|40 - The Invisible Made Visible, July 21, 2019|
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The drama of our Gospel this morning makes visible the unseen, spiritual drama going on in our soul. Following St Paul, we could say it is the drama of the Righteousness of God confronting our own.
Of the unbelieving Jews of his day, St Paul this morning writes: “They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge; for, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness they have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” But, could St Paul’s words apply also to us? We come to Church. We say prayers. We call on the Name of the LORD. In this, we show a visible zeal for God. But, is our zeal for God that is visible to us and to others synchronized with the invisible spiritual state of our soul?
The spiritual state of our soul may be invisible to us; but it is not for all that invisible. It is visible, for example, in the way we speak and behave toward others. Are we quick to judge others, but quick to justify ourselves? What is the spiritual state of my soul that is made visible when it comes to keeping a regular rule of prayer, mindfully; or to observing the seasons of fasting, or what I choose to give priority to when Feasts of the Church conflict with worldly entertainments? Are not these moments when the real priorities we live by and hold dear are becoming visible? More hiddenly, the invisible, spiritual state of my soul can be discerned in the images I feed my eyes on, the thoughts my mind secretly chooses to dwell on, the fantasies my soul likes to drink when no one is looking, or where I go to escape my inner emptiness and loneliness.
“This people draw near me with their mouth and with their lips they honor me,” says Isaiah, “but in their heart, they are far from me” (Isa 29:13). I see Holy Scripture making great effort—in both the OT and the NT—to make visible the invisible state of our soul, so that we can repent and begin seeking God with all our heart. Why should we Orthodox faithful, the New Israel, think that our psychology is any different from that of the old Israel? Are we not every bit as idolatrous?
If I am not zealous to understand and put into practice the precepts of the LORD—deny yourself, take up your cross, lose your life for my sake—the “god” I’m zealous for is an idol and my zeal for God is not according to knowledge. The beginning of our salvation is to acknowledge the idols we worship, secretly, invisibly, beneath the visible surface of our “zeal for God” and begin calling out to the LORD: “I am a lost sheep! Save me!”
What we are seeing in the LORD’s cleansing of the demoniacs is the visible shape of what happened invisibly in the deeps of the human soul in the LORD’s Passion and at our baptism. Our heart that before was a tomb, “dead in her sins and trespasses,” as St Paul says (Eph 2:1), became the LORD’s Tomb, and He changed it to become a bridal chamber. Our heart was raised to life and restored to her original beauty, and made ready to receive God Himself in order to unite with Him and become one body, one Spirit with Him. And, we received Him, the Heavenly Bridegroom, not only invisibly in the mystical penetration of His Holy Spirit into the deep of our soul, but also visibly and palpably in the immersion of our bodies into the sanctified waters of the Font, in the fragrance of the Holy Chrism, and in the consecrated Bread and Wine, the very Body and Blood of the Glorified Christ Jesus, that we ate and drank from the Holy Chalice as our food and drink. The deep of our heart was illumined and made radiant with the Light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. Many of us, especially those who were received into the Church as adults, felt the inner Light of Christ illumining our soul in a palpable way that we may still remember.
So, do you know the story of Israel’s so-called “conquest” of Canaan, the Promised Land? The conquest was only partial, for Israel did not destroy all the idols as she was commanded. Instead, she forgot how the LORD had delivered her from her slavery in Egypt, and in her ignorance and forgetfulness of what God had done for her, she embraced the idolatry of the Canaanites and fell away, again and again, from her love for her true Husband, the LORD God who had delivered her from Egypt, fed her and cared for her in the wilderness, and brought her to a land flowing with milk and honey, and united herself in her heart to the lords of her neighbor’s idols. She became an idolater; a harlot in the words of the prophets. In terms of our Gospel this morning, she joined the ranks of the townspeople who kept swine, or idols.
I believe we could say the townspeople are, like the Canaanites of old, the American society we live in with its own idols that shape its religious values and govern its political agendas. And, after our souls have been cleansed in the Font and we have “received the Heavenly Spirit” into our heart where dark spirits once dwelt, do we not become aware of an invisible pull coming at us subtly to pull us back into the city? If we are not vigilant, our souls can begin to drift back into the company of the townspeople, and we may find ourselves, like Israel of old, honoring God with our lips, but worshipping the idols of the city in our hearts, showing a zeal for God that is not according to knowledge but according to our own righteousness that does not submit to the righteousness of God in a spiritual mind of meekness, humility, contrition and repentance.
And so, we may unwittingly find ourselves coming out to meet Jesus with the townspeople in order to chase Him away. Is that not what we do when we come out to meet the LORD who saves us on Sunday morning in the visible appearance of righteous zeal while in our heart, we are living in the “city “tending our swine, our idols, whose invisible root goes down into the tombs of the demoniacs?
For, what are we doing at home? Whose spirit is received into and abides in the “culture” of our family? Whose word shapes the atmosphere of our home life, the rhythm of our daily routines? What’s going on in our mind and soul? What is the food and drink we give our eyes and ears to feast on? Where will the LORD find us when He looks into our heart: sitting at His feet, as St Luke tells us in his account of the Gerasene demoniac, or with the townspeople, begging the LORD—by our actions and secret desires if not by our words—to leave us alone so that we can go back to living in the city and keep our swine, our idols?
The LORD saves us. The LORD cleanses us. He restores our heart to her original beauty as a bridal chamber for her LORD, the only-Begotten Son of God. He accomplishes this for us at our baptism, in confession and in Holy Eucharist. But, the rest is up to us. If we want to keep what we have been given, if we want to grow as children of God until, in our heart, we have attained to the fullness of the stature of Christ, then we must put away our idols and live in the Spirit of Jesus, not in the spirits of the world. We must live in the Spirit in our words, our thoughts and our deeds. We must work to keep ourselves “sitting at the feet of Jesus” through inner vigilance, focusing on the beam in our own eye, cultivating meekness, lowliness, humility, walking with sobriety of mind and vigilance of soul the blessed way of repentance. For, this is the way of healing. We sit at the feet of Jesus by feeding our mind on Holy Scripture, the teachings of the holy fathers, the prayers of the Psalms and of the liturgical hymns of the Church. We sit at the feet of Jesus by bringing ourselves to Church in love for Jesus, to be with Him and His angels, the saints, His Holy Mother, and to listen and absorb the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit into our soul, so that we are shaped by the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb and not by the tombs of the world. Amen!