I miss you! I can’t wait for us to be here together again and for things to return to normal. When praying and meditating about this pandemic which has effected us all so dramatically, I was reminded by the Spirit of these verses from Isaiah:
Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and there shall be gross darkness on the nations: but the Lord shall appear upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And kings shall walk in thy light, and nations in thy brightness.
Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold thy children gathered: all thy sons have come from far, and thy daughters shall be borne on men's shoulders.
Then shalt thou see, and fear, and be amazed in thine heart; for the wealth of the sea shall come round to thee, and of nations and peoples; and herds of camels shall come to thee, and the camels of Midian and Ephah shall cover thee: all from Sheba shall come bearing gold, and shall bring frankincense, and they shall publish the salvation of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered, and the rams of Nebaioth shall come; and acceptable sacrifices shall be offered on my altar, and my house of prayer shall be glorified.
When I was growing up we had a sheep, but we never had camels. I can’t wait for those! But being serious now, this 60th chapter of Isaiah sees the whole world as being covered in darkness, representing the time before the coming of Christ. Then, when the Messiah appears, all the people of God will be gathered together again; men and women, boys and girls. Everyone! God says through the Prophet that in those days sacrifices will be offered again on the altar, and God’s temple will again be glorified. How is it glorified? By the glory of God’s presence there and by the re-assembled people of God praying and worshiping there. And what about those treasures coming by sea, and that gold and frankincense, and those camels? Well originally they signified the riches of the Gentile world being brought to Jerusalem to be offered in tribute to the Messiah, but it is presented here in terms that imply rich and abundant trade. I see in this prophecy an image of God’s love and care for His people throughout the ages. Our world has been plunged into darkness right now too, but God promises that where He sees repentance, and where He sees love and devotion to Christ, He will bring the Light of His presence and the healing that ultimately comes only from Him. The churches will re-open, and we will all be here, together, once again. Maran atha! Come, Lord!
In today’s Gospel, the Sunday Gospel, we hear about a young man whose whole existence was plunged into darkness. He can’t speak, he falls down on the ground, he foams at the mouth, he gnashes his teeth, he becomes rigid, and he tries to harm himself. Some modern scholars try to explain away these symptoms as referring to a disease which we understand today, but which the ancients misunderstood as the actions of demonic forces. Poor ignorant ancients. Poor ignorant God-man Jesus. He too is apparently fooled. Then there is the Church’s understanding, the patristic understanding, the apostolic understanding, Christ’s understanding; the young man was demon-possessed. Period. The demons often afflict people with symptoms that mimic diseases. Did you know that? Yes, it’s true. Why would they do that? So that modern, intelligent people who don’t want to believe in God can disbelieve in demons too. Clever, right? “Imagine there’s no heaven,” John Lennon sang, “it’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky.” But I digress...
These symptoms of demon-possession can have a broader application as well. Do you remember when Jesus said: “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me?” Who was He talking to? His disciples who failed to cast out the demon? No way! The people standing around? Nope. He says it to the father of the boy. Why? Because this boy had been afflicted by demons from the time he was a child! He picked up this demon or these demons at home! His own father didn’t even call Jesus “master” or “rabbi.” No He calls Him “teacher,” “Διδάσκαλε.” He doesn’t confess Jesus as the Christ as others did who were looking for miracles of healing. This father also confesses that he suffers from lack of faith, when he asks the Lord the help his “unbelief.” Let’s look at the symptoms of the demon-possessed boy and see how they might relate to the father.
1. He is mute. Mute means he doesn’t speak. The father didn’t speak either. He didn’t confess any faith. Jesus has to tell him to have faith. “If you can believe, all things are possible” he says to him. We can fall in this trap too. Sometimes we are embarrassed to confess our faith or demonstrate our Orthodoxy, aren’t we?
2. The son is cast to the ground. Sinning, in the Scriptures, is often referred to as “falling.” We can assume that if the boy “got” demons at home, the father must have been a great sinner. We fall too, don’t we?
3. He foams at the mouth. When we think of foaming at the mouth we usually think of two things: rabies and poison. Right? Rabies are associated with wild animals, and therefore refers to animal appetites and our beastly behavior towards others. Poison means the deadly drink of heretical thinking. St. Ignatius of Antioch says: “I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that you use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from foods of a different kind; I mean heresy. For those that are given to this, mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison, speaking things which are harmful, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant of it greedily consumes, with fatal pleasure, leading to his own death” (Epistle to the Trallians). The father doubtless embraced false ideas and the reasonings of demons. We can be caught by this snare as well, embracing worldly thinking rather than heavenly, heretical ideas rather than divinely revealed truths.
4. The boy gnashed his teeth. Gnashing of teeth is usually connected to a place, hell or the Lake of Fire. Jesus, in Matthew 13 says: “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (13: 41-42). And as we know from elsewhere, only those who choose to be far away from God are the ones who end up in the Lake of Fire. The father must have been guilty of this deadly choice as well. How easy it is to forget that we are the children of God rather than the offspring of this fallen world!
5. The boy became rigid. This means that his body became stiff like a board. Rigidity can also describe a personality trait, can’t it? We say that someone is rigid when they are convinced that their opinion about something is right. Perhaps this describes the boy’s father as well. Perhaps he held a number of wicked opinions and no one was going to disabuse him of them. It reminds me of a quote by the late Congressman Earl Landgrebe (+1986) who famously said, "Don't confuse me with the facts. I've got a closed mind.”
In today’s Sunday Gospel we see a boy who is saved from demons and has his health restored. He is delivered and he is healed. In the process, his father was delivered and healed as well. Levi the tax collector, later known as the holy apostle and evangelist Matthew, saw it all and later wrote it down so that we, too, might be delivered and healed too. Thanks be to God!
Let us pray to the Lord!
O God our Saviour, Thou hope of all the ends of the earth and of all of us who are separated from one another; be merciful, O Master, regarding our sins, transgressions and iniquities, and have mercy on us; for a merciful God art Thou, and the Lover of mankind, and unto Thee do we send up glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen!