Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent


Ephesians 4: 17-25. (v. 25) “Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”

Psalm 41:1-4, 11-13. (v. 4) “As for me, I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against thee!"

Mark 2:1-12,15-17. (v. 17) "And…Jesus…said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

The following is a revised and extended version of the homily I gave today

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

So says our Lord.

Surely He speaks ironically. “There is none righteous, no not one,” writes the prophet. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” we read in St. Paul. And we, from our own experience, know that we ourselves, and humanity in general, are fundamentally flawed. So he comes for sinners, for us all, but to what end? In today’s gospel, and on every page of Scripture, we find the answer: the Lord comes to heal and to forgive.

Before discussing the gospel further, let us look for a moment at the reading from the Letter to the Church at Ephesus. Prior to this passage, Paul has been discussing what Christ has done in triumphing over the enemies of humanity and thereby forming the Church, the members of which are organically united with Christ. Because they - we - are found “in Christ,” we are also “members one of another”. Therefore, we are called to live the Christ-life, “putting to death the deeds of the flesh,” not only for our own good, but for the good of the Church as a whole. This organic union, this communion, means that my spiritual wellbeing, or lack thereof, affects the whole of the Church, as does yours. I either build you up or I tear you down, and vice-versa. We are all in this together.

So I must be concerned for your wellbeing and you for mine on all levels of each other’s existence. In Scripture, “health” or “wholeness” is used frequently to speak of well-being, regardless of whether we are referring to spiritual or physical well-being. Indeed, the basic meaning of “salvation” is “healing”. But our Lord’s greatest concern is always for our spiritual well-being because it, and it alone, is “the one thing needed”.

In the Letter of James, we read of the anointing of the sick. Clearly, many persons have been physically healed through the reception of this Holy Mystery. However, James ends his discussion of this sacrament by saying, “And if he [the recipient of the anointing], has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” Therefore, when confronted with the paralytic, the Lord deals with the most basic issue first. He forgives the man. He heals him spiritually. Then, the Lord heals the man physically, not only to demonstrate his authority to forgive, but also to meet the man’s presenting need.

Perhaps we seek physical healing from the Lord, or some other thing that is not directly spiritual. Have we first sought spiritual healing? Is there some issue that stands between us and the Lord? “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you,” he says.

Note well that in healing the paralyzed man, Jesus responds, not to the faith of the man himself, but to the faith of the men who placed the sick man before Him. They, confident that Jesus both could and would heal the paralyzed man, did for him what he could not do for himself. They brought the man to Jesus. Their active faith benefited another. We too are called to bring each other to Jesus, to encourage each other in faith.

Throughout this season of Lent, we have heard various gospel accounts of healing and forgiveness coming from the source of all healing and forgiveness: the one and only God. We have also heard readings from the letters of St. Paul in which are discussed, as in Romans 7, the corrupting and compelling power of sin in human lives untouched by the power of Christ, as well as what it means to be in Christ. Paul writes in II Corinthians: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. All things have become new.” It is from this newness of life, given us because we are in Christ, that we are called to live, both for our own good and for the good of all humanity, and ultimately, the good of all creation. In this season of Lent, we are called to renew our openness to that life, to seek deeper communion with Christ and thereby, with each other.

Lent, as we all know, is the season of preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s death and resurrection. It is a season of repentance, of turning away from the world, the flesh, and the devil, and of turning toward the Lord. It is rooted also in the preparation of catechumens to be baptized into the Church at Pascha, along with the reconciliation of penitents, occurring also at Pascha. Thus, the Church as a whole repents in solidarity, in communion, with those who are entering into the new life of Christ or who have publically fallen short.

So let us then pursue our Lenten disciplines of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, not only for ourselves, but for each other, for the whole Church, and for the whole world. Let us pray for those who have left us. For we are, truly, members one of another and we are called to live accordingly, building each other up, to to the glory of the Almighty Father, together with our Lord Jesus Christ+, His only eternal Word and Son, and the all-Holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, One God in both worlds and unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen.

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