H.H. Pope Tawadros II – Weekly Wednesday Sermon - April 3, 2019

Friday April 5, 2019
Do You Want To Be Made Well? – John 5:1-15
.H.H. Pope Tawadros II – Weekly Wednesday Sermon - April 3, 2019

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. One God. Amen. May His grace and blessing rest upon us, from now and to eternity. Amen.

By the grace of Christ I will read a portion of Scripture from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of our teacher St. John the Evangelist. This is the Gospel Reading for the fifth Sunday of the Great Holy Fast, it is the miracle of the healing of the paralytic man at the pool of Bethesda.

1After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. 
5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” 
8 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”

11 He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’” 12 Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. 
14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” 15 The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Glory be to God forever and ever. Amen.

As we have been doing during our Wednesday meetings during this Great Holy Fast, the subjects of our meetings have been based on the Church’s Gospel Readings for each Sunday. Also, from each Reading we have tried to discern a question that Christ may be asking each one of us personally, for our personal contemplation and application.

Sometimes we have had to read between the lines to discern what the question may be, but the question from this Sunday’s Reading is a very clear, direct, short, and foundational question, and it is the question that this entire Gospel story is based upon.

The story begins with the pool of Bethesda, and the architectural design of this pool was like a hand: its hallways (where the people lay) were like the fingers, and the spaces between the fingers is where the water or the pools of water were. And there are many hospitals around the world today that have taken up the name ‘Bethesda,’ because ‘bet’ means house and ‘hesda’ means mercy, and so, ‘house of mercy.’

And as the Gospel tells us, there were many people there. And Jesus came there, saw this man who had been there for many years and asked him a very essential question. And when Jesus asks this question, He wasn’t asking it of this paralytic or this sick man, but He is asking us this question. This question is directed toward us.

As you know, last week was the week of the Samaritan Woman and next week is the week of the Man Born Blind, and these three weeks all have to do with water. Christ met the Samaritan woman at a water well, today’s story takes place at a pool of water, and in the story of the man born blind, the man is sent to go wash at the Pool of Siloam.

And because the Great Holy Fast was designed as a program to prepare the Catechumens to become Christians – which is also why we call the Sunday of the Man Born Blind “Baptismal Sunday” (because they were being prepared to obtain the grace of baptism, in water) – that is why the Church selected these specific Sunday Readings; subjects which all have to do with water.

And when Christ asks this question, make sure you do not think this question does not apply to you, but rather, the question is directed specifically at you – “Do you want?” When God created humans He gave each one of them a will and freedom, so that each one of us may do as they choose, but He created this freedom in man so that a person would use it rightly.

And when God spoke to Adam telling him not to eat from the tree, this could be considered to be the first commandment, a commandment to fast – “You may eat of all the fruit of the trees except for the fruit from this tree” (cf. Gen 2:16-17) meaning, fast from this tree. But Adam could not fast from it; he could not control his fast and he broke the commandment. His will was weak, and this weak will is what destroys a person.

And so in the beginning, God does not interfere with a person’s will – you are free, you are free. But I wonder, throughout your spiritual journey, is your will present? Is your will strong?

And when Christ met this person He asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” This a strange and illogical question because here is this sick man lying by the pool, what else would he want? But He says, no, because if you pay close attention to the question, it may be that this man, from his point of view, had other preferences. For example, there may be a person who is enjoying the sin and sinning, or in the case of this man, he may have been enjoying just laying there beside the pool of water. 
And so a person may reach a point of extreme laziness and become content with the sin situation in their lives, as maybe this man may have said, “This is not so bad. I just lay here and people pass by and give me money and whatever I need. Besides, life is short – just a few days and it is all over.” This may be the attitude one takes toward life and toward sin.

A second thing is that a person may value other things more than they value their own health, for example, like receiving the attention of others, or receiving the handouts of others, and such simple matters may keep a person happy and so distract him from the matter of health.

The third thing is that a person may lose their hope in being healed, because maybe after a person has been ill for many, many, years, and many days and nights have passed, he may think there is no healing for him and so he loses all hope. And when there is no hope, a person falls into despair.

Or it may be that a person, like this man, may say, “Who cares, life is just a few days and then I’ll die and leave this earth, so there’s no point in searching for something else, something better.”

And notice the gap of time between the question and between this man’s illness – a period of 38 years has passed by, this is almost half a lifetime. Do you, despite the duration of the sin, do you still have hope that you can be made well? Do you still have hope to attain health – whether physical health or spiritual health?

And He asks him this question and awaits an answer. And what would you expect the man’s answer to be? Maybe, “Yes, I have a will, I want to get up, I want to be well.” But this sick man responded in an extremely vulnerable and human way when he said, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” And this scene expresses the human condition.

What do I mean by “the human condition?” The person who was cast at the side of the pool had no relatives, no connections to help him, no neighbors, no family, not even people from his hometown around him – he had none of that. And here we find a conflict between two things: a place (where he is at) that is called “the house of mercy,” and the people around him, who have no mercy.

And you can sense the simplicity of his need in his response when he says, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water” – just a push, that’s all he wanted. Oh my! Cruelty has overpowered the human heart, and so it may be that we are one of those people who pass by a person with a need, but not give them any attention, and we are not only talking about sick people here.

This pool was like a hospital, with many people coming in and going out, and so here is revealed a very clear picture on the nature of humanity: has there not been a single person in all these 38 years who saw this sick and helpless man and thought to give him just a little help, this little push? Has mercy disappeared from human hearts? This is another question; a question for each of us to consider.

“Do you want to be made well?” – do you really want this? Meaning, is it in your intention and your desire to receive healing? Are you thinking about health? And I want you to please notice something, that so often when we visit a sick person we talk to them about the disease and not the healing. For example, we ask things like, “What’s hurting you? What did the doctor tell you? When do you feel the pain?” and all these things have to do with the disease, but we do not talk about the condition of healing.

So the first thing to put before you is that Bethesda, the house of mercy, was without mercy and the spirit of selfishness prevailed in it. And so this is another question for us: Are you like one of those healthy people who went in and out of the Pool of Bethesda and yet their emotions remained unaffected? This is a question.

The other point is that this was a Feast time, and during this Feast time Christ went up to Jerusalem, and he met with this man after 38 years of his being sick – 38 years without healing and without joy. So the first point was “without mercy,” but this point is about “no joy,” because many other people had entered the pool being sick, but they came out healed and happy.

And by the way, as the Bible says about this pool, “For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had,” and so this means that the when the angel stirred the water, this infused it with healing power, but some Bible commentators have said that this pool had a deeper source of water that bubbled up every so often, and when it bubbled up it would bring up certain chemical compounds that aided in the healing of various skin diseases. This is what some people have said, but according to what the Bible says, it is the angel’s stirring of the water that bestowed a Higher Power upon the water, allowing it to be an aid to healing.

And so this man was without joy and in a difficult state, and maybe as they say in the medical field, he was a “hopeless case” – a person who is incurable and the doctors have lost hope in his or her healing.

A third and even more critical matter is that this sick person was abandoned – he was left alone and nobody was paying him any attention. Sometimes when we see a person who has fallen in sin we abandon or ignore them, and this is also why the Church refers to this man as “the lonely one,” because he was abandoned. He is also known as “the disjointed,” because no doubt that after 38 years of just laying there without movement, without exercise, without anything at all, his joints and muscles must have withered.

And so this man was without hope, and it would even be more accurate to say that he was without a companion, without a friend. And of course during that time there was nothing such as the concept of nursing, nor volunteers, nor caretakers working dayshifts and nightshifts. And so notice the progression here: without mercy, and without joy, and without companionship. What a difficult situation to be in.

As we mentioned last week, the heart of the Great Holy Fast is the four Sundays of:

The Prodigal Son,
The Samaritan Woman,
The Paralytic, and 
The Man Born Blind

These four weeks are preceded by the week of Preparation and the week of The Temptation, and they are followed by the week of Palm Sunday and then the week of the Resurrection. And so again, to review, the weeks of the Great Holy Fast are:

Preparation Week
The Temptation
The Prodigal Son
The Samaritan Woman
The Paralytic
The Man Born Blind
Palm Sunday
Resurrection Sunday

And so the heart of the fast is one story, but illustrated over four scenes.

The first scene: The scene of “Choice” (of the Prodigal Son)
The second scene: The scene of “Repetition” (of the Samaritan Woman)
The third scene: The scene of “Continuity” (continuing for 38 years)
The fourth scene: The scene of “Bitterness” (a person who is born blind)

These scenes tell the condition of sin:

The Prodigal Son chose to sin once, but he then returned right away, thank the Lord.
The Samaritan Woman sinned 4 times, but she also returned.
And here we have a sin for 38 years, but the man demonstrated that he had a will to heal and be well

And this man’s desire to be healthy again is reminiscent of the Prodigal Son’s story said when it said, “But when he came to himself” (Lk 15:17)”, as in, “What is this condition I’m in? I will arise and return to my father’s house” (Lk 15:18).

And so at this stage that the paralytic man is in, what is it that he needs after having been in this painful state for so long? He needed the God who is without sin, and he needed the One who could lift this sin from him.

And of course as you know, in the Old Testament, there was always a connection between sin and disease – if a person’s sin was large they would get a serious disease, and if a person’s sin was small they would get a minor disease. And so the seriousness of this man’s disease is an illustration of the long time in which a human has lived in sin. And so comes the question that rings in the hearts and ears of each one of us: “Do you want to be made well?”

Do you have an honest intention within you to heal? To be made well? Or do you have the attitude of, “Life is short, this is not a big deal,” or “I’m okay, I’m not worse than anybody else, and when I look at my life, actually, everything seems to be moving along just fine and I’m doing quite well”? What is your attitude?

This man represents a man who desires repentance, and there are three distinguishing marks about this man.

Three distinguishing marks about this man

First of all, he has a desire – desire or will; to have an inner desire. He desired to be made well but he did not have an opportunity, which is why Christ did this miracle for him. And this miracle is known as a tri-part miracle: “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

Rise, take up, and walk – three verbs that do not make any sense for someone in this man’s sickly condition, but he had a desire. One of the important things for a person to always have in his life is the desire to improve or the desire to change.

And I suppose you are all familiar with the Greek philosophy that says, “If you wish to improve the world, begin with yourself,” and that is what repentance is, it is the changing of yourself. And because we have with us today a large number of young priests who will be beginning their priesthood service, it is important for us as servants to remember to keep this idea before us at all times. Christ said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10), and so a person must always have a desire for change in his own life, in his own life. Because it may be that after a person has been a priest for one, two, or three years, they get used to a routine in their service and in their ministry with people, but there is another person who is always changing, who always wants to improve and be better.

And this is the reason why the Church gives us many periods of fasting, because every fast is a period that gives us an opportunity to change and an opportunity to strengthen our will, otherwise life becomes just a series of going into fasts and coming out of them, without having changed at all.

And this is the wisdom of our Church and in having periods of fasting, no matter how long or short they may be, even our weekly fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays – we are to treat them the same way. Wednesdays are to remind us that “sin is very sinful,” and Fridays are to remind us that, “I have great need for Christ’s salvation.” And these fasts are repeated weekly so that a person does not forget these two things.

So the first thing we see in this sick man is the presence of a will and the presence of a desire, despite the many years that he had spent just laying there, abandoned.

The second characteristic we see in this man is that he had obedience and surrender. And here I would like you to please imagine this scene with your emotions, because this man has been laying there in this awful state all these years, and then a man comes along and tells him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

And of course his bed is not what we would call a bed, it was just a mat on the floor, but Christ considered it to be a bed and was asking the man to roll it up, carry it, and walk off. And can you imagine that this man immediately got up and did all this? Another person may have said something like, “But I can’t.”

Sometimes we see someone who has been laying in bed for a couple of weeks due to an illness or something else, and people will tell him, “Just try, put your foot down, or try to stand up” – you know, these little baby steps we take to help people get back up, but this One said, “Rise!” This has the idea of resurrection, as we also pray every day in the Midnight Tasbeha Praises and say, “Rise, O sons of light.”

“Rise, take up!” – this was to make sure that the man would not lean on anyone, and to assure that the healing was complete, “and walk” – this one who had been laying there all these years could now walk on his own. And so this man had obedience and surrender because he could have made an excuse and said, “But I’ve been laying here for so long, give me some time to get up gradually,” but no, he immediately heard and obeyed the Divine commandment, arose, carried his bed, and walked.

The third thing about this man was that he was grateful - grateful in his situation and in his state. We do not ever hear that he rebelled or complained about life, or how difficult life was or how life treated him so unfairly, but in all gentleness he said, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

He is so gentle of spirit, we could even say that he is a contented man, not a complainer. And oftentimes a person who is content and thankful, that person’s life will often be easier than a person who is always complaining, who rebels against life, or one who is always dissatisfied. He could have complained about the cruelty of the disease, and the cruelty of time, and the cruelty of people, but he said nothing of the sort. But rather, he spoke his words in a very gentle way to Christ, the Savior and the Healer.

We must know that life is a cooperation between two things: God’s grace from above, and a person’s inner will. This is what our life is, it is a collaboration between the grace of God that He pours upon us and our inner will.

And the will is often compared to a container, a container in which we can receive the grace of God. If you do not have this will then you will not enjoy the graces of God. For example, if a person is thirsty and there is a lot of rain, we tell him to take a container and fill it up with the rain water, and then he can use that water to drink or for many other uses.

And so it is with the will, the will is the container in which a person can receive God’s grace. Which is why we always pray, “Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done” (Mt 6:9-10) – Lord, I want to receive Your grace, and here I am, I’m ready to receive these great graces.

In all the matters of our life, there is a collaboration between God’s grace from above which He pours forth every morning, and a person’s will. And this is why when we pray we raise our hands, as if to make a receptive container out of our body, a container that is ready and waiting for something that is coming. And so we raise our hands in prayer waiting for God’s graces, and this is also a posture and a form of surrender.

And this is also why we build our churches to have two minarets. The two minarets represent the essence of prayer, and the main function of a church building is prayer – “For My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Isa 56:7). And so we build these two minarets as a symbol and expression that our lives and our strength and our desire is for grace, and for the pouring forth of grace during times of prayer.

Points to note about Christ’s Character

Christ our Lord is the most Compassionate One.

He is compassionate towards all humans and He was compassionate with this sick man. And as He was compassionate with this man and did a miracle to heal him, and on the Sabbath day, which according to the Jews was an unacceptable thing to do, yet those who should have been compassionate, they ignored this man’s state of ill health and how he had been laying there for 38 years, and his laying at the pool hopeless and without any help, and they focused on just one thing: How can Christ perform a healing on the Sabbath? Surely He is a sinner. Surely he is wrong, He broke the Law.

And having a narrow heart or a narrow mind causes people much trouble and much grief, and so although these Scribes and Pharisees were the leaders of the people, but unfortunately, their minds were narrow, extremely so. They ignored all the good things about this story and that this man was healed, and they focused on just one thing: How is it that He performed a miracle on the Sabbath?

And here is a very big question mark: How is it that these people were leaders and yet their perspective was so twisted, and that they were so disinterested in the wellbeing of people?

Christ responds to us immediately

Another thing we see in Christ’s meeting with this sick man is that Christ immediately responded to him. Christ responds to us as soon as we merely declare our need for a thing, just by declaring our need. For example, this man said, “Sir, I have no man,” and without investigating the matter Christ immediately responds, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

And God always responds to us at the perfect time; He responds to us at the time that is most appropriate for us. I have told this story before, it is a story of one of our church families that purchased a church building from another Christian denomination. But this church building too small and so the Abouna had a thought to approach the city’s municipality and make a request to expand the building by another six meters.

So he prepared all the documents and architectural drawings and submitted the request. After many months had passed by, their response was, “Your request is denied.” So Abouna was taken aback, but after a year had passed he thought to give it another try, so he prepared another request and submitted it, but was surprised when once again the request was refused.

So he stood before God crying out and praying, “Lord, just six meters, is that too much for You? The people need it.” And while he was praying a thought occurred to him, but an illogical thought, “It is because you requested six meters that they refused. Make the request for 15 or 20 meters, and try that.”

So he questioned this thought within himself, “If they did not approve a request for 6 meters, will they approve one for 15 meters? No, this is not logical.” But he did it anyway, he submitted this request and continued in prayer, and within a few months he received the approval for the extension.

And so we learn from this story that God does respond, but what is important is that we express our need with sincerity, like blind Bartimaeus, who cried out saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” and He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight” (Lk 18:38-41). I want to see. I want to see - a person must express their need.

For example, a child may ask their earthly father, “Baba, baba, bring me something nice when you come home,” and the father will say, “What exactly do you want?” And the child says, “I want that thing.” And in this way, the father is filled with joy as he gives his child the specific thing the child asked for or needed.

In summary, the Old Testament was the time of the stirring of the waters by means of an angel; it was the time of the Law of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron, but people were still not healed. The New Testament is the era of the Presence and manifestation of Christ, this is the era of grace and salvation and just One thing is needed (Lk 10:42), and this One is the Savior who is able to grant healing and health to humanity.

And so the question that must resound in our minds is: “Do you want to be made well?” And notice that on the concluding Friday of the Fast Christ gives a stern warning: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Mt 23:37), so this is the same issue – desire. Do you desire to be made well?

And this is a question we are to take along with us on our journey during the Great Holy Fast: “Do you want to be made well?” This is a question being asked of each one of us, and specifically, it is an important question to ask when there is a sin that has taken control of a person and is dominating him. And this question is to be revisited year after year, because the Gospel clearly states this question for us in this Reading and so it is a very foundational question for a person’s spiritual growth.

We stand before the Lord and we say, “Lord, I want to be made well, and I truly want it, and I want it with all my heart that my life be made new and that my life be changed. You know my weaknesses and this specific weakness Lord, I do not want to do it anymore and I want to be strong. I want to rise, take up my bed, and walk away from this weakness, and far away from this sickness.” And as a person lifts up his heart with a sincere desire, God responds at the appropriate time.

And so the question is for us, for each of us, and do not let this story and its beauty be simply about a man who was sick and was healed after many years; do not let the beauty of this story distract you from the fact that this question is meant for each one of our hearts.

May our Christ give us an enlivened and strong will, and may it be a sincere will, a will that is from the heart, and that with this will we may glorify Him, and that this will always be strengthened in our lives and on our spiritual journey.

To our God be all the glory, from now and to eternity. Amen.