Rescue me out of my necessities O Lord:
see my humiliation and my struggle,
and put away all my sins.
V. To Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul:
in Thee, O my God, do I put my trust, let me not be blush for shame. (Psalm 24:6, 3, 22; 1–2)
This Introit is related to the Gospel of the day. It is, in effect, the prayer of the paralytic lying helpless by the pool of Bethsaida, amidst a multitude of diseased folk, of the blind, the lame, and the disabled. His body is immobilised, but his prayer rises on the wings of confidence: “To Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul: in Thee, O my God, do I put my trust, let me not be blush for shame.”
He cannot lift his body, but he lifts his soul. Jesus, moved by his prayer, looks upon him with pity and engages him in conversation: “Hast thou a mind, he asked, to recover thy strength?” This is the question that Jesus puts to each of us when He engages us in conversation, that is, in prayer. The paralytic is healed, not by going down into the pool stirred by a passing Angel, but by immersion in the love of God encountered in Christ Jesus, the true Angel (i.e., messenger) sent by the Father.
Be Thou, O Lord, piteous to Thy people,
and as Thou makest them devoted to Thee,
mercifully warm them again with Thy kind assistance.
Piteous is an archaic word, but an expressive one. It denotes a merciful movement of the heart, a response of compassion, like that of Jesus upon seeing the plight of the paralytic disabled for thirty–eight years. The Collect confesses that it is God Himself who makes His people devoted to Him; devotion, then, is not our gift to God, but God’s gift to us. We ask God to warm us again (refove), implying that we have grown cold in our devotion to Him. This He does by His kind assistance, something illustrated in the Gospel’s account of the paralytic restored to wholeness: the cold limbs of the paralytic are warmed by the power of the love of God. Thus does the paralytic recover strength and freedom of movement.
From the Lesson (Ezekiel 18:20–28)
It may be the wicked man will repent of all his sinful deeds, and learn to keep my commandments, and live honestly and uprightly; if so, he shall live on; life, not death, for him. All his transgressions shall be forgotten, and his uprightness shall bring him life. What pleasure should I find in the death of a sinner, the Lord God says, when he might have turned back from his evil ways, and found life instead?
The central message of this long lesson from Ezekiel is that once a man, turns away from sin and begins to walk in obedience, all his transgressions are forgotten. God does not keep the records of one’s past sins on file. It is always possible to begin afresh; the past is swallowed up in the mercy of God. “Was there ever such a God, so ready to forgive sins, to overlook faults, among the scattered remnant of his chosen race? He will exact vengeance no more; he loves to pardon. He will relent, and have mercy on us, quashing our guilt, burying our sins away sea-deep” (Micah 7:18–19).
Rescue a servant of thine that puts his trust in thee.
V. Give a hearing, then, Lord, to my prayer.
Again, the Gradual gives us the substance of the paralytic’s prayer. God not only commands us to pray; He gives us the very words of our prayer through the liturgy of the Church. “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; when we do not know what prayer to offer, to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us, with groans beyond all utterance: and God, who can read our hearts, knows well what the Spirit’s intent is; for indeed it is according to the mind of God that he makes intercession for the saints” (Romans 8:26–27). There is great freedom in discovering that the liturgy of the Church is the articulation of “the Spirit himself interceding for us with groans beyond all utterance.” By entering into the liturgy, one enters into the mind and heart of God, praying the very prayers that God Himself wants to answer favourably.
This is one of the benefits of classic Benedictine piety: it is simply the piety of the Church and, as such, it is doctrinal rather than emotional; objective rather than subjective; both corporate and personal. It liberates the soul from the burden of having to produce thoughts, aspirations, affections, petitions, and resolutions. It provides abundantly for all the soul’s needs by formulating the thoughts, aspirations, affections, petitions, and resolutions that are already in the mind of God, and that He waits to fulfill.
Treat us not as our sins deserve, exact not the penalty of our wrong-doing
Forget the long record of our sins, and hasten in mercy to our side;
never was need so sore as this.
V. O God, our Saviour, help us; deliver us, Lord, for the glory of thy name,
pardon our sins for the sake of thy own renown!
The long record of our sins corresponds, I think, to the thirty–eight years of suffering endured by the paralytic who lay beside the pool of Bethsaida. Every man has a long record of sin. God does not hold this long record against us. He shreds it and casts it behind His back forever. Once the records of our sinners have gone through the shredder of God’s mercy, they become completely illegible. The records of our sins cannot be reassembled in order to condemn us; all the shredded bits of our past life are blown away by the Holy Ghost, giving us the freedom to begin afresh. “And now thou hast saved the life that was in peril, thrusting away all my sins out of thy sight” (Isaiah 28:17).
Gospel (John 5:1–15)
After this came a Jewish feast, for which Jesus went up to Jerusalem. There is a pool in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate, called in Hebrew Bethsaida, with five porches, under which a multitude of diseased folk used to lie, the blind, the lame, the disabled, waiting for a disturbance of the water. From time to time, an angel of the Lord came down upon the pool, and the water was stirred up; and the first man who stepped into the pool after the stirring of the water, recovered from whatever infirmity it was that oppressed him. There was one man there who had been disabled for thirty-eight years. Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had waited a long time; Hast thou a mind, he asked, to recover thy strength? Sir, said the cripple, I have no one to let me down into the pool when the water is stirred; and while I am on my way, somebody else steps down before me. Jesus said to him, Rise up, take up thy bed, and walk. And all at once the man recovered his strength, and took up his bed, and walked. That day it was the sabbath: and the Jews said to the man who had been cured, It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. He answered them, The man who gave me back my strength told me himself, Take up thy bed, and walk. So they asked him, Who is this man who told thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? The cripple who had been healed did not know who it was; Jesus had drawn aside from so crowded a place. But afterwards when Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, Behold, thou hast recovered thy strength; do not sin any more, for fear that worse should befall thee, the man went back and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had restored his strength.
Bless the Lord, my soul, remembering all he has done for thee;
He shall restore thy youth, even as the eagle’s. (Psalm 102:2,5)
Clearly, this is the chant of the paralytic restored to health. The thirty–eight years that he thought lost have been restored to him. Jesus gave him a new youth, a season of springtime, and the grace of a new beginning. He will walk henceforth in newness of life and in thanksgiving, remembering all that the Lord has done for him.
All my enemies will be abashed and terrified;
taken aback, all in a moment, and put to shame. (Psalm 6:11)
Again, in the Communion Antiphon, we hear the voice of the paralytic made whole. He is full of confidence and unafraid. Those who formerly despised him, looking upon him as a broken thing, are confounded at the sight of him restored to health.
By the operation of this mystery, O Lord,
may our vices be purged away
and our just desires brought to fulfillment.
The Postcommunion tells us that the mystery of Holy Communion is God’s operation in the soul. We cannot, of ourselves, purge away the vices — the deeply ingrained habits of sin that have become part of our lives — but the Body and Blood of Christ can cleanse of every trace of habitual sin and restore to us the liberty to rise up, take up our sick bed (now rendered unnecessary), and walk in freedom. Christ, the Divine Physician, unlike human physicians, can work upon us from the inside. He, the Physician, makes Himself the remedy. The Body and Blood of Christ are operative within the soul of the communicant, purging away sin and bringing every just desire — that is, every desire inspired by the Holy Ghost — to fulfillment.