What could this poor paralytic do, having suffered for 38 years, this “unburied corpse,” as we heard in today’s Gospel reading? Why, he could have patience, you might say. And indeed, he was patient. He was patient for many years and never abandoned hope that the day would finally arrive when he would descend into the water and be healed.
For a healthy person it is normal to move around, to work, to think, to believe, to desire—in short, to live intensively, to the full extent of his spiritual and physical powers. Therein lies his happiness. But a person bound to the sickbed for many years of illness, whose physical life is reduced to a minimum, is left with a great deal of time for spiritual endurance, for thoughts over his bitter fate, for posing the same question to himself over and over: “Why, for what, why me? Who is in need of my illness? What purpose does my life serve, nothing but a burden to everyone?”
Any person who falls to misfortune is pestered by this chain of questions day after day, which torment him, fatigue him with the foreboding of worse days ahead, which lead to a sorrowful end—spiritual or even physical suicide, if he doesn’t muster enough patience.
Activity is a trait of a healthy person. His life is manifested in activity. Patience, however, is required of anyone whom catastrophe strikes; therein lies his spiritual strength. Patience is defined as endurance of whatever befalls you with the hope that the maladies will soon pass, that circumstances will change for the better, that illness will be cured, and most of all—that the Lord would not send tribulation which would exceed our ability to overcome.
When patience transforms into trusting submission to the will of God, a person no longer fears living. He can continue for decades in illness or confinement while still possessing a living soul.
Listen how he speaks with a Stranger—Christ the Savior! In response to the question: “Do you wish to be healed?” he did not answer gruffly. He could have said: “Oh, if I didn’t, would I be sitting here for decades on end?” Had he no patience, Christ would not have found him at the Sheep Gate pool. Had he no faith, Christ would not have met him later, after healing, in the Temple. These several character traits of the paralytic demonstrate his wholesome moral persona and illustrate that this was a person worthy of Divine mercy—and in fact it was granted to him. Why it was given after a 38-year period of tribulation, and no earlier, we cannot explain. We can only evaluate its meaning with respect to our own lives.
The Lord has mercy upon even such a worthy person after many years of waiting. He will have mercy upon us inners, as long as we do not turn away from Him, if only we continue to be patient, as long as we do not lose hope. In patience and in hope for Divine mercy lie our salvation.
In order to understand where within our patience our salvation can be found, let us think about what happens to the human soul which loses patience, falls into despair, abandons all hope! It becomes indifferent to God, it loses its taste for prayer, it locks itself up inside itself and only lets in the things of this world. In the worst case, it becomes so agitated that it can no longer speak of God without mockery, without blasphemy. This is indeed what is known a spiritual death! The person senses the weight of his existence, but has no strength to change it, because he is no longer alone: the evil spirit, the spirit of wickedness has possessed his soul and leads it to perdition.
On the contrary, a person armed with patience says to himself: “I may die, I may lose my life, but I shall not denounce God, I will not cease to pray to Him, I will not turn my back on Him, but as the Much-Suffering Job will I repeat: ‘shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’” Through the cloud of tribulation, such a person will live in faith and patience and will be crowned, as was Job, with happiness, or, as with the needy Lazarus, lying at the gates of the rich man, will merit eternal joys in the bosom of Abraham.
So, my brothers and friends, let us obtain patience, let us be ever ready to endure with good nature all sorrows that befall us, then we will be deemed worthy of joys on earth and in the Kingdom of Heaven, which our Lord Jesus Christ will not deprive us of for the sake of His greatest of mercies. Amen.