46 - The Paralysis of Sexual Immorality, July 19, 2020

Romans 12.6-14

Matthew 9.1-8

The healing of the paralytic this morning takes us to the ‘Song of Moses’ in Deuteronomy 32. ‘The LORD saw that His people were paralyzed and had become feeble’ (Dt 32.36) because they had departed from God and sacrificed to demons; they trusted in other gods; they ate the fat of their sacrifices; they drank the wine of their drink-offerings. The children of Israel were paralyzed and enfeebled because of their idolatry. But, we need to find a word that would tell us more precisely what idolatry is.

Moses and the prophets make clear that ‘sexual immorality’ and its perversions of human sexuality are an incarnation of the spirit of idolatry, variously described in Holy Tradition as covetousness, greed, self-love. Idolatry, sexual immorality, engenders other dark spirits that take possession of the soul: anger, fear, conceit, for example. One can see all of these spirits active in sexual immorality and its perversions of human sexuality. One who is sacrificing his soul to the perversions of sexual immorality, even if it is just in the mind, could feel them if his soul wasn’t darkened and deadened to all spiritual feeling; that is, if one’s soul wasn’t paralyzed and enfeebled by the toxic venom of the sexual immorality of idolatry.

I said that sexual immorality is an incarnation, an embodiment of the spirit of idolatry, which is greed, or covetousness, or self-love. Idolatry, then, or sexual immorality, begins not with the body but with the mind and the heart; so, even if one is acting out the perversions of sexual immorality ‘only’ in one’s thoughts or in so-called ‘virtual reality’ (internet porn, e.g.), one is still eating the fat and drinking the wine of the idols; one is copulating with the demons who dwell in the idolatry of sexual immorality.

The ‘fat’ and the ‘wine’ of the idols are of the ‘vine of Sodom,’ it says in the Song of Moses, ‘they are the vine-branch of Gomorrha; their grape is the grape of gall; their cluster is one of bitterness; the raging anger of the serpents and the incurable rage of asps. (Dt 32.32-33)

‘The raging anger of the serpents, the incurable rage of asps,’ it says. There is inside the spirit of idolatry—greed or covetousness or self-love—the seed of a raging anger. Anger and self-love, rage and conceit are somehow intertwined. Each is inside the other and embraces the other so that sexual immorality and its perversions of human sexuality are but the outward face of anger and greed or self-love

Can you see how such a soul is embraced by the dark angels of the ruler of the power of the air who works his venom, his raging anger, in the children of disobedience? Is it not easy to see how such a soul is paralyzed, enfeebled? Her innate longing for beauty and goodness, for God, has been stolen away by the demons, and she is caught fast by her own desire in the coils of the serpents’ raging anger, mesmerized, deadened, paralyzed by the venom of the asps’ ‘incurable rage’.

This puts me in mind of Plato’s Republic. He presents the ‘republic’ or society as the mirror image of the soul. We can ponder our own society’s descent into the anger and anarchy that now paralyzes and enfeebles it to see more easily how idolatry affects our own souls. I find the seeds of our society’s decline sown by the churches of American religion who have departed virtually en masse from the biblical God and His commandments—that is, from the biblical doctrines of the Church as defined by the holy fathers of the first Six Ecumenical Councils (whom we honor today). I have watched over the last 35 years as they have forsaken God and sacrificed to other gods to the point that, what was unthinkable 35 years ago, sexual immorality and its perversions of human sexuality are not only tolerated; they are sanctioned, blessed and promoted. First the woman and now the man are being pilloried. The family is being destroyed. Our ‘republic’ is fast sinking into anarchy, and people are being paralyzed and enfeebled in the anger of asps that rages against anyone who would dare to defend and uphold biblical principles of sexual morality.

As I said, my purpose is not to offer a social commentary. I have drawn this picture of our republic’s moral and social disintegration only so that you can see more easily how the soul is destroyed by anger and fear when she forsakes the LORD and gives herself to the idolatry of sexual immorality and its perversions of human sexuality. The soul is enfeebled; she falls into the ‘incurable rage’ of the asps; she is paralyzed, deadened, unable to do or take delight in the Good and the Beauty she naturally longs for.

Perhaps this passage from Deuteronomy is where St Macarius of Egypt (4th cent) got his image of the ‘incurable sore’ inflicted on the soul when she departs from the living God and receives into her soul the fat and the wine, the mesmerizing toxin of the serpents’ raging anger and the asps’ incurable rage. It’s an incurable sore because it is the death of the soul. The soul who gives herself to sexual immorality in any way, even if only in the fantasies of her mind, can, in fact, feel the deadening rage of the serpents killing her. Her capacity for compassion and tenderness, for ‘heart to heart’ intimacy is destroyed. Marriage is no cure; it only exposes the pain and anger of the ‘incurable sore’. Living together certainly is no cure; that only brings to light the self-centered faithlessness that governs the idolatrous soul. Sooner or later that will come to the surface and inflame the anger and the conceit of the idolatry one has given oneself to.

This morning’s Gospel, though, is a paschal Gospel, and so it shines in our darkness the light of our hope, which is ‘Christ in you!’ The whole book of Deuteronomy, to which the healing of the paralytic this morning takes us, records the words of Moses to Israel as she prepares to follow Joshua, her ‘Jesus’, into the Land of her ‘Inheritance’. And, that the healing of the paralytic takes us to the Song of Moses tells us that this is a paschal Gospel. This Song of Moses is sung only on the Tuesdays of Great Lent; that is, during that penitential season when the faithful are getting ready to follow their Joshua, Jesus, into His Tomb and into the Garden of His Resurrection on the other side (the true Promised Land). It sets before us the dread mystery of how the LORD has cured the incurable sore of our soul and destroyed the idolatry that has destroyed us in our heart. He makes Himself one with us in our death so that we can make ourselves one with Him in His Resurrection; for, what would this house into which they brought the paralytic, like pall-bearers carrying a corpse, be theologically if not the tomb?  And the LORD is there putting to death our death by His death and Resurrection. He cures the incurable sore; He loosens us from the paralysis of our idolatry so that we can rise and take up our bed and go to our house. But what would this house be? It is not the paralytic’s house on Main Street; for, it says that when the people saw this, they were afraid. They were afraid because they were in the dread mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest in the Tomb. I see this ‘house’ the paralytic now rose up to go to as the Garden of the LORD’s Resurrection beyond the LORD’s Tomb; that is, the ‘Land of Israel’s Inheritance.’

In Deuteronomy, the LORD says to idolatrous Israel: ‘When you return to the LORD your God with your whole heart and soul, and listen to His voice, then the LORD shall heal your sins and He will bring you into the Land of the Inheritance; and He shall purge your heart that you may live.’ (30.1-6) Do you see that until our heart is cleansed and created anew in the forgiveness of the LORD, we cannot walk. In our heart we will be crippled by the guilt and shame, the anger and fear of our idolatry. But, when the heart is cleansed in the forgiveness of God, she soars like the eagle. Nothing can hold her down. She is free, she is clean, she is restored to the beauty even of her original virginity, for united to Christ, she is refashioned in His image.

It is this morning’s Gospel, then, that is carrying our paralyzed soul into the house where the LORD is, that we may present ourselves to Him with our whole heart, and listen to His voice. We hear in Deuteronomy and in this morning’s Gospel: the LORD is speaking to the faith, the love of our heart; ‘My child, your sins are forgiven you!’ This is the voice of the LORD calling forth His Spirit from the four winds, as Ezekiel saw, and curing the incurable sore, opening the graves that could not be opened, and breathing into the heart that was paralyzed and enfeebled, incurably cold, hard and dead, and cleansing her, curing her, raising her to life, and causing her to come up from out of her paralysis to lead her up to her ‘house’ in the Garden of His Resurrection. Amen!