In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
The world is coming to an end and God is punishing us for our sinfulness! I am certain that many of us, our friends and our family members have felt this way for the last few months. Ask any individual in the street, 2020 has been a collection of what can be Biblically described as equivalent to the plagues of Egypt – maybe the end times.
We have had mass sickness and death; we have had injustice and spilling of blood; we have had riots and economic downturn; we have seen the rise of suicide and domestic violence in our communities and homes. We have grown isolated, paranoid and have lost trust and respect for one other. Schools and Churches closed – families torn apart as the sick and elderly die alone rather than supported by loved ones. Our media is bombarded with every type of negativity this world has to offer – perpetrated at our hands. Racism, child exploitation and trafficking, gang violence, war, a complete disregard for responsibility – and now this week we saw the horrific explosion that took place in Beirut, Lebanon, which devastated the lives of everyone living there. Who among us would not agree that 2020 has been a difficult year?
For me, as a priest, to tell you to pray, come to Church, have hope may seem easy or even superficial. To pray, have hope and remain faithful in trying times is very difficult to live by and understand. Regardless, if we are a priest or not, whether we are theologically educated or not, to understand all that is happening around us these past few months is not easy. With all this noise and confusion, the pain and fear – we feel paralyzed! It is easier to lie down, give up and to say I’m done! And I can imagine, my dear brothers and sisters, that the paralyzed man, who was being carried to Jesus, felt the same way. What about his friends, what did they think? They had come all this way and carried there beloved friend; and now they couldn’t even get close to Jesus; no one would let them through. The pushing and shoving, confusion and the selfishness of everyone trying to get to Jesus made it highly unlikely that these 4 friends would be able to get through, let alone carry their friend who was immobile and in pain. I can imagine, they felt paralyzed. It would have been easier for them to give up and say I’m done.
Yet, we read “…when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’” (vv. 4-5) These friends did not give up – even though it was much easier. These friends had faith, and it was their faith that ultimately brought the healing upon their friend.
My dears, we want healing, we want justice, we want answers, so let us ask, when we feel paralyzed, when our backs are up against the wall or when the world is falling apart around us – where is our faith and how do we see it? When the priest tells us to have faith, to be hopeful, to pray it is not mere words or superficial cliché – however, let us ask how and where do we see it ultimately? St. Paul shows us that these 3 things: faith, hope and love are the aims of of our faith. He tells us, desire God’s love as our aim, desire for His spiritual gifts and desire to prophesy – to understand. (1 Corinthians 14:1) It is no coincidence that when we are baptized in the Armenian Church, the Godfather asks for these three things for the child – faith, hope and love. Love is seen in how we treat one another, how we treat ourselves, how we treat all of creation. To love as God loves – compassionately and humbly. Hope is the spiritual gift of using the love we have for each other to tend to, to comfort and to be with each other. To have hope doesn’t mean to make the pains of life go away or to ignore them – rather, to be hopeful means to empathetically feel the pains and have compassion for one another, to enter the pit – to not give up when it is easier to do so. Our faith is seen in our prayerfulness. To pray with faith is to be in communion with God and to allow God to use us in anyway necessary to fulfill His will.
We see this love in the 4 friends who loved their friend so much, that they carried him to see and be healed by Jesus. We see this hope in the 4 friends who remained hopeful in their care for their friend that when it was easier to give up, they carried him on the roof, opened the roof up and lowered their friend down. We see this faith in the 4 friends who remained prayerful, that through their actions, God’s will was shown to all that a paralyzed man walked again.
My dear brothers and sisters, we see that love, hope and faith in God through us when we likewise treat each other with compassion, empathy, forgiveness, respect and equality. We saw it in the faces of the men and women who ran into the ashes and dust to help each other after the explosion. We see it in the way doctors, police, teachers, caregivers, etc. risk their lives to treat those who have become sick. We see it in the encouraging phone calls and messages that are shared with each other to build each other up – when we are physically isolated. We don’t see it but we know its there – each time we put aside politics and wear a mask when we’re in public – merely out of respect for the person next to us. My dear brothers and sisters, 2020 is not a year in which God is punishing us, rather, 2020 is a year in which God has given us an opportunity to use His love, to hold fast to hope, to show our faith by doing His will on earth. This day, just as any other day or year is another moment and opportunity to be an example of God’s presence in each other’s lives because to be a Christian means to face darkness and shed light in it.
Yes, horrible things do and will happen; sickness will happen, pain will be felt. But even if we are paralyzed and laying on a mat, even if the world is falling apart – our faith, hope, and love for each other can be our salvation. Our faith, hope and love in God can and will heal this world. Therefore, my dears, remain prayerful, aim to love, seek after the spiritual gifts of hope that God has equipped us with to do His will. Let us remain faithful and not give up, even when the odds are stacked against us. Even if it is easier to give up – even if we feel paralyzed because Christ Jesus sees our faith, sees our pain, sees our love, hears our prayers – and Christ Jesus will forgive our sins, Christ Jesus will help us walk again.