|08 - Gerasene Demoniac, Oct 28, 2012|
Luke 8:26-39Very recently someone visited our parish who had concluded that Jesus did not really exist. He was just an idea, and that faith was just emotion. Our visitor was simply following what certain quarters in religious academia have been maintaining for over two hundred years now. Even certain so-called Christian theologians question the historicity of Jesus and of the Gospel stories. Those who do accept the historicity of Jesus still do not confess Him to be divine in nature. They believe the Gospel claim that He is the Son of God is a mythological image, and that Jesus was just a man. They think they are getting at the real message of the Gospel stories like the one we read this morning of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac – which they presume did not really happen as recorded – by “de-mythologizing” them, getting beneath the mythological imagery of the Gospel stories to find some eternal truth they proclaim.
All these forms of unbelief, both those that claim to be Christian and those that do not, share a common denial of Jesus as the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us. But, this is the central proclamation of the bible. If you deny what the bible is saying about Jesus and read into the bible your own unbelief, then you will do exactly as the scholarly world has done: you will deny that Jesus ever existed and that the Gospels are nothing but myth, or you will see Jesus not as the God-Man but as a man who lived and died like any other human being, and that the signs presented in Scripture of Jesus’ divinity – His Virgin Birth, His miracles of healing, like the one we heard this morning, His Resurrection from the dead – are myth.
But, what, for example, does St Peter say? Recalling his experience on Mt Tabor when Jesus was transfigured, St Peter says: “We were not following after cleverly devised myths when we made you to know the power and presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ; but we were eyewitnesses of His exceeding great majesty.” (II Pt 16) And, St John writes: “We proclaim what we saw with our eyes, heard with our ears, and handled with our hands, the Word of Life. This Life became visible. We have seen Him and we bear witness and we proclaim to you this eternal Life who was with the Father and who was manifest to us – i.e., He became flesh and dwelt among us.
Beloved faithful, if Jesus is the Son of God who was begotten timelessly from the Father before all ages, who is Light from Light, true God of true God, how, then, can He be known in any other way than by faith? For, as God, He transcends the world, and He transcends the mind that is of the world; and so, He transcends the worldly knowledge of the mind.
Moreover, if Jesus is the uncreated Son of God who always was and is and will be, then the history of Jesus cannot be ordinary history – for ordinary history is always dissolving the present into the past so that it is no more. But Jesus never dissolves to be no more. He always was and is and will be. When He becomes flesh and becomes historical, the history of Jesus is therefore deified history. Each moment of Jesus’ historical life is taken up into His divine Person and, deified in the divine Person of Jesus, it embraces all moments of space-time.
The Jesus who actually existed in history, the Jesus who is the Son of God, therefore, can be laid hold of only by faith: he cannot be laid hold of by the historical sciences. The historical sciences study what’s past, which is dead and is no more. The historian tries to reconstruct the past from artifacts and records. But, finally, his principal tool in reconstructing the past is his own imagination – because what he’s reconstructing doesn’t exist anymore – formed by how he interprets the artifacts and records of the past that he has before him. But, his interpretation itself will be shaped by a philosophical or religious starting point that by its very nature cannot be “proved” – for if it could be proved, it would not be the starting point; the proof would be the starting point – that he has accepted, finally, not by reason but by faith.
But, the Jesus whom the bible proclaims really existed in history, the Jesus whom the bible proclaims as the Son of God, is not dead. He is risen. His body was not found in the tomb, because it was risen and in His body, in His historical body, the Lord ascended in glory and sits now at the right hand of the Father. The historians looking for the historical Jesus in the historical records of the past are those who have entered the tomb of the risen Christ, and who are so intent on snooping around for a dead body to study, that they do not see or hear the angel proclaiming to them: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is not here! He is risen, as He said!” This risen Jesus is the One whom the holy apostles proclaim, not as a religious or philosophical idea that they imagined, but as the deified flesh and blood mystery of the crucified and risen Jesus whom they saw with their eyes, heard with their ears, and touched with their hands.
Christian faith then, is not blind, and while it certainly evokes emotional feeling, it is itself much deeper than emotional feeling. It is knowledge that apprehends what the scientific knowledge of the human intellect cannot. I would say it is not knowledge of the mind but of the heart. It is not impersonal, cold and unfeeling discursive, dialectical knowledge. It is spiritual knowledge that apprehends immediately the things of the Spirit. It evokes emotional feeling, to be sure, because it is knowledge born of love. It is, that is to say, knowledge of a different order than intellective, scientific knowledge. It is warm because it is living knowledge that penetrates all the way to the tomb of the heart and stirs the soul, lying dead like a corpse because of its sins and trespasses, to life. It stirs the soul to life by the love of God – the love of the crucified and risen God, Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world – and it raises the soul up to know, immediately and directly, the wonderful warmth of God’s love.
The mind cannot attain the knowledge of faith until it descends from its high horse to ascend the hill of Golgotha through obedience to the commandments of Christ. Only as it is united to Christ in the likeness of His death through obedience to the commandments of Christ, does the mind open onto the heart so that it begins to see in an unseeing way, to know in a way that is not of this world, in the way of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
It begins to see Jesus as the Son of God in whom all things exist, who embraces in Himself and brings together every moment of history into the eternal present of his “I Am”, the liturgical Today of the Church, which is the very body of Christ. This is why the Gospel witness to the historical life of Jesus does not look like the history you study in the history books of the world. But ignorant of theology, the unbelieving scholar knows no better than to dismiss it as mythological.
In the theological understanding of faith, it is not hard to see in this morning’s Gospel the mysteries of Christmas, of Pascha, and of our baptism. “When He stepped out on land,” it says. This moment in the life of Jesus Christ opens onto that moment when He was born of the Blessed Virgin, when He stepped onto the land of this world clothed in the fleshly garments of history. His healing of the demoniac opens onto His victory over the devil in the wilderness of the Jordan, and on the Cross, when He destroyed death by His death and gave life to those in the tombs. And, it opens onto the mystery of our baptism, when the Church, in the power of Christ, expelled from our body and soul all dark powers that lurked there, and clothed us in the deified garments of Christ’s death and resurrection.
The shore that Jesus stepped onto, where sea and land meet, is joined in the deified history of Christ to the mystery of the Church’s iconostas, even the doors of the narthex, where heaven and earth meet; and so it is joined to the cave of Bethlehem. That is to say, here in the Church today, standing between the doors of the narthex and the iconostas we stand with the holy disciples at the shore of Gerasene, we are at the cave of Bethlehem where heaven and earth are united. Here in the Church we can see the Word of God becoming manifest in the iconography and liturgical movements of the Church’s sacred mysteries. Here, in the Church, we can encounter Christ as did the demoniac; we can touch Him, we can feel Him, we can see Him; and we can be healed by Him in soul and body through faith, through the mystery of loving Him who first loved us, of taking up our cross to follow Him who first took up His Cross for us, that we might have life and have it abundantly.
Behold the mystical beauty of the Christian Faith: it is a mystery whose essential character is joy and thanksgiving born spontaneously from the depths of the heart in a knowledge of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, who is not an idea but the living reality of our life; whom we know because we see Him with the eyes of faith, we hear Him with ears of a living hope, we touch Him with hearts made alive in the warmth of thanksgiving and love for Him who first loved us.
We are not at all unlike this morning’s demoniac who wanted to be with Christ. And, through obedience to Christ’s command to remain where he was and proclaim what God had done for him, he was with Christ, even when the Lord departed and returned to His own city. Here, the healing of the Gerasene demoniac opens onto the mystery of Christ’s Ascension. For, by His Ascension, Christ has departed from us in glory to return to His own city. And yet, we are with Him still, for His Holy Church is His own crucified and risen body by which Christ continues to heal us in the world through faith even though He is no longer of the world. May this faith that gives birth to the knowledge and love of God become our life. Amen.