Second Sunday of Lent
Before healing the paralytic in today’s Gospel reading, the Lord poses a question to the scribes that concerns all of us:
“Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk?”
In other words, which is easier: words or deeds?
St Gregory of Palamas (whose memory the Church celebrates today) remarks in his sermon on this Gospel passage that: by our nature, we all long for salvation, we all want peace, freedom, the solution to our problems, and for this reason many people are keen to listen to the teaching of the Church, and to discuss, make remarks, and of course to judge whether others are doing things the right way.
This is the easy bit, this reasoning within ourselves like the scribes were doing. Deeds, however, are more difficult, and only a few act in accordance with what they hear and say. And this lack of deeds is also evidence of a lack of faith. As the Lord says, “Every tree shall be known by its fruit” (Luke 6:45).
St James the Apostle says the same, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (2:14).
The point is not that we are saved by our works. It is faith that saves us. But a genuine faith will always be accompanied by corresponding deeds. And as today’s Gospel shows us, this is true even when we are not in a position to act. Even when the crowds hinder us from entering the house where Jesus is (in other words, even when the cares of life, our commitments, temptations and difficulties are so numerous and so great that we cannot approach the Lord), even when we find ourselves in a state of paralysis, even then, if we have faith, genuine faith, that faith can work in others. It was in this way that the faith and fervent supplication of the paralytic moved his four friends to carry him to where he could not go himself. And the Lord, seeing the fruits of his faith in the daring act of his four friends, forgave him and healed him.
The Lord’s authority to forgive sins was shown through the miracle, the faith of the paralytic was shown through his friends, and the faith of his friends was shown through their action. Even the Lord’s command, “Take up your pallet and walk”, underlines that the healing also had to produce works.
Therefore, we see how faith is not something individual, since true faith will always inspire others while also attracting the grace of God. Nor is faith something theoretical, because it is always made manifest in action, just as God manifests himself to us.
And this is also the central message of the feast of St Gregory Palamas, who defended the Orthodox tradition of hesychasm against certain Latin heretics. That is, he defended the idea that man, even in this life, can have direct experience of God, especially through the vision of the uncreated Light, while his Latin opponents maintained that God could only be experienced indirectly through creation.
Thus, for us Orthodox, prayer is not a cry into the darkness of the unknown, but is our source of knowledge of God in the context of a personal relationship, and within this relationship, true faith will again be accompanied with manifest proofs, by a foretaste of the presence of God.
Let us all say with all our soul and with all our mind, let us say, “Lord, have mercy”, and we will have no impediment, neither external nor internal, but faith will carry us to the feet of Christ, who will heal and save us. Amen.
Fr Kristian Akselberg