|43 - The Gadarene Demoniacs, June 27, 2010|
Not just the Gospel of John, but all four Gospels are written, we can say, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life in His Name.
This is one reason why it is critical for us to understand that faith is not a mental activity that blindly accepts something as true for which there is no proof. That’s not faith. It’s arbitrary whimsy. Faith is the knowledge of the heart. We don’t mean the heart you read about in Hallmark greeting cards. We mean the heart the bible speaks of, the spiritual center of the human person, located by the holy fathers in the region of the physical heart and which is open to God; and indeed, exists in God because it came to being in God’s Image. Faith is the knowledge of God in that heart.
To believe in Jesus in the way of the Gospels means to know Jesus not in the way of scientific knowledge, which is dialectical and always inferential, but in this faith that comes from the spiritual center of our being. The problem now becomes not, how do you believe in Jesus, but how do you get to your “secret heart” so that you can know Him by faith and have life in His Name?
I was noticing this week when I was reading the opening Psalms for the morning Matins service, how this morning’s Gospel of the two Gadarene demoniacs corresponds strikingly to the Psalmist’s inner experience, as he expresses it in the opening Psalms of Matins. For example: ”O Lord, my wounds grow foul and fester. I am utterly bowed down and prostrate. All the day I go about mourning. For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no health in my flesh. I am utterly spent and crushed. I groan because of the tumult of my heart.” Do you see the two Gadarene demoniacs?
The Psalmist continues: “My friends and companions stand aloof from me; and my kinsmen stand afar off.” Do you see the townspeople, no doubt friends and family of the demoniacs, who have learned to stay away from them? “Those who seek my soul lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin, and meditate treachery all the day long.” Do you hear the Psalmist describing the torment of the demoniacs at the hands of the demons that have laid hold of them? “My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to hell. I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit, like one forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom Thou dost remember no more, for they are cut off from Thy hand.”
The striking correspondence between the spiritual state of the Psalmist and the spiritual state of the Gadarene demoniacs we read about in this morning’s Gospel tells me that the Psalms come from an experience of our spiritual heart. And that tells me that if we would make the Psalms our prayer, they would lead us to our heart like the Lord leading his disciples to the tombs of the Gadarene demoniacs; and there we would experience what the Psalmist experienced in his heart, and we would discover that like the Psalmist, we are little different in our secret heart than the Gadarene demoniacs. Dark spirits have bound us with the chains of our passions and our addictions. We are not our own masters; we are yanked around by gluttony and lust. We are slaves to anger and envy, jealousy and vainglory. And like the demoniacs living among the tombs, we too often can find ourselves sinking into depression and despair.
In this light, the swine herders and the townspeople come into view as an image of us living on the surface of our life. We occupy ourselves with business and entertainments, careers and accomplishments while we are ignoring the inner state of our soul, like the townspeople who went about their business ignoring the Gadarene demoniacs living out among the tombs. The townspeople had learned not to go out there. And we, too, occupy ourselves with all kinds of escapes to keep from facing the inner state of our soul.
So you see how these Gospel events in the life of Jesus are not just stories. They open onto and expose the inner drama of our own soul. It’s as though Christ, in His Incarnation, has brought the inner tragedy of the soul out onto the surface of history so that everyone can see it, believers and non-believers alike that we might believe and have life in His Name. As we address the inner state of our soul, especially under the guidance of the Scriptures, we see how the Gospel stories correspond to our inner state. They are inwardly real; and this is our “proof” that they are historically real. We know this by faith because we have seen it and experienced it ourselves in our own heart.
In faith, we now begin to see the hope that is given in the Gospels. Christ comes to our souls and hearts today just as He came to the Gadarene demoniacs way back then. He is the Word of God who “is in your heart,” as St Paul writes in this morning’s epistle. And the prayers of the Church give us the words to call on that hope that we might have life in His Name: “O Lord God of my salvation, I call for help by day, I cry out in the night before Thee. My soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. All my longing is before Thee, my sighing is not hidden from Thee. My heart throbs, my strength fails me; and the light of my eyes has also gone from me. Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For Thou dost smite my enemies on the cheek. Thou dost break the teeth of the wicked.”
The Psalms can be the midwife that help give birth in our souls to the desire for the salvation of Christ. When that desire begins to be felt in the heart, it is the sign that we are beginning to come to life in our secret heart. How do we guard our heart with all diligence, so that these precious springs of life may flow through them?
St Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that we read this morning: “They (the Jews) have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. For, they are ignorant of the righteousness of God and they seek to stand in their own righteousness, which does not submit itself to the Righteousness of God.”
The Righteousness of God is Christ. He is the Word that is “in your heart”; and if you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead,” St Paul says, “you will be saved.” To believe in Jesus in our heart means to submit ourselves to Christ and His Righteousness. This means laying aside the wisdom of our own opinions. Stop embracing your own ideas of God and shut your mouth and submit yourselves to the God of the Church as He reveals Himself in the Church. Stop demanding that God and man conform to your views and begin to conform your views to the Word of God that is given in His holy Church. “Submit”, the word St Paul uses, is a military word. And this is most appropriate. It reminds us that the salvation of our soul is at stake; and as this morning’s Gospel shows us, the powers that have our souls in their grip, seeking to destroy us, are much stronger than we are. Only Christ is strong enough to deliver us and heal us and raise us up to life. And so, we must submit wholly to Christ if we are to be delivered as were the Gadarene demoniacs. This is how we believe in Jesus so that we might have life in His Name.
So, get in the boat of the Church with the disciples. Get in the boat and stop serving the things of the world. From your heart, call on the Lord with the disciples and the Psalmist: “Lord, save us, for we are perishing!” The Gospels are showing us that in accordance with our faith – i.e. to the degree that we submit ourselves to Christ, to that degree and more, Christ rises up in us and calms the passions, and makes our souls quiet in His Lordly presence. He draws near the tomb of our heart, He cleanses it and He creates in us a new heart. He puts in us a new and right spirit. We know this by faith because we experience it in our heart. It is not an idea we give credence to. It is a living reality of the Spirit that we know from our own experience of it in our secret heart. This is how we come to believe in Jesus that we might have Life in His Name. Most Holy Theotokos, save us! Amen. This is problematic for people today. The historical evidence that Jesus even existed is highly ambiguous at best. How do you believe in someone that the historical sciences cannot tell you with certainty even existed?