|08 - Down to Gedara, Nov 2, 2014|
At the tomb of the risen LORD, the angel said to the myrrhbearing women, “Lo! He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see Him!” (Mt 28:7, Mk 16:7) Our Gospel this morning says that the Savior “came down by boat” (katapleo) into the region of the Gadarenes, a region on the shore of the Sea of Gennesaret opposite Galilee inhabited chiefly by Gentiles.
It says, translating rather literally, that as the LORD was coming out onto the earth – the Greek has a cosmic ring about it – a certain man came out of the city to meet Him. The Greek for “to meet” carries the sense that this man came out in a hostile manner, like an army coming out to do battle with its enemy.
And indeed, it was a “Legion” of demons that possessed this man who came out to “do battle with” Him. But, note it does not say this man was possessed by demons; it says he possessed them. To be sure, they now controlled him, driving him into the wilderness, making him to live in the tombs, but the active voice gives the sense that they controlled him because at one point he had willingly, i.e., freely let them.
Opposite of Galilee – where we will see the risen LORD – the region of Gadara becomes an image of hell. Inhabited chiefly by Gentiles, the city of Gedara opens onto the cities of the world. A certain man means Every Man such as you and me. He was living among the tombs, driven by the unclean spirit out into the wilderness. Living outside the Garden, we live in a desert of sickness and disease of all kinds surrounded by the sea of death and corruption; for, as St Paul says, before the LORD came to us, we were dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1). We, too, possessed demons who possessed us; for, again, as St Paul says, we walked in the ways of the world, following the prince who rules the power of the air. (Eph 2:2) Jesus, coming down by boat, coming out and stepping onto the earth opens onto the mystery of God the Word coming down from Heaven to earth to become flesh of the Most Holy Virgin and to dwell among us. Expelling the demons from this man opens onto His Holy Pascha when by His Cross He tramples down death by His death and gives life to those in the tombs.
This Legion of demons would have been of the hosts and pride of the devil, the prince of darkness who is ruler of the power of the air; for, St Luke says that the LORD had charged the “unclean spirit” to come out of the man. That unclean spirit, says St Paul, is active even today in the sons of disobedience. (Eph 2:1-2) It goes about like a hungry lion seeking whom it may devour. (I Pet 5:8)
“The sons of disobedience”: again, we hear the note of the will. One disobeys because one wants to, just as one obeys because one wants to. When we choose obedience we open our heart to the LORD who comes in and abides in us to make us holy, even partakers of the divine nature. But, when we choose disobedience we open the gate of our heart, the place where our will originates, onto the unclean spirit. It comes in with all its hosts and pride and makes us unclean. It takes control of us, making us its slaves. In the beginning, we choose to follow it. But, very soon it takes control of us and we do its bidding whether we want to or not.
There’s nothing esoteric about this. Think of the many addictions that take hold of people: drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, sexual addictions. An addiction takes possession of us and drives us into the desert of regret and guilt. It defiles us and we feel unclean. Like a dark cloud, they settle in our soul and hide the sun, taking away our peace and our joy.
But, what are these addictions if they aren’t of the unclean spirit that rules the power of the air – i.e., the “unseen” realm of our soul – and which is active even now in the sons of disobedience? And, do we not become slaves to an addiction by an initial choice we make to indulge ourselves in any of the forms the addiction takes?
We speak of addiction in reference to such things as drugs, alcohol, or sex. But the Church’s vision is much deeper – all the way down to the division of soul and spirit to discern even the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12) In the vision of the Church, sin is an addiction; and, there are as many addictions as there are sins. Who of us, e.g., is not addicted to, let’s say, self-will, or to vanity? We may not consider ourselves “sex addicts”, but do we give ourselves over to impure thoughts? What about anger? Is it not an unclean spirit that takes control of us, gives us superhuman strength, and drives us into a desert of terrible remorse over the hurt we cause even to our loved ones? What about such things as indolence or greed, cynicism or resentment, and so on and so on?
All of these show the character of the unclean spirit that this man possessed and who now possessed him. Have we not freely given ourselves to such unclean things; i.e., did we not at some point reach out to possess them; and now they possess us?
This morning’s Gospel, therefore, is not just about this certain man of Gedara. It is about us; and, it shows how, if we want to, we can be delivered of the unclean spirit that we possess, if we want to become servants of eternal life in the love of God that abides forever.
Note that this man is delivered by coming out to meet the Savior; and then, he never leaves Him. Even when the LORD sends him back to his own house, the man does not leave the LORD because he is obedient to the LORD’s command; and the LORD is present in His commandments.
To be delivered of the unclean spirit that we possess, then, we must come out of the city of our worldly routine to stand in front of the icon as before the Savior. We make the sign of the cross. We say the prayers of the Church. Even when worldly obligations require us to go back out into the world we keep ourselves in the presence of the LORD by following His commandments. Above all, we work to keep our mind and heart always in His presence in unceasing inner prayer.
This is part of the cross the LORD tells us to take up if we would follow Him. When we choose by our own free will to take up the cross of prayer, fasting, the confession of sins, and the practice of mercy we are clothing ourselves in the power of Christ’s Cross that puts the devils to flight. With the eye of our heart, we turn ourselves to the East and follow the guidance of the Church on the way of the LORD that leads to His death and resurrection. With our inner ears, we turn away from the west and we renounce the evil one by not listening to all the voices he whispers in our head – they take the form of thoughts, impulses, desires, cravings and we turn our inner ear to the Word of the LORD and hold steadfastly to it. It speaks to us in the prayers of the Holy Church, the teachings of the holy fathers, the words of Holy Scripture, which reveal their inner meaning to us when we read them not on our own but under the guidance of the Church’s liturgical and sacramental life.
This work of taking up our cross and fighting to keep ourselves at this meeting place with the LORD Jesus in prayer is the beginning, the middle and the end of our deliverance from whatever addiction of sin possesses us. This morning’s Gospel tells us that we can do this, even if are possessed by all manner of uncleanness. We can take control of our life at least this much to make ourselves stand in front of the icon as before the Savior, make the sign of the cross, say prayers daily, come to Divine Liturgy every Sunday and every Feast Day and to every weekday service that we can. Our Gospel this morning shows us not to discount the divine power in this simple “ascetic” act. It is how we begin the work of denying ourselves so that we can unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His suffering and death on the Cross and put to death our addictions and all that is earthly in us, so that we can be united to Christ in the likeness of His Holy Resurrection and begin to live in God.
We can do this work of the Cross. No one can prevent us from coming out to meet the LORD except ourselves. By this “work” of the cross, we begin to give up possession of any unclean spirit in us and we give permission to the LORD to expel it from us. This work clothes us in our right mind. It creates in us a clean heart. It puts in us a new and right spirit. It enlarges our heart, and we want to be with the LORD. We want to sit at His feet in unceasing prayer. And, out of our love for Him, we become obedient to His commandment, having tasted what it is to possess God so that He possesses us: it is to be made well, free, clean and holy, raised up in the joy of His Holy Resurrection and made to ascend from glory to glory in the love of God that abides forever. May the LORD Jesus Christ help us and save us and have mercy on us! Amen.