09 The Gerasene Demoniac - October 28, 2007

Galatians 6:11-18

Luke 8:26-39

Last Sunday, we heard the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In that parable, the rich man, languishing in Hades, asks Abraham to send Lazarus from the dead to his five brothers to warn them that there is life after death and a judgment. Abraham answers: “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them.” The rich man says: “No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” Abraham answers: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” As I said last Sunday, the point, I believe, is that it’s not what we see with our eyes; it’s not what we can measure with our empirical senses or figure out with our rational mind; it’s what we love in our heart that determines whether or not we will believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

There were many in Jesus’ day who did not believe in him even when they saw with their own eyes Jesus demonstrating a power and an authority over sin and the demons that only God has. The people of Gerasene were frightened by what they saw and asked Jesus to depart from them. The disciples, too, were often frightened by what they saw Jesus doing. Even St Peter at one time asked Jesus to depart from him – but he did so in an attitude of worship, which gives to his words the meaning: “Lord, I am not worthy to be your disciple. Depart from me, or else have mercy on me. Purge me with hyssop; create in me a clean heart and make me worthy to stand in your presence.” There is no such indication in the people of the country of Gerasene of an attitude of worship or a consciousness of sin in Christ’s presence. And certainly there were no such indications on the part of the Pharisees. In their presumption and self-righteousness, they attributed Jesus’ power over the demons to his being himself the devil. Others wanted to test him and demanded a sign from heaven, as though casting out demons and making people well wasn’t sign enough.[1]

So why should we be surprised when people nowadays dismiss the stories of Jesus as fabrications when people in his own day dismissed him even when they saw him performing signs of divine power with their own eyes?

All of this illustrates, again, that it’s not what we see with our eyes; it’s not what we can measure with our empirical senses or figure out with our rational mind; it’s what we love in our heart that determines whether or not we will believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

The heart is the ontological center of our being. It is in the heart that we discover ourselves as images created in the Image of God. It is in the heart that we discover our capacity for love in a personal way that is of the God in whose image we were made: i.e. it is a way of loving that is not selfish but selfless, of seeing ourselves in the other as a person of eternal value created in the image of God. According to the Proverbs, it is from the heart that the issues of life flow.[2] This is not the life of the flesh. That life is centered in and produced from out of the lower regions of the belly and it ends in corruption and death. The life that proceeds from the heart is the life of the Holy Spirit. It is not fleshly life but spiritual life that is centered on the mystery of God as the Holy Trinity: three persons who ‘exist’ in an ineffable, transcending communion of  love each for the other and in the other; so that, in that communion they are one even as they are three, three even as they are one. It is in the heart, the center of our personal being created in the image of God, that we discover our own innate capacity to be partakers of that divine love, to be taken up into the communion of the Holy Trinity to live the eternal life of God in the communion of his holy Church, which is his very body, in the communion of all the saints that is rooted in Christ God and in the love for God of his holy Mother, the Theotokos.

Brought into being by the love of God who made us in his own Image, which is Christ God,[3] we complete the image of God in which we were made when we love God and our neighbor as ourselves. That is how we are taken up into the communion of love that is the life of the Holy Trinity. Yet, the Scriptures say that all have sinned; we have each gone our own way. The fathers of the Church understand the origin and root of evil to be self-love, such that “when self-love is absent, not the slightest trace or form of evil can exist in any way at all.”[4] Therefore, when the Scriptures say that we have all sinned, we understand it to mean that we have all played the harlot, choosing sensual pleasure in self-love over self-renunciation in love for our true lover, God the Father. All the things that we love – money, power, fame, sensual pleasure – are but so many expressions of our love for our own flesh, our own ego – so much so that we will murder our neighbor, if not in deed then in word through insults, slander, gossip when we don’t get our own way. And the Scriptures show us that self-love doesn’t end at murdering our neighbor. In the end, we murder God himself, in word and in deed.

The Pharisees murder God in word when they accuse him of being a devil. The people of the country of Gerasene murder God by their words when they chase him out of their country. And finally, mankind murders God in deed when the Romans and the Jews together sentence him to death on the Cross.

And what is his crime that we do not believe in him so much that we want to chase him out of our lives and finally seek to silence him forever by crucifying him on the Cross? His crime is that he made us according to his image, he gave us the Law and the prophets to reveal to us the way to eternal life, he became flesh and dwelt among us, he healed the sick, he gave sight to the blind, he cast out the demons; and even on the Cross, he prays God that we be forgiven because we don’t know what we’re doing. He loved us and gave himself for us. His crime in all of this is that he showed us the way of the heart, the way of love, the way of the Tree of Life, which is opposed to the way of the belly, which is the way of self-love, lusting after sensual pleasures, the way of the tree of good and evil.  

It now becomes clear why Jesus is rejected and disbelieved by his own: they love the sensual lusts of the belly over the spiritual demands of the heart. They prefer the pleasures of the flesh over the ascetic pain of taking up the cross in order to put self-love to death and ascend from the belly to the heart.

But if all of us have sinned, then all of us love the lusts of our belly over the God whom our heart desires. Those who believe in Christ are therefore those who see and confess in a broken and contrite heart that they have chosen the life of the belly, but who want the life of the heart. I think we could say they are like this morning’s demoniac. Though he lived among the tombs as in his belly, enslaved to many demons, you can see that in his heart he wanted Christ. That’s what gave him the power to master the demons and approach the Savior, even though the demons were screaming at him not to. Those who believe in Christ are those who see that they have sinned; who acknowledge that they are blind, crippled, sick, enslaved to the passions, and who want healing and deliverance. To want healing and deliverance is in itself to love the Savior, the great Physician and Redeemer. And to love the Savior is to love his precepts and his commandments even though they are painful to the lusts of the belly.

This brings me to my final point. We preach Jesus risen from the dead; but we can’t see the risen Jesus. So on what basis do we believe that this is not just a story but that Jesus is in fact the Son of God who has risen from the dead? I submit that there is an external and an internal evidence. The external evidence is the Scriptures: the record of Jesus given to us in the Gospels reveals the deepest, spiritual meaning of Moses and the prophets. The internal evidence is the gift of the Holy Spirit that is given to us at our baptism.

Is it significant that we were baptized not into Christ’s death and resurrection but into the likeness of his death and resurrection? We do not enter into his actual death until by our own free will we choose to enter upon the ascetical way of self-denial for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. Then, our own death becomes the final witness to a life that was lived in taking up one’s Cross in order to be crucified with Christ, and if crucified with Christ then raised with Christ in his holy resurrection. We cannot see the risen Jesus except in the witness of his saints who have denied themselves by crucifying the lusts of the belly for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. So also, we cannot begin to see the risen Jesus for ourselves except in the practice of the ascetic and moral disciplines given to us by the Church which is his body. By practicing the spiritual disciplines of the Church, we take up our Cross, deny ourselves, and follow Christ. And as we take up our Cross through the spiritual disciplines of the Church, we may experience the power of God‘s Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, working in us to put the desires of the flesh to death, and awakening in us a love for the things of the Spirit.

Through his ascetic and moral commandments, the risen Christ himself touches us. By practicing his commandments, we rise up from our beds – our life in the belly – and we begin to walk in the way of his commandments, the way of the heart. Walking in the way of his commandments, we join our belly and our heart, our body, our soul and our mind to Christ crucified; and as we unite ourselves to Christ crucified, his Holy Spirit begins to raise us up from our belly and into our heart, purged and made clean by Christ’s Cross, in the mystery of his holy resurrection. The eyes of our heart are opened and we begin to see spiritual truths we did not see before; spiritual truths that confirm for us the reality of Christ’s holy resurrection. We discover the sensual desires of the flesh that enslaved us and crippled us before beginning to loosen their hold on us, the vain imaginings of our mind dissipating; and we may find, in the renewing of our mind to a true knowledge according to the image of the Christ God who created us,[5] that we are attaining, like the demoniac in this morning’s Gospel, a spiritual sobriety and a right-mindedness that we did not know before. As we center our life in our heart and not the belly through obedience to Christ, we find ourselves sitting at the feet of Jesus, desiring to know him as he truly is through the close study of his Word, the Holy Scriptures.

As we study his word, and practice his commandments from the heart, we are clothed in the robe of his Spirit, the robe of light and the garment of immortality given to us at our baptism, and we become partakers of the very divine nature in holy Eucharist, in sacred thanksgiving. Through the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ given in the ascetical and sacramental life of the Church, we become witnesses to what Christ has done for us, proclaiming the truth of his holy resurrection from what we have seen with the eyes of our own heart, from our own inner experience of taking up our Cross and denying ourselves to follow Christ as he commands us. 

[1] Lk 11:15-16

[2] Prov 4:23

[3] Col 1:15

[4] St Maximus, 1st Cent. Var. Txts, Philo II, §46

[5] Col 3:10