptuousness with its deceptive bodily ease. Once, however, he has been won over by the exhortations in the Gospel, he confesses his sins and triumphs over them and the paralysis they have brought upon his soul. He is taken up and brought to the Lord by these four: self-condemnation, confession of former sins, promising to renounce evil ways from now on, and prayer to God. They cannot, however, bring him near to God without uncovering the roof, scattering the tiles, earth and other building material. Our roof is the reasoning part of the soul, which is set above everything else within us. But it has lying on top of it, like a large quantity of building material, its connection with the passions and earthly matters. Once this connection has been loosed and shaken off by means of the four things we have mentioned, then we can really be let down, that is, humbled, fall down before the Lord, draw near to Him and ask and receive His healing.
When did these acts of repentance take place? At the time when Jesus came to His own city, which means, after He came in the flesh to stay in the world which He created and is therefore His own. As the evangelist says of Him, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:11–12). So when we fall down before Him with such faith, our paralyzed mind immediately hears Him saying “Son”, and receives forgiveness and healing. In addition it receives strength to lift up and carry the bed on which it is lying. The bed is to be understood as the body to which the mind which pursues fleshly desires clings, and through which it applies itself to sinful actions. After being healed, our mind has our body under control and leads and carries it about."