Lent III 2022
Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it.
St. Luke xi.
It is rather reassuring to know that the cynicism that characterizes the post-modern and post-Christian world is not new. If we have been attentive this morning, we will have found no small dose of it in the Pharisees who are murmuring against Jesus. Jesus had cast a demon out of a dumb (or mute) man, and the man spake. (St. Luke xi. 14) He had no sooner done this, than they who witnessed the immediate and extraordinary transformation claimed that Jesus had cast out the devil through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. (Idem, 16) In the ancient world, men believed that when any man had a physical handicap he was demonically possessed, and so when he was cured, men concluded that a devil had been cast out. In our own age, demonic possession and demons seem to be out of favor-mostly because postmodern psychiatry that has transcended good and evil believes that truth is relative. Postmodern man believes that truth is not objective, but subjective. So, in the end, if there is no difference between right and wrong, good and evil, then there really can be no talk of God and the chief of the Devils, Lucifer.
The theory that truth is relative is the bastard child of cynicism, and cynicism is the misbegotten child of Stoicism. The Stoic believes that reality is what it is, and that man must be responsible for himself in the pursuit of the Universal Good. None of the tension, struggle, and warfare involved in the conflict of other men must interrupt the Stoic’s philosophical journey. Cynicism emerges out of it because the Cynic sees the Stoic and most other men as selfish. Thus, the Cynic remedies the error by seeking to come to be one with Nature through the self. The Cynic is intent upon a subjective possession of truth for himself. The next step into relativism is not so difficult since man seems to become the measure of all things, of what is good, when, why, and how. The Cynic takes his stand defiantly only against traditional religion and philosophy but also against the state, with its laws and customs. Truth, to a great extent, can be found only subjectively. And so long before they ever get around to meeting God in Himself, they have fashioned another god in their own image -one who might even aid and abet the willful rejection of civilization and the sacrifices it entails for any common good. I am sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease (Zech. i. 15), the Lord tells Zechariah in this morning’s Old Testament lesson. And the problem is that most people use God or gods to promote and ensure their own spiritual comfort. They justify their ways of life, think themselves good enough. They think that their faith or knowledge is good for them, and if they are confronted with the truth that their lives are just as relativistic as their neighbors, they will probably say that you are possessed by an unclean spirit. This temptation is as old as ancient Cynicism.
But we, as Christians, can choose to make one of three responses to that temptation to think that truth is relative or that we are the best judges of what is good or evil and right or wrong. Like the ancient conservative Pharisees, who are much like the Cynics, we can refuse to allow the truth to challenge our carefully formulated and jealously guarded religious prerogatives. The Pharisees think that they have God in full, and that their role is to minister the God they have to others. Thus, when they encounter Jesus, they perceive that an interloper and intruder is poaching upon their territory and supplanting their authority. They say that Jesus casts out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. (St. Luke xi. 15) In other words, they are moved first through pride and arrogance of their position and station as religious leaders. Truth is relative for them, since it depends upon their philosophy. If we identify with them, we begin and end with ourselves, and thus defiantly refuse to identify with the dumb and deaf man in today’s Gospel, or with the need that we all have for the healing and transformation of our lives by God.
Second, we can identify with those for whom the miracle which Jesus performed today was not enough, and so cry out for another. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. (St. Luke xi. 16) With this group, we can choose to become selfishly intent upon the constant consolation that ongoing miracles bring. So, like the Cynics, we require more spectacular miracles -perhaps like those whose faith fails when the external and visible signs of religion do not perfectly meet our childish appetites. Our religion is then natural or rooted in Nature’s soothing touch upon our emotions and feelings. If spiritual life with Jesus does not always involve Transfiguration Moments, or natural and bodily catharsis, as what is always beautiful, true, and good, then we tend to lose faith, hope, and love. This posture is as selfish as the Pharisees, but here the selfishness is less a matter of power and control, and more an instance of the refusal to admit and accept that suffering and pain are part and parcel of the process of sanctification. Truth is relative to this group also, for its validity and authenticity depend upon an ongoing repetition of ongoing highs, appetitive and emotional surges of temporary happiness and thrills. Signs and wonders are demanded constantly in order to prove and authenticate God’s real presence.
Or, third, we can become like the dumb and deaf man in today’s Gospel. Jesus clearly believes that the model for our humanity is found in this man, but only as a starting point on the road that opens to healing and salvation. Like the Syro-Phoenician woman in last week’s Gospel, the man whom Jesus heals in today’s is one who is truly in need not only of a one-off transfiguration moment of healing, but of that process of redemption that lasts as long as a lifetime. Far from thinking that truth is a personal prerogative or feeling-based, here we find a spiritual disposition of helplessness that reaches out to a healing that tries and tests all spirits and ideas that confront and challenge the human predicament.
So, with this third kind of person, we learn from Jesus that the Devil believes that truth is relative. Every kingdom divided against itself, he says, is brought to desolation. And a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? (St. Luke xi. 17, 18) Satan does not unite but divides a man from truth, from truth’s healing of the self, and of truth’s healing of all others. Satan has one end to divide men from God, within himself, and from others. The Devil believes that relativism is the truth. Satan loves relativism’s delusion of self-sufficiency.
Jesus has been accused of healing a man whose life is separated from the civilized world. He cannot speak, and so is prevented from being connected with any kind of order -spiritual or secular. The man cannot speak and is thus alienated from the world of language and words. The devil delights in this, and if he had healed this man, he would have brought about what he hates -he would have connected this man to a deeper form of healing and goodness through language. Jesus insists that the Devil did not heal this man, for then he would have been at odds with himself.
Jesus says this morning that if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. (St. Luke xi. 20) True healing then comes to a man who knows and admits his own powerlessness and then opens to what alone will carry and unite him to his fellow men and God through the language of salvation. 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. (St. Luke xi. 21, 22) Pharisees, Relativists, and Miracle-Seekers all stubbornly and dogmatically clutch on to a knowledge that they think will save them. But when some unforeseen pain of body or soul, misfortune, loss or tragedy assaults them, they fall apart and into chaos, divided, as the Devil would have it. The armour wherein they trusted- self-assured knowledge, good works, and even the miracles are taken away. Jesus suggests that this is a good thing. Perhaps the mute man is a model of our condition. Jesus desires to cast out the devils from the human soul. He allows pain and misfortune to visit a man in order that our illusions, fantasies, and lies in which we have trusted may be revealed as impotent. Our relative happiness must be deprived of all force and meaning. 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 the first. (St. Luke xi. 24-26) Delusional despair can lead right back to the pursuit of relative and impermanent gods if we do not consider the condition of the mute man.
This morning the Word of God, Jesus Christ, puts His finger on our problem, and desires to cast away our demons. Our demons are any person, place, or thing that resists the Lord’s absolute power to heal us. They can be cast off, but they might return until one stronger than the strong man not only delivers us from them, but overcomes them with His virtue and goodness. Blessed is the womb that bare thee and the paps which thou hast sucked (St. Luke xi. 27) cries a woman who witnesses today’s miracle. Jesus responds, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. (St. Luke xi. 28) The true miracle we must seek today is that, with St. Paul, we realize that we were sometimes darkness, but now…are light in the Lord. (Eph. V. 8) True healing comes to us from God, who begins to heal us and participate in it. Truth is not relative but Absolute. So, with the dumb mute of today’s Gospel, let us be determined to hear the Word of God and keep it because we can speak the truth that has set us free and walk as children of the light (Idem) so that all other men may realize that the Kingdom of God has come upon us. (Ibid, 20)
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