|46 - Jesus' Gospel, July 26, 2009|
We read in this morning’s Gospel that “Jesus went around all the cities and villages teaching and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every sickness and infirmity.” The Gospel Jesus is teaching and preaching is that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand – it’s here, in our midst.
The Kingdom of Heaven is here because Jesus, the King of Heaven, is here. Gospel” means specifically “good news of a military victory.” Jesus’ Gospel is the good news of a cosmic victory that extends beneath the surface of time and space down to the principle, the beginning of creation, even to the gates of Eden and to the roots of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By going around the cities and villages teaching and healing, Christ is laying His axe to the root of the trees growing from the serpent’s tree of good and evil, and He is casting out the Ruler of this Age. The flaming sword of the Cherubim guarding the gates of Eden gives way and all who wish may enter and partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life.
The Gospel this morning says that Jesus was going around all the cities and villages. “Cities and villages” refers us back to the book of Joshua that recounts the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan. The verb “to go around” occurs only a few times in Scripture; yet where it does occur suggests it may have a deeper meaning here than simply “going around.” The prophet Amos uses this word to speak of God leading the Israelites through the wilderness to take possession of the land of Canaan. In Ezekiel the Lord leads the prophet around the valley of the dry bones, a prophecy of resurrection that is read in the Church on Great and Holy Saturday. In another vision, the Lord leads Ezekiel around the holy chambers of the priests and to the western end, where the prophet sees the priests performing the sin offerings for the people; and then the Lord leads Ezekiel around to the outer gate that faces east, from which waters flow that heal the other waters.
So, when St Matthew says that Jesus went around the cities and villages healing every sickness, the prophetic context of these words suggests that St Matthew is saying that Jesus was going around the cities and villages in Galilee as Joshua (the name, Jesus, in Hebrew, is the name Joshua), doing what the first Joshua failed to do: he’s taking Canaan. In the glory of His Holy Resurrection, He is ridding it of all the false gods and unclean spirits, casting out the Ruler of this age and healing every sickness in the forgiveness of sins. So, Jesus wasn’t going around so much as He was circling the cities and villages of Canaan as the Second Joshua in a military maneuver like a siege, and He was casting out the Ruler of this Age who ruled in them and who was enslaving the people to every kind of sickness and disease as Pharaoh had enslaved the Israelites in Egypt.
The gods of Canaan were an abomination to the Lord because their worship demanded child sacrifice. That’s one reason the Lord commanded the first Joshua to destroy all the high places and every trace of their cults. Israel did not do this but instead, went so far as to follow after the gods of Canaan even to the point of immolating their children to Molech. From this, one looks again at the miracles of Christ in which He raised the dead, and one is struck that He is raising children: e.g., the son of the widow and the daughter of Jairus.
Jesus is going around the cities and villages in the north country of Israel, healing all the sick and infirm. This recalls the prophecy of Jeremiah: “Behold, I will bring them from the North Country, and I will gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her who is in travail, together; a great company, they shall return here. Hear the word of the Lord, O Gentiles, and declare it in the coastlands afar off; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’”
In these OT prophecies, our eyes are opened to the inner meaning of Jesus’ circling the cities and villages and healing every sickness and every infirmity of all those who come out to Him, i.e. to all those who repent and who follow after Him as their Joshua taking Canaan, the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven truly is at hand, for the King of Heaven has come as He said He would, bringing healing and life wherever He goes: “I will bring them from the North Country; I will gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame.” The Lord God, King of Heaven has become flesh and is dwelling among us. He forgives sins and releases us from the debilitating effects of guilt and shame; He opens our eyes to see the unseen mysteries of God; He opens our lips that our mouth may show forth His praise; He raises us up into His divine life through the mysteries of His holy Church and gives to us the fruit of the Tree of Life in His Holy Eucharist that we might become partakers of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal.
This Kingdom of Heaven that Christ proclaims is the Church; and here in the Church Christ, the King of Heaven, is in our midst! The word that we see and hear and eat and drink in Christ’s holy Church is the very word of Christ’s Gospel that casts out the ruler of this age and his unclean spirits, and that heals every disease and every infirmity of soul and of body.
Our Gospel lesson this morning ends with Christ’s command to His disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest that He would send workers out into the harvest. A worker of Christ is one who follows Christ as did the two blind men in this morning’s Gospel, who presents himself to Christ as they presented to Him the man possessed of a dumb spirit. That is to say, a worker of Christ is the one who follows Christ as his King, as the ruler and the source of his life and well-being. And, we follow Christ as our King and as the source of our life and our well-being by doing the word of His Gospel that we have seen and heard and eaten in the mysteries of Christ’s holy Church, the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
Look to yourselves. In those times when you are “blinded” by fear, anxiety, discouragement, or despair; or in those moments when you are dumb, having no interest to proclaim the praises of God because you are enslaved to anger or to the consuming desire to act out the will of the flesh and of the mind, as St Paul describes the work of those who follow after the ruler of this age, in those moments where is your mind? What is the word your inner ear is listening to? What desire are you following after as your ruler in your secret heart?
The challenge I take from this morning’s Gospel lesson, and which I submit to you is to practice inner vigilance in unceasing prayer. This is the ascetic work of gathering our mind and heart from the “farthest parts of the earth” where it has been scattered in order come and to present ourselves to Christ every day, every hour and every moment, and keep ourselves firmly nailed to His Word in our mind and in our secret heart. So, in those moments when I am tempted to follow after another ruler than the King of Heaven, and to act out the desires of the flesh and of the mind, or to follow other voices that would lead me into anger or fear or despair, in those moments especially I must “attend”, I must become “attentive” and “again and again” remember the Word of Christ’s Gospel that I have seen and heard and received in His holy Church, and keep my mind and heart firmly fixed on it. To find that healing of every sickness and every infirmity to which St Matthew bears witness in our Gospel reading this morning, I believe we need only to keep ourselves fixed on the Word of Christ’s Gospel in our secret heart and mind. It’s when we begin to follow other voices that we find ourselves becoming weak and infirm in soul and in body, falling into fear and anxiety, bitterness and cynicism, discouragement, despair. When we stop listening to and following after the Word of Christ’s Gospel we become forgetful; and in that forgetfulness we become like the Israelites under the first Joshua who did not keep the Word of the Lord and went after the false gods of Canaan to their destruction.
Our work then, our challenge, is to keep ourselves in the healing Word of Christ’s Gospel that we have seen and heard and eaten here in the Church. As we do, I believe we will find ourselves becoming workers of the Lord’s harvest, proclaiming in our words and in our deeds that the Kingdom of Heaven is here because Christ the King, Christ the True Shepherd is in our midst, casting out the unclean spirits and healing every sickness and every infirmity by His grace and in His compassion for mankind. Amen.
 Mt 4:17
 Mt 3:10
 Jn 12:31
 They may enter; that implies a path one walks to come into the gates. It is the path of catechesis. The Orthodox Church desires to give the body and blood of Christ to all, and welcomes the chance to teach anyone who wants to learn, how they can find the path that will lead them through the gates and to the chalice of Holy Communion.
 Amos 2:10
 Eze 37:2
 Ezek 46:21 & 47:2, 8 & 9
 Cf. Isa 57:9, and the many references in Leviticus and Deuteronomy with a frequency that suggests how prevalent this practice was in Israel, and how loathsome it was to the Lord.
 Cf. Mt 4:14-15 and Isa 9:1-2
 Jer 31:8 & 10 (RSV)
 Jn 1:14
 Cf. Eph 2:4