|45 - Gadarene Demoniacs, July 28, 2013|
Matthew 8:28 – 9:1
This morning’s profoundly dramatic Gospel is very clearly an icon of Christ’s Holy Pascha. We can “pick up the action” at the beginning of the chapter when the Savior comes into Peter’s house and heals St Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Listen closely; see if you can discern the Paschal elements in all that follows.
It says that she arose and served Him. Then, it says, it came to be evening, and they brought to Him many who were possessed of demons. He cast out the demons with a word, says St Matthew. And He healed all who were sick. (Mt 8:14-16) When He did this, says St Matthew, Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled: “He took our weaknesses and carried our diseases.” (Isa 53.4)
Then it says that Jesus, seeing the crowds around Him, gave a command to depart, literally, into the beyond. A scribe comes to Him at that point and vows to follow Him wherever He goes. The Lord says, “Foxes have holes, the birds of heaven build their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Mt 8:18-20) One thinks immediately of the cross and the tomb, where Jesus did lay His head; so that one wonders if this was Jesus’ way of warning the scribe (and anyone who reads Matthew’s Gospel) of what it means to follow Him wherever He would go. He is going “into the beyond”, i.e., hell, the place of the dead, by way of His own death on the Cross and His burial in the tomb. To follow Christ is to unite ourselves to Him, which means that we are vowing to share in His suffering and in His death and burial. How do we do that?
Then it says that another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go bury my father.” “Follow me, and permit the dead to bury their own dead,” the Savior answers. But is this really a rebuke, or is it actually a promise? I wonder if we can take the Lord to mean: Follow me and die with me, then you who have died in my death can bury the dead – through Holy Baptism – so that you all can share in my Resurrection by sharing in my death that conquers death.
St Matthew doesn’t tell us how the scribe and the “other disciple” responded to Jesus’ words to them. Rather, he goes on immediately to tell us that at that point, Jesus entered the boat, and his disciples followed him. (v. 23)
The boat looks like the tomb of Christ; for there, in the hold of the boat, Christ “slept” – which would imply that there, in the boat, that is, in the tomb, He found a place to lay His head. While He slept, it says, there was a great earthquake in the sea. One thinks immediately of the moment of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, when, as recorded by St Matthew, “there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven.” (Mt 28:2)
The disciples were afraid, and they cried out to the sleeping Lord: “Save us, lest we perish!” He rebukes their smallness of faith while lying in the hold of the boat, even as He rebuked their little faith when He rose from the dead; although, here He says, “Why are you afraid?” In the Resurrection, He commands: “Do not be afraid!” And then, St Matthew tells us, He arose and He rebuked the winds and the sea, and there came to be a great calm; and the apostles marvel with awe and fear that even the winds and the sea obey Him! (v. 28)
And then, it says, He came, translated literally, into the beyond. Physically, this was the region of Gedara, which was east of the Sea of Galilee beyond the region of Galilee and of Jesus’ “own city”, Capernaum. But, theologically, it looks like the lower regions “dark and deep,” where the devil holds us in bondage through the fear of death. For, it says, that He was met by two demoniacs. They were exceedingly fierce, coming out of the tombs. That’s where they lived, among the dead, as though in hell. They were so fierce, it says, that no one could pass that way.
That this episode in the life of Christ is united to His Pascha is indicated in the words of the demoniacs: “Have you come to torment us before the time – i.e., the time of your actual Passion?” They beg not to be cast out into the abyss but into the herd of swine. Not even the demons want to be in hell!
Then, it says, the swine herders fled, and they came into the city and reported all the things that had happened. So also the soldiers guarding the tomb of Christ, after they see the angel of the Lord come down and roll the stone away from the tomb, will go into the city to report all that had happened to the chief priests.
The Paschal character of these events shows that they are united to the mystery of Christ’s Pascha. This tells us, does it not, that the seen and the unseen, the physical and the spiritual are united; they are not distinct or separated from each other. The “history” of Christ that could be seen with the eyes, heard with the ears, handled with the hands, is at the same time a spiritual event that opens onto the eternal spiritual mystery of the soul. It tells us that our bodily life here on earth is not separated from the realm of the spirit. In our body, we live in time; but our body opens onto the soul; and, in our soul, we live in the eternal realm of spirit. In the body, as it moves in time, the eternal drama of the soul and spirit is played out.
The events of this morning’s Gospel took place historically centuries ago; but, the drama that was played out in this morning’s Gospel is the spiritual drama of Christ’s Holy Pascha that is eternally present to us. This morning’s Gospel, then, sets before us the spiritual reality of Christ’s victory over hell that is present to us in our soul here and now.
When we turn away from the world to follow Christ, we follow Him “into the beyond”; i.e., beyond the surface of this earthly life and into the spiritual realm of the soul – let’s say, we follow Him into the boat of the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who is all in all. Christ “sleeps” in the “hold” of the boat of the Church. He “sleeps” in the prayers of the Church, in the words of Holy Scripture, in the services and offices of the Church, in the ascetic discipline of the Church. He “sleeps”: i.e., through the sacramental mysteries of
Beloved faithful, let this good news of the Gospel become the treasure of your heart. Let this be what we hope for; may it be the “vision” that fills the thoughts of our mind, so that we live in this vision of the Gospel and not in the vain fantasies and imaginings of the world, so that this becomes what drives us and motivates us in all our thoughts, words and deeds. Amen.