|08 - FROM JERUSALEM TO JERICHO, Nov 14, 2021|
Geography is theology in the bible. Note that to illustrate the central command of the Law by which one inherits eternal life—the command to love the LORD God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves—the LORD tells a parable that opens with a bit of geography.
‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho,’ He begins. This ‘certain man’ is Adam, he is Israel, he is ‘every man.’ And he goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho. That means he was going away from the Temple. But, that, in fact, may not be the wrong thing at all. It may be the very thing the LORD calls anyone to do who seeks to love the LORD with all his heart, soul, strength and mind. Let’s review some biblical geography in order to explain this.
The Temple in Jerusalem on Mt Zion is a historical image of Eden, which the bible shows clearly to be the ‘cosmic mountain’. In the sanctuary of the Temple was the Menorah, an image of the Tree of Life; and on the altar was the ‘Bread of the Presence,’ which we might take as an image of the Fruit of the Tree of Life that Adam and Eve were given to eat that they might inherit eternal life.
But the Temple and its worship, with all its ordinances and ablutions and sacrifices, was not the Reality itself as St Paul says in Hebrews (10.1). The Law of Moses, centered on the Temple and its sacrifices, was but the ‘shadow’ of Christ. Christ is the Icon or the Really Real, Who was to come. Christ and the Mystery of His Incarnation was the ‘Heavenly Pattern’ that the LORD showed Moses on the mountain, and the Law that God gave to Moses was the ‘copy’ of the Heavenly Pattern. (Ex 25.9&40)
In these terms, this ‘certain man’ going down from Jerusalem to Jericho was following the Path that goes from the copy in Jerusalem to the Reality that is the ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’ in the ‘Heavenly Places’. This reading is supported by the historical significance of Jericho. As recounted in the Book of Numbers, Jericho was a gate into the Land of Israel’s Inheritance. It was the city Israel had to conquer before taking Jerusalem on Mt Zion. But, on the plains of Jericho, at the Gate of the Land of their Inheritance, Israel ‘played the harlot’ with the gods of the Moabites; and, on that day, more than 24,000 Israelites died from the plague that was the result of their idolatry (Num 25). Can you see here a historical image of Eve enticed by the serpent in the Garden?
We need yet to review a bit more geography, some ‘theological’ or mystical geography. Halfway up the Edenic mountain was the tree of learning good and evil. It was, so we learn from St Ephrem of Syria’s Hymns on Paradise (4th century), the Gate to the Tree of Life that was at the top of the mountain of Eden. It was the tree of testing, as St John of Damascus (8th century) calls it (he called the space before the tree of learning good and evil a ‘gymnasium’). It tested the will of Adam’s soul, imaged as the ‘woman’ Eve, as given in the Canon of St Andrew. Why the ‘woman’? Because the woman, as does the soul, receives the seed or the spirit, whether the seed of God’s Spirit or of the evil one’s spirit, to conceive and make that seed incarnate either as the fruits of the Spirit or ‘children of God,’ or as the murderous brood of vipers from the spirit of the serpent (Eph 2.2).
Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden on the Mountain of Eden not because they transgressed but because they would not repent. They became full of themselves and became ‘as though they were gods’ in their own nature. (Gn 3.23) When they were expelled, they took up their dwelling ‘opposite’ Eden (Gn 3.25 LXX). That means that, geographically or visibly, Jerusalem was mystically or theologically ‘opposite’ the invisible reality of Eden. It was the copy or the visible form of the invisible, spiritual reality of Eden, which is the heavenly ‘pattern’ that gives substance to the copy and from which the copy receives its form.
Overlaid onto Gen 2-3, then, Jericho comes into view as the visible image of the tree of learning good and evil, the gate to the Tree of Life at the top of the mountain, the gate of testing. For anyone who sets out from the ‘copy’, from the ‘visible form,’ to seek the invisible reality of the ‘heavenly pattern’ must needs come to the Gate of testing, the gate of one’s heart. And what is tested is our will. Will we deny ourselves for the sake of Christ, or will we deny God for the sake of ourselves? Will we lose our life out of love for Christ that we may find our life in His Tomb that destroys death, or will we seek to save our life out of love for ourselves and so find it in the tomb that destroys life? But if we seek to love God with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind, then we must take up our cross to follow Christ and to put to death our ‘earthly members,’ the passions, or our love for death.
And what we see in this morning’s parable is that we, the ‘certain man,’ as we, perhaps in whatever way we knew, sought escape from the suffering of this world in the hope of finding joy and fulfillment, were set upon by thieves there at the gate of our heart, the entrance to the Tree of Life; and because of our own greed (St Ephrem), or our self-love (St Maximus), we were vulnerable and fell in among the thieves. We gave ourselves to lust, to greed, to anger and hatred. And now, ‘noetic beasts mercilessly surround me and strive pitilessly to seize with their soul-destroying jaws my lowly soul.’ (Mon Compline, Tone III). And now ‘I am thrust down into the depths of violent despondency…and sorrow’ (Fri Compline VIII).
Most all the prophets saw it; but perhaps the most vivid account of the vision from the LORD is Ezekiel’s. The Tree of Life came down as a snow-melt River from the summit of the Edenic Mountain and took up His dwelling in the womb of the Virgin, in the Sanctuary of the Living Temple of the LORD as the King and Prince of Israel, that Ezekiel and the other prophets saw on the summit of the mountain opposite Jerusalem (Eze 47)—i.e. on the Edenic mountain. He, the ‘River of Joy,’ flowed all the way from the East Gate of the Temple, from the Womb of the Holy Virgin at the top of the mystical summit of the Edenic Mountain and out into Galilee, into the desert and out into the outlet of the sea. From the Gate of Her womb, from Christmas, He descended all the way to the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest, to His Holy Pascha, healing and giving life to every living creature that He touched and who received Him (cf. Eze 47.9)
But how did He make His way to His Tomb, to the Gate that opens onto the Sanctuary before the Tree of Life? He, the Tree of Life, became one with us in our death by His death on the Cross. He, the Tree of Life, became a corpse, nailing Himself to the corpse of our soul and body, to the tree of learning good and evil, to our own human nature set upon by thieves and left by the side of the road for dead.
It says that the LORD anointed the man with wine and oil: what would that be if not the moment the LORD died on the Cross and there came forth from His side blood and water that was poured out onto the earth? What is the blood if not the ‘new wine’ of His own divine Life knit with the pure blood of the Virgin, the ‘wine that makes glad the heart of man’ (Ps 104.15)? What would be the oil if not the living waters of His Holy Spirit, the ‘oil of gladness’? In the mystery of His Incarnation, in the fearsome wonder of His Cross and Burial, there at the gate of our heart where we open onto the sanctuary of the Tree of Life and out into the deep beyond all things, He poured out into our nature fallen into sin and death, the uncreated Life of His own Righteousness. He who knew no sin, was made to become sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5.21)—that is, that we might no longer be as though we were gods but that we might become gods in truth, being given to become, if we so desire, partakers of the divine nature. (2 Pt 1.4)
It says He bound up the man’s wounds. He raised him from the dead. He brought him to the inn. In the Greek, the word for inn means literally, ‘Receiving All.’ He brought the man into His Church, His Body, in which He receives all who come to Him and who call upon His Name. And there, in the Church, in the mystery of His Body, He gives us His Body and Blood—the two denarii that He gives to the innkeeper, the bishops and priests—to strengthen us and nourish us, as He nourished Israel on her Exodus to the Land of her inheritance, until He returns.
How, then, can we possibly ‘go and do likewise’ if we ourselves have not gone down to Jericho, that is, away from the visible copy to the invisible gate of our heart where we are dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2.1) in order to lose our life for the sake of Christ and receive His Spirit so that we are found in His Tomb and not in our own? Otherwise, are we not like the priest and the Levite, as though we could heal ourselves with our own righteousness, as though we were god? But then we miss completely the gate of the heart, both our own and that of our neighbor. We pass by on the other side and our hearts are still dead in our sins and trespasses.
It is no longer I who live, says St Paul, but Christ who lives in me. We need to acknowledge our idolatry and lay aside every excuse. It can no longer be we who live, trying to save ourselves by our own righteousness, our own wisdom. We need to receive Christ so that it is Christ who lives in us, pouring on our wounds the healing salve of His own Body and Blood and His Holy Spirit. For it is only in the Spirit of Christ that our will is given the strength to put to death our love for the passions that leave us by the road for dead, so that we may love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves. For it is only the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead that raises us from death. We are raised not to the life of this world that is dust and returns to the dust, but to the divine, uncreated Life of God. And in Christ, in the mysteries of His Holy Church, the dust that we are becomes deified. It is suffused with the Living Waters of Christ’s Holy Spirit and in the Robe of Light given us at our Baptism, we are restored to our original beauty and clothed again with the Glory of God in the love of God. Amen!