|40 - Gadarene Demoniacs, July 24, 2016 (with audio)|
This morning’s Gospel of the LORD delivering and healing (i.e., saving) the Gadarene demoniacs, sets before us the “violent” (Mat 11:12) spiritual warfare that is enjoined within us when we repent and believe.
Those who do not believe – i.e. who do not turn the face of their heart toward the LORD – do not experience this warfare. These include those who are zealous for “their own righteousness”. They are among the swineherds, i.e., idolaters, because they tend the idols, the swine, of their own righteousness.
Outwardly, they seem at peace. They tend their swine, their idols, bucolically undisturbed. But, it is a different story in their heart, which is off at a distance and which they stay away from. For, in their heart, they are the demoniacs, and they are not at peace. In their heart, they dwell among the tombs because, well, their heart is a tomb (Eph 2:1). Remember St Macarius? “When you hear of tombs do not think of physical ones. Your own heart is a tomb!” (Hom 11.11). Confront them and go against their will. Then you will discover how “exceedingly fierce” they are beneath their suave face.
Yet, there is no spiritual warfare in their soul because there is no turning away from their swine, their idols. They are swineherds.They tend their swine. They feed their idols. There is no life in the idol. That’s why their heart is a tomb; yet, they are at peace – the peace of the grave. The idol has eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, a mouth that does not speak (cf. Ps 115:5), a mind that cannot understand (Isa 44:18). Those who worship them are like them. Those who tend swine are called swineherds. And so, they cannot hear the Word of God. They cannot see or understand the state their heart is in. They know no better than to ignore it. Yet, somehow, intuitively, they know that it’s better not to pass that way. They were not strong enough to pass that way, it says, because the demoniacs were so fierce. So, they don’t make their way into the tomb of their heart and there is peace. They leave the demons alone that possess them, and they tend their swine, their idols, undisturbed. This is the “peace” the world gives. It is the “peace” many of us live in.
Until we resolve to come out to meet Christ. He comes to us “not to cast peace but a sword” (Mat 10:34). Christ is not an idol. He is the Icon of the invisible God (Col 1;15). He is the “Righteousness of God” St Paul is speaking of this morning (Rom 10:3-4). He is the Word of God in the flesh who comes from His Resurrection to us here “on the other side”, “sitting in the land and shadow of death” (Mat 4:26) on this side of the tomb.
When in repentance – this is the beginning of faith – we turn around to meet Him and resolve to become zealous for God’s Righteousness and not our own, we become aware of an inner force of great strength opposing us within. It shows a mind and a will of its own, even its own “personality” characterized by scorn, contempt, cynicism, anger, lewdness, selfishness. St Paul calls it the law of sin and death. It has become so much a part of us, like a deadly cancer, that it has become embodied in us. It dwells in me, says St Paul (Rom 7:17). In my turning away from God (the sin of unbelief), I have allowed it to make my body, my mind, my soul, even my will to be its house. And, it has made me its prisoner (Rom 7:23), so that even though to will the good and the beautiful (kalos) is present to me, the doing of it is not (Rom 7:18).
I think it therefore of the greatest significance that these demoniacs were able to come out to meet the Savior. They were able to repent. They were able to do the beginning of faith. It was as small as a mustard seed, but even that is strong enough to move mountains; it is strong enough for me to turn the face of my heart toward the Savior and come out to meet Him who has come from the other side of His Resurrection to me in the tomb of my heart.
Note how fierce was the struggle that the repentance of the two men calls forth. The demons that possessed them clearly did not want to face the LORD. “Have you come to torment us before the time?” they scream in obvious terror. But, in this one thing, for all their super “hero” strength, they cannot overpower us if we want to act on that mustard seed of faith and turn the face of our heart to the LORD. For, that mustard seed of faith was sown in us by the Divine Sower Himself. How so?
Drawing from Deuteronomy, St Paul says this morning: “’The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.’ This is the Word of faith whom we preach!” The Word here is rhema, a concrete reality. It is not an idea. It is the living and active Word (Logos) of God who became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14) as in His House, His Holy Temple (Jn 2:19), piercing us with the sword of His Cross – His divine love – all the way down to the division of our soul and spirit and into the thoughts and intentions, the will, of our heart (Heb 4:12) that He might become one with us.
By this Word, heaven and earth were created from nothing. That means that the natural principle or mustard seed of the world’s existence and everything in it is faith or obedience to the Word of God (cf. Ps 33:9). By this Word, man was created, male and female, in the Image and Likeness of God (Gn 1:27). This means that the natural principle or mustard seed of human existence is faith or obedience to the Word of God. It was sown in us, then, as the natural principle of our existence. This is why the Word is near us, in our mouth and in our heart.
This Word came to Abram and Sarai, who were as good as dead (Rom 4:19 & Heb 11:12), as the Promise of Life or of Righteousness (Gn 15:1-6). The Word’s Promise of Life became flesh in Isaac, born of Abraham and Sarah in a virtual resurrection from the dead. The natural principle or mustard seed of Israel’s existence then, was faith or obedience to the Word of God, their LORD, so that the One they confess with their mouth is the same One they believe in or face in their heart. That Word became the Law in order to guard, so St Paul says, the Word that was the natural principle or mustard seed of Israel’s existence and make them ready to receive the Word Himself in His fullness in the fullness of time. This Word in these last days has come to us on the other side, not as a Promise but as the end or perfection of the Law. He Himself became our righteousness, our life when He Himself became flesh and pitched His Tent among us as one of us (Heb 2:14-15).
This Word is the principle of the Church’s life. He fills all her words – her Scriptures, her prayers, her holy icons, her doctrines, her ascetic disciplines. This same Word gives Himself now to us as our food and drink, the medicine of immortality, as the natural principle or mustard seed of our existence in His Holy Eucharist. Living and active, He comes to us sitting here in the land of the Gadarenes, i.e., the region and shadow of death (Mat 4:16); He comes to us all the way into the tomb of our heart (Heb 4:12). If we turn and come out to meet Him in the movement of faith, Hedelivers us from the law of sin dwelling in our bodies (Rom 7:24-25), i.e., the idolatry of our addictions, our passions, our destructive habits and behaviors that hold us captive. He frees us from the devil and from all his host and from all his pride. He sends them and their swine into the abyss where, in the living waters of the Church’s Holy Baptism, they perish and we are cleansed, restored to our original righteousness in the natural principle of our existence.
Note from our Gospel this morning that we engage this unseen warfare in faith; i.e., by turning the face of our heart toward Christ and coming out to meet Him by coming to Church, coming to the Holy Scriptures and studying them, coming to the prayers of the Church and saying them with attention, coming to the holy icons and venerating them with reverence, coming to our brothers and sisters and showing mercy as the LORD has shown mercy to us. This turning the face of our heart to the Savior and coming to Him in repentance and obedience and in the constant confession of our sins, this much we can do, for we do no more than to act according to the natural principle of our existence, which is natural to us. This much we must do if we want to be saved – i.e., delivered and healed from the unrighteousness that enslaves us and tyrannizes us.
But, the victory of this warfare belongs to Christ our LORD, our Creator, our Savior. He alone is strong enough to “pass that way” and come into the tomb of our heart and to cleanse even our conscience from all unrighteousness, sin and death. By His Grace, through our faith,then, we are saved. Our mind, our heart and our will are delivered and healed and restored to their natural wholeness and we are able to will and to do according to the good pleasure of the LORD Jesus Christ. Amen!