|28 Fourth Sunday of Lent, Apr 10, 2016 (with audio)|
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Ephesians 5:9 – 19 (Saint)
Hebrews 6:13 – 20
Matthew 4:25 – 5:12
Mark 9:17 – 31
It seems that the fourth week of Lent is when many of us begin to feel irritable and short. I think we are coming to that point in the Fast when our self-love is beginning to poke through our pious veneer. In terms of this morning’s Gospel, our self-love is beginning to cry out and to convulse us. Even in the Fast, I eat better than many do in the world, so I am not undernourished. It is not my hunger, then, that is crying out and convulsing me greatly; it is my self-love. The hunger crying out in me is a physical manifestation of how indulged and pampered I am; it exposes how much I love the comforts of the flesh and the sweet things of the world.
The father cries out to the Savior, “I believe, LORD! Help my unbelief!” Remember how, at the beginning of the Fast (as also when we were first received into the Faith), we desired with all our heart to take up our Cross and to get serious about working to unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death. We were seeing that we do believe; and so we can say with the father this morning: “I believe, LORD!” But the Fast strips away our pious veneer; it exposes our worldliness such that we can feel it now pulling hard to draw us away from the Fast, the Cross, and back into our love for the world. Now we find ourselves saying: “LORD, Help my unbelief!”
It says that the spirit convulsed the boy greatly after the LORD commanded it to come out of the boy. When we take up the Fast, which is the Cross, we are “returning” with the myrrhbearing women (Lk 23:54) to confront our worldliness. When we rest on the Sabbath with the myrrhbearing women, we are choosing to stay in the tomb of our heart, cutting off our usual escapes from the emptiness that haunts us within, leaving us nowhere to hide except in the death of the LORD through prayer. We begin to cry out greatly with fear and anger because what is earthly in us – our love for the world – is being put to death in the death of the LORD. I think this, by the way, is the beginning of that mourning that the LORD calls blessed.
Mourning, then, doesn’t begin with weeping. It begins with this self-denial of the Fast. It progresses to weeping only if we rest with the myrrhbearing women, only if we stay in the self-denial of the Fast and not allow ourselves to seek refuge in our usual escapes so that we begin to feel the fear and the anger of our inner loneliness we’ve sought to escape in the many empty diversions of the world.
As I said, the fourth week of the Fast seems to be when the sentimental mist of our initial zeal begins to clear. I can discern in the dawning Sabbath light of the ensuing stillness my love for the world wanting to turn my face away from the Cross of the Fast and back to the sweet things of the world. I can also make out voices whispering inaudibly in my ear, telling me that this fasting business is silly, not necessary. We’re saved by grace, after all!
It says that the boy this morning was possessed by a deaf and dumb spirit. I recognize it immediately as the spirit that takes hold of us when we give in to our unbelief, our love for the world and turn the face of our inner man away from the Church. It was a deaf spirit. That points to the spiritual ears of the inner man which are made, through unbelief, when we turn our face away from the Church and the Body of Christ, deaf to the Word of God speaking to us in the Church. It was a dumb spirit. It was of the mouth or the throat. But, in the bible, the mouth opens onto the heart and the throat is what receives food and drink and air so that we can live. The dumb spirit of unbelief renders the heart unfeeling and closed off to the Spirit of God. This boy, then, was spiritually dead, just as St Paul says we are spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1).
The LORD says in exasperation: “O faithless generation! How long shall I suffer you?” Read the prophets and the Psalms, and you will see that this is what the LORD has been saying of all the generations of Israel since the days of Noah! Why should I believe He is not saying it of me? My face is turned to the Church, but where is the face of my heart turned? Whose voice, the serpent’s or God’s, do I listen to in my deep heart? This is the battle that I enjoin within me when I take up the Fast as my Cross! I am so weak in my belief, my resolve to rest, to stay in the self-denial of the Fast, and so quick to give in to my unbelief, my love for the world. What has the world done for me? What has the LORD done for me? “LORD, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!”
But do we not see in this word of the LORD His great patience? Even in His great exasperation over us, yet He empties Himself for us in obedience to the Father even unto death on the Cross; and He says: “Bring him here to Me.”
I see the LORD saying in this word exactly what He says in this word: “This kind of spirit (a deaf and dumb spirit, a spirit of unbelief, i.e., a spirit of death!) cannot come out except by prayer and fasting!”
Both words turn us inward and set us on the Path (which is Christ!) that descends into the tomb of our heart and to the great mystery of God hidden from the generations, revealed now to His saints, says St Paul (Col 1:27). But, in fact, it is revealed for all the world to see. Yet, it is only the saints who see it, only those, i.e., who receive Jesus as the Christ, the Word of God, by denying themselves and taking up their cross, the Fast, in order to lose their life, in order to put to death what is earthly in them – their self-love – for the sake of Christ, that they may find their life in Christ. That great mystery of God is revealed for all the world to see in the Image of Christ, God, crucified on the Cross, Christ, God, buried in the New Tomb. It is the great mystery of “Christ, God, in you!” Christ in the tomb of your heart, transfiguring your heart into a bridal chamber radiant with the light of His Glory (cf. Mark 9:1-12) and the font of your resurrection in the Resurrection of Christ.
We cannot destroy the deaf and dumb spirit of death in us or in anyone else except we have died to ourselves in the death of Christ – i.e., for the sake of Christ. That’s what we have undertaken to do by taking up the Fast! That’s why it’s so hard! That’s why the battle within is so intense. We are daring to put to death what is earthly in us, our love for the world, that we may become perfectly one with Christ in the likeness of His death as He became perfectly one with us when He was crucified on the Cross and laid in the New Tomb.
The spirit came out of the boy and it says that he was as though he were dead, so that everyone thought he was dead. Do you see? The spirit that had rendered him deaf and dumb was put to death by bringing him to the LORD, by turning his face so that it was facing the LORD, the attitude of faith! So also, we put the spirit that renders us deaf and dumb to death by turning the face of our inner man, our mind, toward the LORD, who speaks to us and even touches us physically (through the sacraments) in His Holy Church! We turn our inner ear to listen to the word of the LORD, not to our own word or to the word of the world! We turn the face of our inner man resolutely inward toward the tomb of our heart in prayer to take refuge in the death of “Christ in you” who by His death puts to death the deaf and dumb spirit of our death!
Finally, beloved faithful, shall we note that this boy was raised from death to life by the prayers of the father, whose belief was not altogether free from unbelief? The father, though, precisely in his unbelief, turned his face to the LORD and kept it there! That’s how his prayer became his son’s resurrection! This is a word for all of us in spiritual authority, parents, teachers, priests, bishops, who desire the salvation of those in our charge. Set the face of your inner man on Christ in you! Deny yourself and take up the cross of the Fast for the LORD’s sake, and your prayer becomes radiant with the life-creating power of the LORD’s death on the Cross, the power of salvation and resurrection in you and in all those around you. Amen!