Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And it came to pass as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed by a spirit of divination met us. She had brought her masters much gain . . . The same followed Paul and us, crying out . . . for many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command thee in the Name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that same hour. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone, they caught Paul and Silas . . . and brought them to the magistrates . . . [who] commanded that they be beaten [and] . . . cast . . . into prison, . . . .
There is much talk nowadays about a newer, kinder, gentler version of Jesus Christ that Christians would do well to adopt and emulate. Indeed, we are being told that after all these centuries we’ve gotten it all wrong, that we have totally misunderstood Jesus and His message. His apparent absolute tolerance and seeming infinite capacity for mercy is appealed to. This, we are told, is the real Jesus Who embraces with open arms sinners of all stripes and sorts and does not demand repentance nor amendment of life, at least, not in the way typically presented by Christians today.
This is the world’s version of Jesus, a lopsided one to be sure, but a version nonetheless the world today is endeavoring to foist upon us, if not by ideological persuasion, then by political action. This confused understanding of our Lord matches the confusion of the world over a number of moral issues confronting us today. In fact, I would suggest that the two are inter-related, which is to say, that this is the kind of Jesus the world needs in order to make its confusion work and its confusion needs this kind of Jesus to affirm its confusion. There is an overt demonic warfare being waged against the Church, moreso today than ever before in recent memory, in our country and around the world. The traditional values of the Church, long held by the Church and the cultures she once influenced, are under demonic attack. The world is seeking to replace them with its newer, friendlier, and kindlier version of Jesus and, if we are not onboard, there will be – of all things, mind you! – little tolerance or mercy for us – the very virtues the world is demanding from us! Go figure!
In today’s reading from Acts, we witness the clash of two kingdoms: the kingdom of this world, which is the front man for the kingdom of sin, death, and the devil, and the Kingdom of God. Had the Apostles been tolerant and merciful of the woman’s actions – actions of demonic influence and origin – we might wonder what the outcome might have been. Indeed, reading the text carefully, Paul is tolerant. He tolerates her dogging their every move and her incessant advertising that they are “’the servants of the Most High God, who show unto us the way of salvation,’” not just for a day or two, but “for many days” until he grows tired and commands the evil spirit to come out of her. He tolerates her shenanigans only so long before, in mercy, he liberates her from the powers of sin, death, and the devil. Let us be clear here brethren: the Apostle does exactly as our Lord has done on a number of occasions. Demons are not to be trifled with nor tolerated nor treated with mercy and compassion. The poor soul so afflicted, yes, but not the devil. Sin is to be addressed and remedied with the saving medicine of the Gospel of repentance, and the sinner is to be loved beyond all measure. Jesus has compassion and mercy on sinners – just ask the woman caught in adultery and facing stoning (Jn. 7:53-8:11) – but He does not countenance their sins. He clearly commands her and us, “’[G]o, and sin no more.’” It is not the demon-enslaved girl who is in the Apostle’s cross-hairs, but the demon itself.
Furthermore, we can be assured that the demon is up to no good, regardless of the truth it announces! Again, how often does our Lord, rightly lauded by the powers of Hell whenever He encounters demons, command silence and then exorcises them, casting them out, commanding them to depart (Mk. 1:23-26; Lk. 4:33-35)? We can be assured, they seek no good despite the truth dripping from their lips. This, beloved, is how the Antichrist works whose spirit is already at work in the world, according to St. John the Theologian (1 Jn. 4:3). We are dealing with the Antichrist – the devil – who parades about like an angel of light seeking unwary souls to devour by delusion and snippets of twisted truth to make the bait far more enticing (2 Cr. 11:14; 1 Pe. 5:8). There was a reason the demon pursued the Apostles, haunted their every step as they were going to pray. Do you think it was the announcement of the Glad Tidings of salvation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ Whose coming purchased their downfall, that these demons were interested in? The Church nor her Lord needs the demons to bear witness, regardless of the truth announced! The world will begin to assume we’re okay with such things and begin to accept the lie wrapped in the distorted truth. The demons believe, St. James the brother of our Lord says, but it is to no avail! It is not nor cannot be to their redemption that they believe. Such faith cannot save them; it can only condemn them. And they quake, says the Bishop of Jerusalem (Jm. 2:19)! We should too! Our Lord did not seek affirmation from the demons nor should the Church called by His holy Name and sealed with the sign of the Cross.
St. Paul had mercy on the girl trapped and enslaved, trafficked by her masters who exploited her bondage to darkness. Paul did not, however, show mercy, toleration, or compassion to the demon, nor does it appear he cared how the girl’s freedom would impact those who cared not one iota about her or her soul or her overall wellbeing! In the same form and fashion as our Lord, the Apostle, whose life is in full conformity to the image of the crucified Son of God (Rm. 8:29), commands the demon to “’come out of her.’” And, in so doing, our Lord brings salvation – health and wholeness to both soul and body – and He disrupts the profiteering exploitation of her slave masters! They groan and lament their loss! They do not praise God nor give Him glory for the girl’s healing and salvation. This, too, is the blindness of the world enslaved by the darkness of sin, death, and the devil.
Oftentimes, beloved, if not many times, the world quite honestly doesn’t know what to do with the Church whose message of salvation stands diametrically opposed to the world’s blindness. It doesn’t quite get what we’re doing or understand what we’re saying or what we’re all about. All it can “see” – insofar as blindness can “see” – is, “You’re robbing us of our profits!” (even though they are at the expense of another). And so, the world will need to concoct some sort of accusation, manufacture some kind of charge against the Church and her baptized in order to further its agenda. Is this not what happened to our Lord in His Great and Holy Passion? Is this not what happens here to Paul and Silas? The Church, beloved, always lives in conformity to the image of the crucified Son of God (Rm. 8:29). Indeed, the Cross, our Lord’s precious and Holy Cross, is our joy because it is the trophy of salvation and invincible weapon against the demonic!
We find the Apostles overjoyed chained in the dark and dank depths of their prison cell because they have been deemed worthy to suffer for Jesus (Ac. 5:41), to suffer as Christians (1 Pe. 4:16). With the eyes of their Master, the Apostles saw a girl, a person, a child of Adam and Eve, created with the dignity as a human being in the image of God with the full potential of attaining to God-likeness, that is, to be like God, brought down by the envy of the devil (Gn. 1:26-27; WS 2:23-24), while her masters saw her only as a resource (maybe not even as a “human resource”) for their gain.
Brethren, the Gospel of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is salvation, health, and healing for all who receive its saving Word by faith and are washed in its healing waters of Baptism (Jn. 9:1-38). The Gospel is the Kingdom of God in our midst, come among us and in us, just as our Lord has said, and as we confess at each and every Divine Liturgy (Mk. 1:15; Lk. 17:20-21). Like yeast in dough (Mt. 13:33; Lk. 13:20-21), the Kingdom of God and its salvation, health, and healing permeates and penetrates every nook and cranny of our lives, enlightening our darkness, liberating us from our passions, restoring in us the sin-damaged image of our Triune God so that we may attain to His likeness by the grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This same Gospel also has implications for the world-at-large, just as is demonstrated in today’s reading from Acts. A demon-possessed girl is set free and her salvation – the Gospel of the Kingdom of God – directly impacts the ability of her masters to make money. That leads to the false charges against the Apostles who wind up in prison which sets in motion the salvation of their Philippian jailer and his entire household with him! We are in the world, beloved, but not of the world, just as our Lord, and yet we cannot help but impact the world by our presence, by our teachings, by our morals, by our liturgizing, by our prayers, by the Gospel itself (Jn. 17:6-19).
In the days ahead, we look forward to celebrating as the Church the indwelling gift, power, and presence of the Holy and Life-giving Spirit of God without Whom neither the Apostles nor us could be faithful and obedient. We live by faith in the providence of God. And, we entrust ourselves to Him and to His Gospel, confessing with the Patriarch Joseph long before us who, as a type of our Lord, suffered unjustly because of his brothers who were jealous of him and envious and sold him into slavery. If you recall his story, you will recall what he said to his brothers at the end when they feared retribution after Jacob’s death. Joseph asserts, assuring them and us, “’Fear not; for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good to bring to pass as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore fear ye not; I will nourish you and your little ones’” (Gn. 50:19-21). Joseph understands his life – and all that it encompasses and he has experienced or endured – as resting in the providence of God, as being enveloped by God’s holy will.
The psalmist assures us: “He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of Heaven. He shall say unto the Lord: ‘Thou art my Helper and Refuge. He is my God, and I will hope in Him’” (Ps. 90 :1-2). We live within the providence of God. God knows what He’s doing because He sees what we frequently cannot or do not see. Our view is limited, restricted, but His is not. We do not know where being faithful and obedient servants of the Gospel will take us, but we know Who is with us and to Whom we belong. This is where the Church and her holy Apostles get boldness: trusting in the providence of God and giving Him thanks. The Philippian jailer, indeed the demon-possessed girl, would never have come to salvation had it not been for the providence of God Who guided and directed the steps of His holy Apostles. May God our eternal Father, through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit, grant us such faith in His providence in these days of cultural upheaval so that His glory might be manifested (Jn. 9:1-38).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!