In today’s Gospel, it’s a very interesting Gospel because we often hear the story of Christ healing people, and the story of a demon-possessed person being healed by Christ is very common from the four Gospels. And yet, today’s story is slightly different because of what happens at the end. We hear, obviously, that there’s a man and he has a son, and the son is possessed by a deaf and dumb spirit who would not speak, but it would convulse him, and it would try to make him kill himself and do all of these kind of things, and the child had this demon from his youth. And we hear in the Gospel that right before Christ heals the child, even before he speaks to the father, the father comes to Christ and he says I took him to your apostles, and they couldn’t do anything. They tried to expel the demon. They tried to exorcise the child, but it didn’t work. And so, the father went straight to Christ.
And so, Christ, of course, asks a few questions of the father, and then he heals the child, but what happens after? This is the important part. The apostles come to him later and they’re confused, and they ask him why were we not able, in your name, to cast out the demons? And Christ responds with a very interesting answer. He says that this type cannot be expelled except by prayer and fasting. So he doesn’t tell them to do something magical. He doesn’t tell them to invoke his name. He tells them that they first, themselves, have to change before they try to change someone else. Many of us skip over that part. He tells them that the only way to help this child is that if you first pray, and you first fast.
Now, why does he say this? Because if you think about demon possession, what is it? It’s simply slavery to evil. It is allowing ourselves to be emptied of God, to be emptied of the Holy Spirit, and allowing space within our souls, and if there’s an emptiness, there’s space for demons to come in. There’s space for evil things to take root in our hearts, and then we become slaves to those things. Just like when we speak about fasting, and especially now during Lent, we speak about being slaves to different passions. We are slaves to food or we are slaves to money. We are slaves to entertainment. We are slaves to different things. All these types of things could be considered a form of possession because we are possessed by all these things that are not God. And we can’t get away from them.
And so, Christ is telling the apostles, and he’s telling us today, that if we do not first clean up ourselves, if we first do not have control over our own bodies, over our own souls, how will we ever help any other person? It’s impossible because we already are slaves to our own sins. We are slaves to our own passions. And so, the apostles, because now let us not forget this is before the crucifixion, this is before the resurrection, the apostles still don’t understand who Christ is. They are still simply students of him. They are followers of him, but they are not special. They do not understand. They do not understand the miracles that he’s doing. They don’t understand the parables that he’s teaching. They don’t truly understand who he is. And they’ll never understand that until after the resurrection, until after the Holy Spirit comes down, and they are enlightened.
And so, at this point, they are still regular people who are slaves to their sins. And so, they thought, and there’s a certain amount of arrogance here, that because they were the followers of Christ, because they were part of this special in-crowd, this little group, that they could do whatever they wanted. And so, they attempt to exorcise a demon, and it didn’t work. And they learned very quickly that it is not enough just to use Jesus’ name to justify whatever we do. It is not enough to say that we’re Christians without actually being Christians. And this is a problem within our society right now as it was a problem during Jesus’ time. That it is not enough to say that we’re Orthodox Christians. It is not enough to have a baptismal certificate that says we were baptized into the faith and yet not do anything that has to do with our faith: not to pray, not to fast, not to attend services, not to commune, not to confess. We don’t do any of these things because we think it’s enough to call ourselves by Christ’s name.
And yet, we see in today’s Gospel that it doesn’t matter what you call yourself. What matters is what you do with that faith. And this is what Lent is all about. Again, these Gospels are always reinforcing what we should be doing now during the Lenten season, preparing for the greatest feast of the Church, the Holy Resurrection of Christ. We are first supposed to look inwards. We are first supposed to attempt to free ourselves from the bondage of sin. And then, only then, will we be healthy enough to be able to help other people. This is why the saints never judged other people. The saints never bothered to criticize their brothers and sisters. They only criticized themselves. And people followed that example. Why? Because the saints were hard on themselves and easy on others. And this is what we have to do first. We have to pray, we have to fast, we have to try and stay away from the bad things. We have to try to come together as much as possible so that we can pray together and that we can hear the word of God, and we can hear the message, and be repetitive in our minds so we don’t forget because we forget very easily in our day-to-day lives. So that we can first cleanse ourselves and then we can be the examples. Then we can truly be the light of the world to all those who sit in darkness.