My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ from even before His Incarnation guided His people and taught them in many ways, for of old He displayed His providence more greatly in them than in other people.
He never ceased from teaching them and calling them to salvation in many ways. At one time the call was by the granting of good gifts, at another time by punishments, and at other time by most wondrous miracles.
When they angered the Lord, He punished them, and when they again fell down before Him in worship He accepted them and gave them good things.
Then they sinned, He turned away from them and was wroth with them; He gave them over to afflictions, and chastised them with captivity and various woes and ills; yet when they turned again to Him and repented, He again called them and accepted them; He gloriﬁed them with victories over their enemies, and He comforted and adorned them with an abundance of earthly goods.
Finally, the Only-begotten Son of God Himself came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, teaching them by His words, instructing them by His deeds and His ineffable miracles, separating them from evil and drawing them to faith in Him.
And still, the Jewish people remained unreformed. They closed their eyes and stopped their ears.
Not only were they not filled with wonder upon seeing the marvellous miracles of Christ the Saviour, but they even slandered and reviled Him. Senseless and thankless, they sought to kill Him. They were offended that He did good to their neighbours, that He healed their sick. Being seized by envy, they interpreted the good done for others as evil against themselves. They could not bear the glory of the Lord, and did not wish to see anyone saved; they preferred that everyone suffer evil, rather than that all be healed, and worship and glorify the Lord as God. This is clear from many other instances, and it is manifest also from the Gospel lesson read to us today.
In today’s Gospel, we hear that our Lord was teaching in the synagogue. History tells us that our Lord would often go to the synagogues and teach – not only by word but by His very acts.
And there was a woman who had suffered from a spirit of inﬁrmity eighteen years, and was bowed down, and could not lift herself up. And, as the Gospel relates, when our Lord saw her, He called her to Himself and said unto her, Woman, thou art delivered from thy infirmity. And He laid His hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
See, my friends, that even inﬁrmity may obtain great and rich benefits for those whom it befalls, provided that they are of a good and upright mind and heart, bear it with fortitude, and give thanks unto God. Very many infirmiries occur on account of sin, for our Lord attests the woman was a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years; but note that she did, indeed remain a daughter of Abraham, and of the household of the faith. As the fathers explain, on account of some sin of hers, God permitted her to be oppressed by Satan for so many years. For the Lord will permit such infirmities for the sake of the soul’s welfare and salvation. While the body is tormented and afflicted, the soul is freed from sin and saved. Thus, the woman’s suffering was caused by the envy of the devil.
Our Lord mentioned the number of years, that we might understand that the woman’s affliction could not be cured by man, but only by God; for the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
The devil is responsible for all sorts of evils which befall humans – even bodily, when he is given leave by God on high. Just as from the very beginning he was also the agent of our fall from the incorrupt state in which we were created, and thereafter we were bound to a body that is infirm and prone to illness.
The Lord, then, drove away the woman’s infirmity with that voice which is proper to God, the divine voice, full of authority. He also laid His hands upon her, that we might understand that His holy Body Itself is clothed in the power and activity of God the Word; for it was His own body, proper to Him, not a phantom, not merely a husk or a shell, as the gnostics of all ages – including our own – would foolishly believe.
Such is the goodness of God; and so He did have mercy on His creature. Satan, however, who had heretofore bound the woman, was confounded at her being loosed, for certainly he wished to afflict her even further.
The all-wicked one thereupon bound the ruler of the synagogue with the fear of him; he implanted envy in him and made it burn within him, and through the man’s lips he laid blame on the miracle. Thus does our adversary and enemy, the devil, always envy the good.
Envy and jealousy are certainly among the worst of evils for all men; they are exceedingly harmful in their action, especially for such as live in malice and ﬁnding fault with others. Envy clouds their minds, and does not let them see the truth.
Even more deadly is the clouding of the heart, for they call what is sweet, bitter, and what is bitter, sweet; they hold light to be darkness, and darkness, light. Lacking intelligent discernment, they imagine that the good are not good, and therefore they slander and revile them.
It is a terrible illness. Have you ever been ill, had a cold or a fever, and it affects you in such a way that you can not taste foods, or – if you can taste them – they simply don’t taste right? Even honey may seem bitter to those whose sense of taste is spoiled by some illness.
When the eye is not healthy, it fails to see many things that are right in front of it, while it imagines many things that are not there. Just as it is for physical illness, so it also is for the spiritual illness of envy.
The ruler of the synagogue did not say to our Lord directly, You are violating the sabbath by healing on it; why don’t You heal on other days than the sabbath? Rather, he addresses his words to the people, fearing lest our Lord rebuke him, and he be put to shame, as often happened to the scribes and Pharisees.
But as we heard, our Lord answers, asking rightly: Doth not every one of you, on the sabbath day, loose his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead them to water? And ought not this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?
And when He said these things, the Gospel tells us, all His adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the things that were gloriously done by Him.
Rebuking the envy and hatred of His opponents, the Lord addresses His response not only to the ruler of the synagogue, but to all the scribes and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites; for as God He knew their guile and their envious thoughts. He knew that they said one thing while thinking another within themselves. The ancients called such men dissimulators, because they presented and displayed an outward appearance other than what they were interiorly.
Not only the ruler of the synagogue was put to shame by the word of the Lord, but also all those who opposed our God and Saviour, the Physician of souls and bodies, and who out of envy would have forbidden the healing of men’s diseases. In their envy, instead of rejoicing, they were devastated when the Lord performed a miracle. It is not so different today.
Whereas few of the rulers believed in our Lord and rejoiced in His teaching and His miracles, many of the common, the simple and unlearned people believed and did homage, for the passion of envy did not hinder or deter them.
Let us, also, my friends, put aside the heavy weight of envy, which bows down our mind. Let us utterly reject the passing things of this world and its passions, which are the means by which the enemy allures us and leads us far from God. Let us all commit ourselves to God, submit ourselves to His salviﬁc laws and wholeheartedly work out our souls’ salvation. Let us leave behind lying and all hypocrisy, and let each of us speak truthfully.
My friends, inasmuch as we are all made after the image and likeness of our Creator, and have become children of God and heirs of His kingdom in the regenerative laver of Baptism, let us not lose our estate by envy or dissimulation, but rather let us be pleasing to God in godliness and righteousness, holiness and dispassion, peace and concord, and a way of life that is good and kind. Let us confess our sins with humility, and let us serve the Lord with fear and trembling, that we may enjoy eternal good things, in Christ Jesus our Lord.