|41 - His Own City, July 28, 2019|
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There is good reason, imbedded in the text of our Gospel lessons themselves, to believe that the word of Jeremiah the prophet is what is being brought to light in this morning’s Gospel and the Gospel that preceded it last Sunday. In the Greek Septuagint, Jeremiah writes: “The heart is deep, beyond all things, and it is the man!” (17:5)
Something of this mystery of the heart set before us by the prophet we can know from our own experience. If a dear loved one who has wronged you, a spouse or friend, let’s say, comes to you in genuine remorse, asking your forgiveness, does not our heart soften? In that “heart-to-heart” moment, do we not feel the bitterness that infected our soul mysteriously being washed away; and ourselves: does it not feel as though, invisibly, mysteriously, we are descending somewhere deep, where we are far beyond the bitterness, the anger, the enmity that separated us? Suddenly, we can feel our heart, as though it has awakened from a dark sleep; and it is no longer hard and angry. It has suddenly grown warm and soft; and, we feel ourselves rushing out to meet our loved one in a forgiveness of love that proceeds from our heart. There, in the deep of our heart, far beyond all anger and bitterness, there is a healing of what was torn, a joyous restoration of love and communion.
This is the personal drama that we may see as the substance veiled beneath the drama of this morning’s Gospel. “He crossed over,” is how our Gospel this morning opens. The word could be translated as: “He passed through (dia) the beyond (perasen).” It takes us back to one of the immediate prequels of this morning’s Gospel, to Matthew 8:18: “And when He saw the crowd around Him, He gave command to depart into the beyond (peran).” What follows are the adventures of the disciples who follow Him, as it says, into the beyond, into the deep of the sea. First, they are beset by a great earthquake in the sea, so that their boat is covered by the waves—and the LORD is sleeping. He rises and rebukes the storm and the waves. They obey Him and immediately, there is a great calm (galena) (Mt 8:26).
From there, it says, He goes into the beyond. That’s where we met the two demoniacs of the Gadarenes, last Sunday. In the beyond, He is in the tombs with the demoniacs. And, in the beyond, in the tombs, He exorcises the demons. They perish in the sea, in the deep; and, the demoniacs are cleansed. According to St Luke who has but one demoniac, he is found sitting at the feet of Jesus, in his right mind. That is, there is now a great calm in the deep of His heart, there in the beyond where before he was in the tombs, now with Christ, his heart transfigured into a bridal chamber.
Surely, it is not lost on us how all of this takes place, as it says in the Greek, in the sea, which is the deep, and in the beyond, the tombs of the Gadarenes. Surely, we can see the sea and the tombs of the Gadarenes as images of the heart, which is a tomb because of our sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1), and which is deep, beyond all things. So, it should not be hard to see how these Gospel events in the life of Our LORD have, themselves, the very structure and form of His Holy Pascha. They are images of—or rather, their inner substance is—His death and burial, and His descent into hell where He tramples down death by His death and gives life to those in the tombs.
So, when our Gospel this morning says, “So, He got into a boat, crossed over (that is, He passed through the beyond), and He came to His own city,” we should be prepared to understand that something spiritual, something Paschal is happening beneath the surface that is much more profound than the LORD’s simple return from the Gadarenes on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. His own city to which He is returning is Capernaum, in Galilee; and Galilee, in the prophets of the OT, is the land of the LORD’s Bride. It is an image of Israel, or of the human soul. And so, He is coming to His own city, He is coming to His Bride from the beyond of hell where she was enslaved in the deep of her heart to death by fear, anger and bitterness, imprisoned in the isolation of enmity and loneliness. He is coming into His own city, His own Bride, the human soul in the mystery, the glorious triumph of His Resurrection.
According to St Mark, the LORD was in a house there in His own city. That is, He was in His Temple, the Temple of His Body that is risen from the dead (Jn 2:19). And His Body is the Church. That’s where we are this morning, in the LORD’s House, and the LORD is with us in “His own city.” “And, they brought to Him,” it says, “a paralytic, lying on a bed.”
The paralytic this morning is an image of idolatrous Israel—and, should we say, of the idolatrous “Orthodox” Christian, those who come to the LORD’s “own city”, His Church, not as paralytics but as self-righteous scribes?
The image of the paralytic takes us to Deuteronomy, to Moses’ last sermon to Israel, in which the LORD indicts Israel severely for her idolatry. But, should we not hear this word of the LORD to Moses as a word against us? Do we not show our idolatry in our love for anger, for lust, for greed, in our self-righteousness? “Their vine,” says the LORD, “is of Sodom and Gomorrha. (Shall we say, of sexual perversions and impurities?) Their grape is a grape of gall, their cluster is one of bitterness. Their wine is the rage of serpents and the incurable rage of asps” (Dt 32:32-33). Giving the desire of our heart to these spirits of idolatry, we invite them into our heart, and so we become “paralytics”, “utterly weakened” (Dt 32:36). Like the demoniacs of the Gadarenes, we become powerless against the idolatrous spirits of anger, lust, greed, and we are paralyzed, weakened by anxiety, fear, despair.
This brings us to the beauty of this morning’s Gospel. For, we see that the LORD is faithful, even though we are faithless. The LORD Himself, it says in this same Biblical Canticle, shall purge the land of His people (Dt 32:43). And, in this morning Gospel, what’s set before us is a visible image of the invisible mystery of Pascha that we stand in this morning here in the House of the LORD. We are standing in the beauty, the tenderness, the love and joy of His Holy Resurrection that is deep in our heart, far beyond all anger and bitterness, far beyond every hurt, far beyond death and fear. For, the LORD Himself has gone into the deep of our heart, into the beyond, and effected a great calm by destroying our death by His death. He has made our heart that was a tomb into a bridal chamber brighter than any royal chamber. For, He has washed away all anger and bitterness and their causes, and He has filled the house of our soul with Himself. His House is a house of forgiveness, of healing, of love and joy
Dear faithful, standing in the Church this morning in a visible way, we stand at the same time in an invisible way in the deep of our heart. We stand either as self-righteous scribes or, if we would but lay aside every excuse and come down from our high horse, we could come heart-to-heart before the LORD as a paralytic whose heart cries out for forgiveness! In this morning’s Gospel, we hear the LORD’s WORD that we would hear if we would but come down and lie before Him as we truly are, paralytics: “My child, your sins are forgiven thee!” The joy of the LORD’s forgiveness takes our heart into the deep far beyond all bitterness and anger. It heals us and makes us truly human for it makes us like God. It brings us into the beyond where the LORD has trampled down death by death and given life to us who were in the tombs; and so, it makes us, in the deep of our heart, strong in the love and joy of Christ.
And, may I point out what seems to me to be an image of the true work of the Church? Note that the paralytic was forgiven and healed through the faith of those who carried him into the LORD’s presence. In the love born in our hearts from the LORD’s forgiveness of us, then, let us carry our loved ones—and, if we can, even our enemies—in our hearts into the presence of the all-merciful Savior, and in the love of our faith, let us have every hope that our loved ones, even our enemies also will hear the LORD’s all-healing and life-giving word given to them through our faith: “My child, your sins are forgiven!” And so shall all of us always be with the LORD! Amen!