For the farmer who has labored over plowing the field and planting the seed, there is nothing so welcome as the seasonable warmth of the sun and coolness of the rain that contribute to the new plants growth. This is the very image that Saint John Chrysostom uses to explain what is meant by synergeia or synergy, the collaboration and cooperation between God and man in salvation (Homily 6 on Genesis). According to Saint Athanasios the Great, only with the synergy of the Lord is it possible for us to grow in virtue and acquire purity of heart. In a previous post, I referred to a book entitled Passions and Virtues According to Saint Gregory Palamas by Anestis Keselopoulos who writes, “Man’s purification is the work of the grace of God, but it also requires the cooperation or ‘synergy’ of man. It becomes a reality through the struggle of the human will, which is richly strengthened by divine grace. Only when this divine gift meets with human cooperation is man in a position to become personally acquainted with salvation. This ‘meeting is not only the solid and indispensable starting point for the process of purification; it is also what bears witness to God’s great love for man.” And in today’s Gospel concerning the paralytic we witness yet another example of the beautiful and salvific work of synergeia.
In the Gospel, the Heavenly Husbandman of human souls approaches the paralytic who had no one to help him and had suffered for 38 years and asks him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” This is a significant and perhaps surprising question at first glance. It is closely connected to the seemingly anecdotal information that he had suffered for 38 years. In actuality, the 38 years is the interpretive key to the encounter between the Lord and the paralytic. The 38 years is a reference to the Jews of the Old Testament wandering in a forlorn state in the desert as recounted in the book of Deuteronomy. The Lord Christ poses the question concerning his physical health as well as his spiritual well-being. When He asks, “Wilt thou be made whole?” He is asking are you willing to cooperate with God’s grace and struggle mightily to preserve that grace? In God’s Providence, physical healing and spiritual health require man’s cooperation and struggle. The paralytic responds with what would seem a natural excuse-he has no one willing to help him. Jesus ignores the excuse and commands him, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.”
In our own lives, we offer the Lord excuses why we don’t struggle or why we give up so easily. Perhaps, we have family obligations, demands at work, sickness, or apathy. However, it is precisely our spiritual struggle manifested in our regular and devout attendance at services, care for the poor, and our prayer rule that is the synergy necessary for God to heal us of all those paralyzing influences and events in our lives. Our labors might not seem so beautiful and may be far from perfect, but they are made beautiful when God touches us with His hand and we hear His voice. In the process, we might get our hands dirty, we might become sweaty, we might grow very tired, just like the farmer in the field. But what farmer focuses on those difficult, negative aspects of that occupation. The focus is on the harvest and a gratitude for the sun and the rain. May we have such a focus and such a gratitude, for each day we encounter Christ who asks us, “Wilt thou be made whole?” May we respond with a “Yes, Lord, with Thy help” in word and deed.
—Hieromonk Alexios Karakallinos