SIR, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
Today is the Sunday of the Paralysed Man. See John 5:1-9.
St Maximus the Confessor (6th century) explored this miracle in terms of its lessons for the spiritual life.
He begins by seeing ‘paralysis’ as the inertia of the soul, fast-bound by its ties to bodily indulgence.
HE who yields to the pleasures of the body is neither diligent in virtue nor readily receptive of spiritual knowledge.
For this reason he has no one – that is, no intelligent thought – to put him into the pool when the water is disturbed (cf. John 5:7), that is, into a state of virtue capable of receiving spiritual knowledge and of healing every sickness.
On the contrary, although sick, he procrastinates because of laziness and is forestalled by someone else, who prevents him from being cured.
And so he lies there with his illness for thirty-eight years.
St Maximus now explains the symbolism of 38 years of sickness. It indicates two chief means to healing:
- Contemplation of God’s glory the visible world;
- Raising the eye of the heart to the invisible heavens.
HE who does not contemplate the visible creation so as to discern God’s glory in it, and does not reverently raise his inner vision to the noetic world, quite fittingly remains ill for the number of years specified.
For the number thirty, understood with reference to nature, signifies the sensible world, while with reference to the ascetic life it signifies the practice of the virtues.
The number eight, understood mystically, denotes the intelligible nature of incorporeal beings, while understood in terms of spiritual knowledge it denotes the supreme wisdom of theology.
St Maximus ends by speaking of the Logos (i.e. the Word of God, Jesus Christ), who comes to us and heals us through our contemplation of the visible world and our raising of the eye of the heart to the heavens.
WHOEVER does not advance towards God by these means remains paralysed until the Logos comes to teach him how he can obtain prompt healing, saying to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (John 5:8);
that is to say, the Logos commands him to upraise his intellect from the love of pleasure which dominates him, to shoulder the body of the virtues and to go home, that is, to heaven.
St Maximus the Confessor, “First Century on Theology” §80, in the “Philokalia”, Vol II. Translation by Sherrard, Palmer and Ware.
BY your divine presence, O Lord, raise my soul, grievously paralysed by sins of every kind and by unnatural deeds, as you also raised the Paralysed Man of old, that saved I may cry to you: O merciful Christ, glory to your might.
Strength to the paralysed, the word of Christ.
And so this word was healing, this alone.
IN your boundless mercy, Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.
At Matins on the Sunday of the Paralysed Man. Translation from Anastasis.