|44 - Jesus' Military Campaign, July 4, 2010|
These Sundays our Gospel readings have us following the Lord as he goes around or circles the cities and villages of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and healing all their diseases and all their infirmities. “To go around” or “to circle” cities and villages has a military ring. It’s what an army does to conquer and take them. So Jesus is not just “going around” the cities and villages. He’s on a military campaign.
This military campaign begins back in Matthew 4. There, St Matthew introduces Jesus going up the Mount to give His Sermon on the Mount with the same words that we find in Mt 9, which we’ll read next Sunday.: “He circled the whole region of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every illness and every infirmity among the people. They brought to Him demoniacs, and He healed them all. And many people followed Him from Galilee, Dekapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and from beyond the Jordan.
Now, the name Jesus is the Greek version of Joshua, the successor to Moses as Israel’s leader. Under Joshua, the people of Israel crossed the River Jordan into Canaan and circled the cities and villages of Canaan to conquer them. So when St Matthew says that Jesus was going around or circling all the cities and villages of Galilee, and that all the people were following Him, He is telling us that Jesus is the Second Joshua, and that He is undertaking the same military campaign that the Israelites under Joshua undertook, but which they failed to accomplish.
How did they fail to accomplish it? In worldly terms, they succeeded. They routed the Canaanites and established their own Israelite Kingdom. They failed because the military campaign to take Canaan was at heart to purge Canaan of its idols. The people of Israel did not do this. In fact, they did the opposite. They embraced the religion of Canaan and worshipped their ba’als and their Asherah. We even read in Ezekiel how the women of Israel came to the temple that was adorned with pagan images, and wept for Tammuz.
Ba’al and Tammuz were fertility gods of the ancient “sacred marriage” cult, which the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents. Under the uroboric image of the “circle of life”, the sacred marriage celebrates the life given to their devotees by the ba’als and their Asherah. But, it is a life that is always being swallowed up by death. The gods worshipped in the sacred marriage cults are from the serpent that gave the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil – i.e., life and death – to Eve, and which she gave to Adam, so that their eyes were opened, as though they had just died. The gods who dwelt in the carved idols and images of Canaanite religion, then, were not of God; they were of the devil. Human sacrifice, child sacrifice, was among its rituals, so the prophets warned Israel that it was a cult of religious murder.
When Israel failed to purge Canaan of these gods, and instead embraced them as Adam and Eve had embraced the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the dark gods of Canaan invaded the souls and bodies of the Israelites, and the Israelites became enslaved to the “life” these demons give, and they were sick “unto death” with all kinds of sicknesses and maladies; they were blind and deaf, lame, leprous, they were possessed by demons that made them dumb, demons that made them dwell in the tombs, demons that threw them into fire and water. The paralytic in this morning’s Gospel is like the people of Israel: paralyzed in soul and body and impure, like a corpse. I.e., they were dead in their sins and trespasses from the “life” they had eaten in their worship of these pagan gods of Canaan.
When Jesus begins His military conquest of Canaan back in Mt 4, He casts out the demons, and He heals the people of their sicknesses. I submit to you that here we see Him delivering Israel from the gods of Canaan who had held them captive in the power of death. Then, He straightaway goes up into the mountain and teaches them. He is giving them His Law again, as He had given it on the mountain before through His servant Moses. But now, it’s the Law of Moses perfected, because the Word of that Law has become flesh and is now dwelling among us and teaching us Himself directly, face to face.
As soon as He comes down from the mountain His conquest of Canaan begins in earnest. First, He cleanses a leper, a sign that He is cleansing Israel of her impurities. Then, He heals the centurion’s servant by His Word from afar, and shows us that when we submit to the Word of His commandments, we are subjecting our souls and bodies directly to Christ and to the healing and life-creating power of His Word.
He heals Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever. Then, He gives to His disciples the command to “go away into the beyond” [to peran]. I submit that the beyond has the spiritual meaning of the secret heart. That is what He is going to go around and circle next. In this, His military campaign takes on a greater intensity. To those who would even now still follow Him, He says, “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. Leave the dead to bury their own dead. You follow Me.” Truly to unite oneself to Christ, in other words, as we see in what follows, means that you will be led into your secret heart to face your love for the wisdom of your own opinions that has rendered you in the root of your secret heart rotten and corrupt, where you serve the same idols, the same gods that made the old Israel sick unto death. These are the gods that come to you as they came to Eve and to old Israel in the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, to draw you away from God, to give you a life born of lust and swallowed by the dust, to make you like them an enemy of God, alienated from Him in your secret heart.
Now Jesus gets into the boat, says St Matthew, and His disciples followed Him. The boat is the Church; and the Church is the body of Christ. The boat is a symbol of the Incarnation in which Jesus clothed Himself with our human nature. He lays Himself down and sleeps in the hold of the boat, a prophetic foreshadowing of His death on the cross in which He descends into the secret heart of our nature to shatter the gates of death and to open to us the Kingdom of God. The storm that comes over the sea is like the passions that threaten to overwhelm us and destroy us. But when we call on the Lord as did the disciples, “from out of the depths,” He rises up in His resurrection. He calms the storm of our passions and makes the sea of our soul quiet by His Word. In that inner serenity, He prepares us for the next stage of His military campaign to take the cities and villages of our souls and bodies: that is to descend with Him into our secret heart.
St Matthew says literally that He came into the beyond, into the secret heart of man, and there He was met by the two Gadarene demoniacs, and He cast them out. Follow Jesus by taking up the ascetic disciplines of the Church as your cross, and Christ will lead you into your secret heart and cleanse you. He will create in you a clean heart; He will put in you a new and right Spirit, His own Holy Spirit.
Then, says St Matthew, He got into the boat and He passed back over the waters and came into His own city, the Church. There, here, He forgives the paralytic, us, of our sins; He heals him, us, and makes us whole in soul and body. In the Eucharistic mystery of His Holy Resurrection, He heals, He cleanses, He deifies those who unite themselves to Him in the fear of God, and who draw near to Him in the faith and love that proceed from their secret heart now made clean and living again by the Holy Spirit in the love and the joy of His Holy Resurrection.
Beloved faithful, let us follow the Lord Jesus as He “goes around” the cities and villages of our souls and bodies to cleanse us, to make us whole, and to give us Life in His Holy Spirit in the love of God. Then, the different gifts that He has given to each one of us will become weapons of peace by which we follow Christ as He goes around the cities and villages to take back the world that He made, to make it clean again, healthy and alive again in the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the love of God the Father, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.