Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
(St. Luke xi. 28)
The point of our journey up to Jerusalem in this holy season of Lent is not only to see and behold with spiritual eyes the love of the Word [that] was made flesh and dwelt among us (St. John i. 14), but also to hear the same Word. So 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 or does not say 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 desire the power of His love. So the Word of God in the flesh is not only educational but spiritually sanctifying.
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 the reading of 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 reinforces the Father 's desire to meet men’s needs by reminding them that, 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) And then on the heels of this, Jesus comes upon a dumb or mutant man. Here is a man, He shows His disciples, 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 which 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. And so He will never treat 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 and sickened him. The devil divides men from God and men from other men. His spiritual aims are as present to our world as to that of the New Testament. And thus what we must desire from Jesus is that Divine power which alone can overcome and banish those demons, which threaten to rule our spiritual lives by leading us to despair of communion with God. 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? Nothing. 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 threaten to interrupt his expression of gratitude. Where are they, you might ask? They are in the hearts and souls of those who attack Jesus for His miracle of mercy. 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, and yet while they might lead moral and upright lives, their words reveal that 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! 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 desire to overcome and banish himself. He wishes rather to divide men from God and from all other men. So, on all levels, the devil is determined to bring men to despair of all spiritual healing, sanctification, and salvation. Satan is not divided against himself but against God. He has no interest in the love that moves Jesus. Jesus’ love brings men to the good healing that God intends for all. 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 are possessed by ill will and the mortal sin of envy. Their malevolence, jealousy, and hatred cannot bear to endure the spiritual goodness, health, and healing that Jesus 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) Christ Jesus has come to scatter, confuse, confound, and destroy Satan’s Kingdom, which may not be divided against itself, but will surely be divided and conquered by His love.
The deaf and mute who is now able to speak is silent and, no doubt, curious about what his healing has provoked. He might be tempted to receive the miracle humbly as an expression of God’s love or suspiciously as an act of Satan’s mischief. The deaf and mute man has entered into the dangerous world of words. Look and listen to what he sees and hears! He does not see men who are awe-inspired and thus dumdfounded. He does not hear the silence of those who are now mute themselves because God’s strong man is at work in the earth. Rather, he sees and hears men who cannot be touched by God’s love in the heart of Jesus Christ. Jesus anticipates their impulsive rejection of His love. 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) Most people cannot bear God’s healing presence in the world because their hearts are hardened. Because they have not been overcome by God's Strong Man and deprived on the armour [of their own good works] in which they trusted, their souls are in danger of greater demonic possession. St. Cyril says this about Jesus’ accusers and all who will not be overcome habitually by God's Strong Man, Jesus Christ: 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. And so, the dog has returned to its own vomit, and the sow that has washed to her wallowing in the mire. (Cyril: PG 72, col. 699.)
Jesus’ final words in today 's Gospel call 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 means not merely opening up to a one-time miracle. Hearing the Word of God means following the miracle back to the heart of Jesus. In Jesus’ heart we discover His desire 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 scatter the devil. We need His intervening power at all times. 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 Jesus Christ who longs to beak the power of all demons who would divide us from God. For, The Word of God is disillusioning; it penetrates and unmasks our fantasies and lies; puts the finger on our devils; it shatters our illusions. (Par. Serm) Then we shall remember that we are weak but Christ is strong. Christ is God’s strong man. And if we shut our mouths for long enough and enter into His still presence, His strong love will vanquish and overcome all of our demons. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons