WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants,
and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The point of our journey up to Jerusalem in this holy season of Lent is not only to see with spiritual eyes what the love of the Word [that] was made flesh and dwelt among us (St. John i. 14) does but also to hear the same Word. We go to Jerusalem to hear what the Word of God in the flesh has to say to spiritual sickness and disorder and then also to spiritual hardness of heart, obduracy, and ill will. What Jesus says is all-important for a true understanding of the salvation into which He is drawing all who will desire it. For when the ears of sinful men are opened to the Word of God, not only can they learn of His will but, also, they can embrace the power of His love. The Word of God in the flesh is not only educational but spiritually transformative.
Our theme for this Sunday is spiritual hearing. Our understanding of it is found in this morning’s Miracle of the Dumb or Mute Man. Prior to reading this passage from St. Luke 's Gospel, the Apostles had been hearing Jesus’ discourse on petitioning God the Father in prayer. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (St. Luke xi. 9,10) Jesus insists that the Father longs to hear from us. Earthly fathers hear their children and care for them. If [they], being evil, know how to give good gifts unto [their] children: how much more shall [the] heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him? (Ibid, 13) Then on the heels of this, Jesus comes upon a dumb or mute man. Here is a man who can neither hear, nor speak, nor ask. The dumb cannot speak in any rationally coherent way but can only laugh, cry, holler, and groan. If he had been suffering from this physical disability alone, his chief handicap would have been that physical deafness that prevents a man from uniting rationally with the world around him through speech.
But what we find is that there is a more insidious reason or cause for this man’s inability to hear and to speak. He was possessed of a demon. Jesus was casting out a demon and it was dumb. (Ibid, 14) The real sickness that afflicted the deaf and dumb man was demonic possession. Otherwise, Jesus would have performed a bodily miracle only. But this man’s sickness was psychic and spiritual. Thus, Jesus expels a demon. He does this, no doubt, to teach His Apostles and us something about the nature of that evil which threatens both to possess and to overcome any man in this life. Jesus never treats the symptoms of spiritual disease and sickness alone but will rather attack and overcome the source and origin of the evil. This man can neither hear nor speak because the devil has possessed him. The devil’s one aim is to divide men from God and men from other men. His spiritual aims are as present to our world as to that of the New Testament. Thus, what we must desire from Jesus is that Divine mercy which alone can overcome and banish those demons, which threaten to ruin our spiritual lives by leading us to despair of communion with God and our neighbors. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake. (Ibid, 14)
Yet, receiving the healing of one demon is never enough. We read that when the deaf mutant was healed, He spake. (Idem) And yet what did he say? Praise God! No sooner has one demon been banished from the life of the healed man who desires to speak –to thank Jesus and to ask questions about how he should now live the new life that had been given to him, than other demons worse than the first drown out his questions with a barrage of verbal attacks on Jesus. Where are they, you might ask? They are in the hearts and souls of those who attack Jesus for the miracle He performed on the deaf man. But unlike the demon that possessed the deaf and mute man, these demons are concealed. They are so hidden within the souls of the malevolent attackers that they don’t even know what they are saying. The demons have so effectively inured and acclimated these men to sin that they don't even recognize that they are possessed! These men believe that they are religiously related to the world around them through their piety and good works. Yet, while they might lead moral and upright lives externally and visibly, their hearts are far from God.
So, once Jesus has healed the demon-possessed deaf and dumb, the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. (Ibid, 14-16) See how far wickedness has advanced in the lives of these men! One miracle is not enough. They need proof that he is not demon-driven. Jesus responds to them: 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? (Ibid, 17,18) Jesus makes it clear that the devil has no interest in healing the deaf and the dumb. His design is to divide all men from God in Jesus. The devil is determined to bring men to despair of all spiritual healing, sanctification, and salvation. Satan cannot endure the man’s entry into the world of words through the Word of God made flesh. Satan’s singular intention is to overcome the love that moves Jesus the Word. Jesus’ love brings men to the good healing that God intends, and Satan is enraged.
Jesus continues. If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. (Ibid, 19, 20) Romano Guardini tells us that Jesus replies: Don’t you see how I war against Satan? How can you say that he works through me, which is the same as saying that we join forces to found one kingdom? (The Lord, Regnery, p. 119) Those who attack God’s healing power are Satan’s demonic friends who frantically attempt to set up a kingdom of appearances and disorder. (Ibid, 117)
[Jesus’ enemies] have blashphemed against the Holy Ghost [by turning] against the heart of God; Jesus is saturated with the essence of God. To accuse Him of working through the power of Satan, is to touch the absolute in ill will. (The Lord, Regnery, 120)
These men reveal the absolute in ill will and dare to disrupt the operation of Mercy in Jesus. Their malice, jealousy, and hatred cannot endure the spiritual goodwill, generosity, and love that Jesus the Word brings into the world. Jesus proclaims that He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. (Ibid, 23)
The deaf and mute who is now able to speak is silent and, no doubt, curious about what his healing has provoked. He wants to receive the miracle humbly as an expression of God’s love but is tempted to suspect Satan’s mischief. The deaf-mute man has entered the dangerous world of words. Look and listen to what he sees and hears! He does not hear men who are awe-inspired in the presence of God’s goodness. He does not hear the silence of men made mute because God’s strong man is lovingly speaking healing on earth. Rather, he hears men who are threatened by God’s love in the heart of Jesus Christ. Jesus anticipates their feverish malice.
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. (Ibid, 24-26)
Many men may be liberated from unclean spirits but forget that God’s Grace alone brings mercy. Because they have been overcome by God's Strong Man and deprived of the armour [of their own good works] in which they trusted, their souls are in danger of greater demonic possession. St. Cyril reminds us that
The devil finds their hearts empty, and void of all concern for the things of God, and wholly taken up with the flesh, and so he takes up his abode in them…[So their] last state is worse than the first. (Cyril: PG 72, col. 699.)
Jesus reminds us that He that is not with me is against me. (Ibid, 23) Healing is spiritual and if we ask for it, it shall fill our empty and fleshly hearts to walk as children of the light. (Eph. v, 8)
Jesus calls the healed mutant forth into a promising future with God. Yea, rather, Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. (Ibid, 28) Hearing the Word of God in Jesus Christ is all about a relationship. Hearing the Word of God means thankfully receiving God’s healing Grace to conquer us who were sometimes darkness but are now light in the Lord. (Eph. v. 8,9) In Jesus, we hear of His intention to take the armour in which we have too often trusted and to scatter the spoils. (Ibid, 22) Jesus is the strong man who will establish His love in us and banish the devil. We need to ask for His ongoing healing. For, as Calvin says,
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…he has knowledge…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 Comm’s; Vol. xvii)
Today, let us hear the Word of God in Christ who longs to break the power of those demons whose envy is the tribute that mediocrity pays to excellence. (F. Sheen) We are weak, but Christ is strong. If we pause for long enough to ask the Father for Christ’s healing power, His strong love will vanquish and overcome all our demons. Then, with goodwill and gratitude, we shall welcome Jesus’ healing power in others and ourselves.
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons