Lent III 2013
Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep
(St. Luke xi. 28)
In last week’s Gospel we read of the Syro-Phoenecian woman who was tormented because her daughter was more grievously vexed by a devil. We learned too of her persistent faith and willingness to consider herself to be no better than a dog that eats of the crumbs that fall from its Master’s table. (St. Matthew xv. 27) With this, I hope that we gleaned something of the nature of humility that faithfully persists in its supplication of God’s mercy and healing power. The fallen human condition can be overcome only from a determined desire
to seek out what is not its own, or to seek out what God alone can give. And yet there is more to it than just that. We know very little about what the future held in store for the suppliant woman of Canaan and her cured daughter. Whether they returned to life as usual, we do not know. But if they did, they might have
fallen into the kind of troubles that Jesus tells us about in this morning’s Gospel.
Jesus never intended that miracles should produce one-time off cures or healings. In last week’s Gospel the real miracle that Jesus effected was not the healing of the Syro-Phoenician’s daughter, but the miracle of faith that was elicited or drawn forth from the mother’s heart. And so we find a similar happenstance in this morning’s Gospel. Of course, today we read of no entreaty or supplication of one on behalf of another. We read simply that Jesus was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was
gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. (St. Luke xi. 14) Jesus comes upon a man who was mute or could not speak. Neither family member nor friend found the courage or compassion to entreat on behalf of this sorry soul. He performs the miracle in the midst of a surprised and astonished crowd who, at
first, remain as silent as the dumb man. And curiously enough, we read that the man was possessed by a demon. The ancient Jews believed that blindness, deafness, and mutism were all the result of demonic possession. Jewish men or women afflicted with any or all of these diseases were shunned from civilized society. So Jesus will venture into dangerous territory with no prompting at all. He does so in order to teach something about the nature of miracles. His enemies – no doubt the Pharisees and Scribes - answered the miracle with the
charge that he cast out devils by Beelzebub the chief of the devils...while others sought of him a sign from heaven. (Ibid, 15) Beelzebub was the foreign god of Ekron, interpreted by some to be the Lord of the flies, by others, more pejoratively to mean the god of dung, or perhaps more generally the prince of
the air. Whatever the meaning, Jesus’ accusers intended to say that he was an agent of Satan, and with the others who demanded an even greater miracle, did not believe that any good had come of what Jesus had done. To be fair to most people, miracles are strange occurrences, and for the most innocent of observers
fear and trepidation carry men into the strangest of places in search of explanations. Be that as it may, Jesus answers his critics and doubters with a fuller explanation of the meaning of miracles and the faith that it should
Jesus says this: Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. (Ibid 17, 18) He knows the thoughts and motivations of his enemies. He counters them with the truth: Satan’s kingdom is most assuredly divided against itself, and will be brought to desolation. His kingdom, in the end, will not stand precisely because he foments division from and warfare against God, that is impossible to perform with any hope of permanent success. But prior to the fall
that Satan desires, he has no preliminary interest in being divided against himself. (Ibid, 17) His primary intention is to divide man from man, and man from God. He certainly would have no interest in the healing of this deaf and dumb man. Hearing and speaking have all the potential for uniting man with his fellows, and man with his Maker. So Jesus makes clear that Satan would not stand for any miracle that might enable a man to hear the Word of God and keep it. (Ibid, 28)
Having performed this miracle, however, Jesus reveals much more about who he is and what he intends. He says: But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. (Ibid, 20-23) Jesus admits that it may very well be true that this poor dumb man had been possessed by a devil. Sickness and disease are evidence of man’s fall from God and his goodness. So let us agree that this man was, in some way, possessed by a power
other than God’s. He is, then, moved by a strong man or Satan, who was fully armed and guarding his own possession. The man’s condition seemed irreversibly invulnerable to any outside interference. He belonged to the devil, whose peace and protection were secure. And then suddenly a stronger than [the devil] came upon him, and [overcame] him, taking from him all his trustworthy armour, and divided his spoils. (Ibid, 23) The stronger man is, of course, Jesus. Satan’s kingdom will not stand, and will be brought to desolation, because the finger of God will divide it. Jesus brings the kingdom of God to earth, and the success of its temporal survival depends upon what comes next.
Wonders and miracles may be packed full of power, Jesus acknowledges, but they also have all the potential to die idly in a thankless and forgetful soul. Once the miracle has been wrought, a great danger ensues. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell
there: and the last state of that man is worse than first. (Ibid, 24-26) The dumb man now speaks; he is freed of one barrier to his redemption and salvation. But being healed of one possession, demon, or vice does not ensure protection from others or even promise salvation. The healed man in the Gospel is now free to hear and
receive the Word of God into his soul if he so chooses. Other men, like Jesus’ accusers, could hear the same Word if only they would open their spiritual ears to the truth that Jesus speaks. The dumb man’s house is swept and garnished of one demon. Jesus’ accusers think that their spiritual houses are tidied and cleaned up because they follow the ritual precepts of the Jewish Law. Both may be emptied of one unclean spirit, but are in danger of being overtaken of seven others spirits more wicked than [themselves]. (Ibid, 26) Why? Because hearing
the Word of God is not enough.
God’s Word in Jesus is spoken to the cured deaf man and Jesus’ accusers in order to habituate and accustom them to the Divine virtues that ensure redemption and salvation. Redemption comes about when a man in faith humbly submits to the power of God’s Word and its incessant demands. The dumb man now joins all others
who are ready to hear the Word of God and keep it. (Ibid, 28) But even here, the devil does not give up so easily on any man from whom Jesus has cast out a demon. John Calvin warns us: Let us not then suppose that the devil has been vanquished by a single combat, because he has once gone out of us. On the contrary, let us remember that…[the devil] has knowledge and experience of all the approaches by which he may reach us; and that, if there be no open and direct entrance, he has dexterity enough to creep in by small holes or winding crevices. (Calvin’s Commentaries: Volume XVII) Faith must grow into virtue if the devil’s advances are to be resisted and thwarted successfully. As one writer reminds us, the virtue of the soul…is a matter of humility and obedience…. We become good by doing the good, over and over and over again, until it becomes the habit, the very pattern of our lives. (The Price of Liberation, R.D. Crouse) True healing comes about only when faith
entrusts itself to the persistent presence of Divine virtue in the soul. It requires patience as each individual person surrenders humbly on a daily basis to God’s labor of love, remembering that he was sometimes darkness, but [is now] light in the Lord, as he learns to rebuke the works of darkness, and to have no fellowship with them (Ephesians v. 11) Humility and obedience are then essential if faith will not only hear the Word of God but keep it. St. Paul says, You must begin to live as men native to the light; where the light has its effect, where all is goodness, holiness, and truth, as your lives begin tobecome a manifestation of God’s will. (Ibid, 9,10)
So dear friends in Christ, let us remember today that we rely wholly and completely upon the finger of God to cast out [our] demons, not once and for all, but continuously, indeed as often as the devil assaults and attacks us. We must, therefore, as Calvin reminds us, endeavor that Christ, holding his reign within us, may block up all the entrances of [the devil]. Whatever may be the fierceness or violence of Satan’s attacks, they ought not to intimidate the sons [and daughters] of God, whom the invincible power of the Holy Spirit preserves
in safety. (Ibid, XVII) For if we humbly open our souls to the Holy Spirit, and obey his Godly motions in righteousness and true holiness (Collect Lent 2), the light of Christ’s power will shine into our souls, banish all darkness, and enable us, with the dumb man in this morning’s Gospel, not only to hear God’s Word and keep it, but to share and minister it to those who have not yet heard
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons