On the Fourth Sunday of Pascha both the reading from the Holy Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles describe miraculous healing. Our Lord heals a paralyzed man who had suffered this affliction for thirty-eight years, while the Apostle Peter heals another paralyzed man, Aeneas, who had been afflicted for eight years, and then raises a maiden, Tabitha, from death itself.
Let us consider for a moment the reaction of those who beheld and heard of the first miracle: they began to attack the man for breaking the Law of the Sabbath—or rather their narrow conception of the Law of the Sabbath—and with malicious intent sought out the one who had healed him. But in the case of the healings performed by the Apostle many came to faith in the Lord, at Lydda and Sharon, and Joppa. Can we explain the difference in reaction by a difference in the source of the miracle? Certainly not. For in the first case the Lord Himself acted by His own hand, in the latter through the hand of His chief disciple, but the divine power, grace, and love for man were one. The difference was in the heart of the witnesses, and so the two groups responded differently. As St. John Chrysostom comments concerning the envious disposition of the Jews in today’s Gospel toward the Lord:
[H]ow great an evil is envy, how it disables the eyes of the soul to the endangering his salvation him who is possessed by it. For as madmen often thrust their swords against their own bodies, so also malicious persons looking only to one thing, the injury of him they envy, care not for their own salvation. (Homily 37 on the Gospel of John)
Whoever has been a slave to this passion will know by his own experience that “envy is the rottenness of the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30)
How many vile fruits has the tree of envy produced! Cain slew Abel on account of envy, a fratricide Esau would have repeated but did not accomplish. As slaves to envy, Righteous Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in a strange land. Envy of David drove Saul into a mad rage and attempted murder, and led to a most miserable end. Closer to our own time, envy moved men of the Church to base slanders against St. Nektarios and his removal from the see of a Pentapolis. Mad, too, is the man who on seeing an indisputable miracle will not be converted but is only hardened in his unbelief, who will not bow down before his Lord but seeks to undermine Him and destroy Him, who cannot rejoice with the one healed but instead abuses the Law of God as a bludgeon to strike him down once more. It would be impossible to say how many lives have been ruined, how many relationshiops poisoned, but this typically hidden sin, the “mother of murder” and countless other injuries. If not uprooted, it will lead without fail to the spiritual death of the one strangled in its grip. St. Basil the Great counsels each so caught: “Thou art the enemy of no one else but thine own salvation. Everyone whom thou persuest with envy can run and slip away from thee, but thou canst not run away from thyself.”
None of us know in advance precisely when God will visit us with a special consolation, will vouchsafe a special outpouring of His grace, or make us the recipients or witnesses to a miraculous healing of body or soul. Aeneas suffered for eight years, the paralytic in today’s Gospel waited thirty-eight years for his healing, and the return to life of Righteous Tabitha was a miracle beyond all expectation. It may seem at times that the Lord has forgotten us completely, has not heard our cries, our prayers, to be delivered from unbearable pain of soul or body, to be freed from the yoke of an ingrained passion or sin, to help us to pray without ceasing. Of course He has not forgotten us, has not ceased to love us even when He seems to be hidden or to have become silent, but in all this He desires that we become long-suffering and patient even as He is, even if we have to wait thirty-eight years or a whole lifetime. In the meantime, our spiritual father helping us and by the prayers of our brethren, let us not add to our own burdens by cultivating passions such as envy, which instill in us such madness that we will reject the grace of God freely offered, preferring like those in today’s Gospel the cold comfort of our own perdition. Especially on feast days, the demons proffer little “gifts,” thoughts and temptations to slander, gossip, envy, and whatever other evils the old man delights in, to spoil our joy and turn our eye from the one thing needful.
Like all the passions, envy is a perversion and corruption of a natural, good impulse given by God. According to Abba Isaiah of Scetis, envy is a distortion of the good desire to emulate and acquire the virtues of the saints. The scribes and Pharisees knew that the Lord was greater than them, at times even recognized His miracles, but instead of emulating His incomparable example, they were enraged. Let us imitate rather the example given to us today in the Book of Acts. When we see one in our midst, striving to do the will of God like the Apostle Peter, let us be deepened in our Faith, rejoice in the Lord, pray for him, and strive to acquire some measure of his virtue. Has the Lord not given us, too, countless blessings, beyond anything we deserve or could ever deserve? “It is madness for a Christian to be envious,” writes St. John of Kronstadt, “In Christ we have all received infinitely great blessings.” (My Life in Christ) Let us not then be at enmity with our brother, because in truth when are envious of him, our hearts are set against the One who created him and gave him every blessing that he possesses, God the Lord. How much more blessed would each man be, how great a service would he bring to all those around him, if instead he would only heed the words of the Apostle Paul, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12:15)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God have mercy on us. Amen.
Let us come to ourselves like the prodigal; let us, like him, speak firm words of resolve to our own souls: “I will arise and go to my Father”; and the Gracious God will perfect our small intention.
He knows that we do not know the way to Him, or the manner in which to traverse it; but, hearing us say: “Ready is my heart, O God, ready is my heart”, and seeing us begin our journey towards Him, He will then rush out to us, falling on us, and kissing our neck: He will send His All-Accomplishing Holy Spirit upon us, and guide us into all truth, not only in our understanding, but in all our deeds, all our life.
Yesterday, Christ was born; today, He is baptized. Yesterday, God immersed Himself in our flesh; today, our flesh is immersed in the Most Holy Trinity. Yesterday, the Timeless Son of the Virgin-Father was begotten in time of the Virgin-Mother; today He gives birth to us as sons of God forever.