|08 Gadarene Demoniac - October 29, 2006|
From last Wednesday’s Gospel reading, we heard the Lord say, “If I by the finger of God cast out demons, then surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” In our baptism, God cast out the demons from us just as the Gadarene demoniac of this morning’s Gospel experienced it. In the waters of our baptism, the Kingdom of God came upon us. We died in the Lord; we were raised up in the likeness of Christ’s resurrection to a life that is hid with Christ in God [Col 3:3]. In holy Eucharist, we partake of Christ the only-begotten Son of God, and we become what we eat. We become sons and daughters of God.
In this morning’s Gospel, the Lord says to the man of the Gadarenes cleansed of the demons: “return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you” [v. 39]. Like the man of Gadarene, we also return to our homes after having been delivered from the evil one by Christ. We go back to the same job, the same school, the same people we were with before. But, perhaps to our surprise and disappointment, we discover that we are still carnal; sin still dwells in us. Just as before, the good that we will to do, we do not do; and the evil we will not to do, that is what we practice. It may be that we delight in the law of God in our inward man, but we also see another law in our [fleshly] members, warring against the law of our mind, and bringing us into captivity to the law of sin which is in our [fleshly] members [Rm 7:18]. What is going on, we may have wondered? Maybe we became disillusioned and cynical, thinking that we were supposed to have been delivered from our carnal desires. Perhaps over time, we stopped praying, stopped reading from the Scriptures, and eventually even stopped coming to Church, concluding that there is nothing to all this Church stuff; its just psychological hocus pocus, religious stuff and nonsense.
On Wednesday this last week, we read the story Jesus tells of the persistent friend who comes at midnight to ask his reluctant friend for some bread to serve some unexpected guests. The Lord concludes the story with these words: “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children...” [Lk 11:13]. When I sat down to review the week’s Scripture lessons in preparation for this morning’s sermon, this phrase, “you being evil,” jumped out at me and slapped me in the face. I take it that the Lord is saying we are evil: even we who have been baptized. We are Christians. We don’t argue with the Lord. The Church certainly has no argument with him. Does she not enjoin us to seek out the sacrament of confession and to pray before receiving Holy Communion: I believe that you came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first?
In fact, by saying even to us who are baptized, “You being evil...” the Lord confirms that this Church stuff is not religious hocus pocus or nonsense. He is telling us that the experience of this “law of sin working in our fleshly members” is exactly what we should expect when we return to our house after being delivered from the evil one in the sacraments of the Church. How so? Because we are evil.
Wait. What does the Lord mean? If only he were here to explain this to us. But he is here, in our midst; and I think he does explain himself to us in Holy Scripture, the word of God that he, the Word of God, wears as his garment. Let us attend as best we can to what we read in God’s word in the hope of receiving an answer directly from the Lord himself.
We have pointed out many times that the bible teaches that we do not live on our own. We live on what we eat and drink. According to St Peter, we were made to be partakers of the divine nature [2 Pt 1:4]. We were told in the Garden that we could not eat from the tree of good and evil, but we could eat from the Tree of Life, which is the Cross; and the fruit of the Tree of Life is Christ whom the Cross carries, according to liturgical texts, like a cluster of grapes full of life. Moreover, according to St Paul, even before God created us, he had predetermined that our destiny would be our adoption as his sons and daughters [Eph 1:5]. Adoption by God through partaking of his divine nature: this is what we were made for according to the testimony of Sts Peter and Paul.
But the bible tells me that in the Garden of my heart, I allowed my natural desire for God to be turned away from God. I gave my lips to the cup of greed. I reached out my hand; I ate the forbidden fruit. I am eating it still. “With all of my members,” so we were praying from the Canon of Repentance at morning prayers on Friday, “I have done wrong: with my eyes in looking, with my ears in hearing, and with my tongue in speaking evil.” These words turn my eyes inward to my heart where my desire and will originate to ponder where I am placing my desire; where I look with my eyes, what I listen to with my ears, what I speak with my mouth. In the Canon of Repentance, we pray: “Put not your hope, my soul, in corruptible wealth, and for what is unjustly collected. For you do not know to whom you will leave it all. Trust not my soul, in health of body and quickly passing beauty; for you see that the strong and the young die.” This prayer leads me to reflect on where I in fact place my trust and my hope. The Canon continues: “Broad is the way here and convenient for indulging in pleasures, but how bitter it will be on the last day when the soul is separated from the body!” Bitter because I have placed my hope and my trust in the bodily comforts and delights of this world. I have become what I have eaten. I have filled my soul with the fruit of good and evil, with love of the flesh; and so, my soul has become carnal. I have become good and evil. Where will I find myself when I stand naked before God, stripped of the flesh I have lived for? He destined me for adoption as his son, and all I will have to show him is a soul that sought after the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life; it gave no heed to learn to partake of the Spirit.
So let me take heed now, while I am still in the body, to the Lord when he says to me: if you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children…. I hear him saying that my goodness in which I hope and trust is only on the surface. Beneath my goodness, I am evil not because God created me as evil but because in my heart, I have chosen to give my soul to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.
Notice that St Paul who I was quoting a moment ago says that we delight in the law of God according to the inward man, but that the law of sin dwells in our fleshly members. This goes back to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden and to the biblical teaching that we are what we eat. This body of ours that is heavy, slow, weak, misshapen, that tires quickly and is prone to sickness and injury and to all kinds of genetic disorders and physical deformities is so because we have eaten the serpent’s fruit. We are what we eat; our body has become itself the fruit of good and evil. So long as we are in this flesh, we are evil because this flesh has become subject to the evil one.
This explains why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And it was precisely in our flesh that we were baptized and clothed in the Robe of Light, and in Holy Communion received the fruit of the Tree of Life, Christ our God. On a spiritual level, Christ descending into hell is the sacramental mystery of Christ descending into the bowels of our fleshly body by means of the Eucharistic bread and wine. Through the Eucharist, he mingles himself with our members, our veins, even our heart and puts the devils to flight in regions of our soul dark and deep. So there is now in my fleshly members, along with the law of sin, the Law of God, the Word of God, that has been planted physically in my body like a seed in the ground through holy Eucharist. In the mystery of my baptism, I am again placed in the Garden of Eden, my heart. As did Adam and Eve, I see standing in the midst of my heart the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, from which I habitually, both voluntarily and involuntarily, continue to eat; but now I also see the Tree of Life, Christ’s holy Cross, from which I am granted now to eat at every Divine Liturgy, as often as it is given.
Therefore, when I return home from my baptism or after the Divine Liturgy after receiving Holy Communion, and I discover that I am still carnal and that sin is still working in me, it is not because there is nothing to the sacraments of the Church but stuff and nonsense. In fact, it is because something has happened to me in my baptism and in my partaking of holy Eucharist. It means that God has placed me again in the Garden of my heart. Perhaps before, I saw only one tree in our life, the tree of good and evil, and I ate and drank from it with gusto, perhaps even without guilt, so deadened was I in my transgressions against the law of God that is written on the human heart. But now, I see also before me the Tree of Life that Adam and Eve saw in the beginning. Its seed has been planted in the Garden of my heart by the grace of God, and there has been set before me once again the choice of Adam and Eve: either I continue to eat from the tree of good and evil ‘with gusto’, or I choose to nurture the seed of the Tree of Life, the Cross, that has been sown in the ground of my heart.
I think it is critically important that we submitted to our baptism freely, by our choice or by the choice of our parents and godparents if we were infants. That freely chosen submission to Christ in our baptism created a space in the ground of our heart just large enough that the Seed of God could be planted in it. It is that divine Seed sown in the ground of our freely made choice to receive baptism by which we discover what was not there before: strength, as St Paul says, to rise up and wrestle against the principalities, the powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in high [places] [Eph 6:12]. For Christ who casts out the devil with his little finger has come in the Kingdom of God; and since we in our baptism have been translated into his Kingdom of Light that shines in the darkness, we can now wrestle against the evil one.
It may be that that divine Seed sown in our heart in our baptism hasn’t sprouted yet because we have not yet chosen to take up our Cross to walk in the way of Christ’s commandments. Perhaps it hasn’t even germinated. But it has in the Church. In the Church, it is fully formed even now in the Virgin’s womb. Even as an unborn infant, the Lord sits enthroned in her womb, making her body into a throne and her womb more spacious than the heavens. As a little Child, he is coming to us who are weak, even as his Mother, the holy Virgin, is calling us to come to Him who, even as an unborn child in her womb, is the Lord of all, who overcomes with his little finger the devil and all his hosts and all his pride. Even though Christ may not yet be fully formed in us because we have not yet chosen to follow him with all our heart, it is because he is fully formed in the Church that we can come in our weakness to the cave of Bethlehem and to the tomb of Pascha and partake of his divine strength at every Divine Liturgy so that in the unseen depths of our soul we receive the strength to wrestle against the evil one and all his hosts and all his pride.
Before we close, we should take with us this word of the Lord that we read on Friday morning: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man” – as happened in our baptism – “he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order” – as no doubt he would find our soul after our baptism. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first” [Lk 11:24-26]. This is both a warning and a hope. It is a warning to take seriously the word of the Lord that we are evil, not so that we despair, but so that we maintain a healthy respect for the fact that we are evil, since we are still in the flesh, and so realize our utter dependence on Christ, and see the need for vigilance in the ascetic disciplines of the Church in order to crucify ourselves to the flesh and its soul-destroying passions, and to nurture the divine seed that has been sown in our hearts. It is also a hope; for the Lord cast out of the Gadarene demoniac not seven but a legion of demons. A legion was a unit in the Roman army comprised of 3,000 to 6,000 foot soldiers.
With the Psalmist, let us now say: Put not your trust in princes or in sons of men in whom there is no salvation, but trust in the Lord Jesus Christ who has sown himself like a seed in the ground of your heart, to cast out the devil and all his hosts and all his pride with his little finger and bring upon you the Kingdom of God.