|41 - Gadarene Demoniacs, July 8, 2012|
When the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, He united heaven and earth, time and eternity in Himself. The cosmos became truly cosmic in Him: everything is connected in Christ and the cosmos becomes in Christ one, harmonious whole (Col 1:15ff.). Because Christ is the God-Man, each historical event in His earthly life is a mystical gate that opens onto the eternal like the Royal Doors opening onto the altar of the sanctuary. United to Christ through holy baptism, each historical event in the life of the faithful is united to each historical event in the life of Christ and, through Christ, opens directly onto the eternal.
One would therefore expect that the evangelists would be particularly careful to follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as they record the events of Christ’s life, since they are not simply recording what happened in the Life of Christ for the sake of posterity, as though these historical events would otherwise slip into the past as soon as they happen and be no more. If that were the case, the Gospel stories would have no more value than moral lessons. No, in recording the events that took place in the life of Christ, the evangelists are proclaiming eternal truths of the Spirit that are coming to light, one by one, in each event in the life of Christ, truths that open us onto our heart, and our heart “onto the East” of Christ’s Resurrection for our salvation.
In this morning’s Gospel, there is a clear Paschal character in the way that St Matthew introduces this event that takes place in the life of Christ. He writes literally in Greek, “Now, when He came into the beyond into the region of the Gadarenes...” In its liturgical and sacramental context, this particular healing of the Gadarene demoniacs stands out as an “icon” of Christ’s self-emptying and Incarnation of the Virgin, and of His Holy Pascha when He descends into hell, shatters the iron bars and throws open the gates of brass and bronze (Ps 107:16) and frees all who were held captive there from the tyranny of the evil one.
The beyond” that Christ comes into is the world. It is “beyond” His “own city”, which is heaven, to which He returns after He heals the Gadarene demoniacs. This world of time, of history, opens onto the eternal. But, outside of Christ it opens immediately onto hell because in Adam, all of creation is inclined in disobedience away from God and toward the abyss, the nothingness, from which it came. Everything that happens in time “dies” as soon as it happens. It slips away into the past, where it is no more, just a memory that has no substance. And so, this world has become the porch of hell. When Christ, the God-Man, comes into the “beyond” and steps onto the shore of the Gadarenes, He steps onto the porch of hell. By His very presence, He reveals that the time has drawn near when He will ascend the Cross and step over the threshold and descend into hell to break its iron doors and shatter its gates of bronze to bestow life on all those in the tombs.
In the way he records this event in the life of Our Lord, St Matthew proclaims that Christ has come from heaven by way of the blessed Virgin into the “beyond” of this realm of time where nothing has any real substance, where everything moves and changes in the nothingness of death. From the Virgin, Christ received the garment of our humanity, and He clothed Himself with the garments of time and history. That means He clothed Himself with the garments of death and hell, because we in Adam are dead in our sins and trespasses; our life opens onto hell. But, this morning we see Christ, the Life and the Resurrection, the Light of God that illumines everyone who comes into the world, drawing near to the region of the Gadarenes and to the demoniacs tormented there, “living” in the tombs as in hell, the place of death. He is not just drawing near the region of the Gadarenes, though; He draws near hell’s terrible gates of iron and bronze. And, clothed in the garments of Adam, He begins already, even before Great and Holy Friday, to “cut hell’s bars of iron in sunder”.
Because every historical moment has been united to the eternal in Christ, in the Church, which is the body of Christ, every subsequent moment of time opens onto the spiritual mystery present in this historical moment in the Life of Christ; so that we can affirm that this healing of the Gadarene demoniacs that took place in history two millennia ago is happening in the mystery of its spiritual reality today.
But there is more to the “iconography” of the Gospel than this. Understand that the Church in her physical, liturgical, and sacramental structure is an iconographic mirror of the unseen depths of the human heart. Engage the mysteries of the Church’s liturgical worship and we engage the mystery of our own soul and our salvation in the mystery of Christ. We engage the mystery of God that was hidden before the ages; and this is the mystery of Christ in you! (Col 1:27) We therefore proclaim the Gospel of Christ, that the healing of the demoniacs of the Gadarenes is happening not only today, but it is happening today in you, in the mystery of Christ in you!
The Holy Church’s Gospel (Good News) of Christ takes us back to that moment in the Garden of Eden when the Lord Christ came looking for Adam in the Garden, and was unable to find him. Christ had cried out, “Adam, where are you?” But, Adam and Eve, by their transgression, had already fallen away from God in their heart by their self-willful disobedience and got lost in the darkness of hell. In this morning’s Gospel, we see the demoniacs rushing out of the tombs to meet Christ who has come and drawn near the doors of hell. Is this not Adam rushing out to meet the Christ who loves him? Lo, out of His great love for Adam, He has clothed Himself in Adam’s own garments of skin for the purpose of sharing with him not only in his flesh and blood but in his death, too – even in his forsakenness by God; so that He could descend into hell to find him and raise him up to life eternal, restored to his original beauty, clothed in his original robe of glory in the blessed communion of the Holy Trinity, the original destiny for which he was created.
The demons who possessed the two men clearly did not wish to meet Christ. They were crying out in fear and anguish: “Have you come to torment us before the time?” Is it not abundantly clear from this that the men who were held in the power of the demons still had the power of their own free will? It was buried, to be sure, beneath the fierce tyranny of the demons; but it was still there. By their will they had the power to overpower the demons and force them to come out with them to meet the Lord and Savior Christ.
But St Matthew says that they rushed out to meet Him. What is the power of our free will such that, if we want to, and with the help of the Christ who is in our midst, we are able to overpower even the demons who torment us and not just dawdle to Christ but rush out to meet Him? It is the power of the soul’s natural love for Christ, the God who first loved us, the Heavenly Bridegroom, the only Lover of mankind.
Brothers and sisters! The human heart was made a torch that burns with love for Christ. As soon as the soul beholds even a glimpse of a glimpse of the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, the fire of her soul is immediately enkindled and she becomes a blazing torch burning with the fire of love for Christ who, in the fiery love of the Holy Spirit came down from heaven and became flesh and dwelt among us even to the point of sharing in our death so that He could come into the darkness of our fear and find us and take us to Heaven with Him. The nearer the soul draws to Christ, the more the fire of her love for Christ leaps upward to meet Him until her whole being is ablaze and she is wholly consumed with love, and in the flaming pillar of love for Christ that now consumes her she rises in a never-ending ascent from glory to glory, from love to love in the loving goodness of the Christ who first loved her and saved her. No darkness of evil, no power of demons is able to withstand the soul that is so ablaze, so wholly consumed with the fire of her love for God and of God’s love for her.
Beloved faithful, this Christ for whom our soul yearns has come this morning “into the beyond” to stand “in our midst” here and now as He was then and there in the region of the Gadarenes. He is present to us here in the liturgical worship of His Holy Church, His precious and life-giving body that has destroyed death by His death and given life to us who were dead in our sins and trespasses. If we want to – and O how the soul wants to! Listen to your soul! – we can even rush out to meet Him, to receive Him, so that He can heal us of all our sins and transgressions, and deliver us from the power of the evil one that can so terrorize us. He is present to us in the prayers that He gives to us in His Holy Church, in the ascetic disciplines and in the commandments that He gives to us in His Holy Church. If we take these up as our cross, we receive Him and begin to become one with Him so that sin and death no longer reign over us but His own divine life in the healing and sanctifying fire of His love.
We can come out to meet Him here in the beyond because we are created in His image and likeness. Our hearts were made to burn with love for Him, and as we draw near to Him in the fear of God, with faith and love, the fire of our heart’s love is ignited until we are burning with our heart, our soul, our mind, even our whole body with the healing fire of His love. Amen.