July 9, 2015 Length: 13:32
On July 5, 2015, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, both in greater Indianapolis, came together in a combined service. Fr. Nabil Hanna from St. George gave the sermon entitled "Two Wolves: Good and Evil, Truth vs. Delusion, Love vs. Inaction.
We’re back! Indeed it’s great to be back, celebrating our unity in the one Body of Christ.
Spoiler alert: Some of you have probably seen the movie Tomorrowland. It was a great movie, if you look to the deeper messages it presented and not merely the surface plot. Since it’s out of major theatres now, though, I don’t feel too bad giving away some of it.
Tomorrowland presented us with and old Indian riddle: “Two wolves are fighting. Which one wins?”
The two wolves within each of us represent the battle between good and evil, truth vs. delusion, love vs. inaction.
Here’s the full riddle:
One evening, an elderly
Cherokee brave told his
grandson about a battle that
goes on inside people.
He said “my son, the battle is
between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.
One is evil. It is anger,
envy, jealousy, sorrow,
regret, greed, arrogance,
self-pity, guilt, resentment,
inferiority, lies, false pride,
superiority, and ego.
The other is good.
It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity,
humility, kindness, benevolence,
truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson though about
it for a minute and then asked
“Which wolf wins?...”
The old Cherokee simply replied,
“The one that you feed.”
We see the two wolves in our Scripture passages today. First, our Epistle lesson shows us the good fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Sounds similar to the Cherokee list, doesn’t it?, which shows how these are basic truths that God put in us when He created us in His image and likeness – no man-made law was needed. While the evil one wants us to do the opposite, let us rather cultivate, or feed, these fruits of the Spirit in us. “Against these,” St. Paul adds, “there is no law.” At least the US Supreme Court hasn’t yet specifically ‘legislated’ against them.
In contrast, our Gospel passage presents the evil spirits, who seek to take complete hold of men, to possess them, to attack others and lead them to death. Even though the evil spirits fully know the truth, and they confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and knowing that their power is limited compared to God’s, nevertheless they persist in their evil desires. It is the path of destruction, and, if they can’t destroy people, we see how in this instance, they settled for possessing swine, where they led the whole herd astray to their destruction off the cliff, where they were drowned in the sea. But make no mistake, the demons are ravenous wolves seeking to destroy humans, though sometimes they take more subtle appearances to deceive. They can even appear as angels of light. They can use the language of God and twist it. They can hide killing by calling it merely “a right to choose.” They can rename lustful passions as “love,” that most profound term which is the simplest and most basic definition of God – “God is love,” the agape for which He so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son. They deceive people with slogans like “Love is love.” Let us make no mistake, but let us be very alert and vigilant, because the goal of evil is not love or freedom – far from it – it is destruction.
We know that this world and its ways lead to death. Death has reigned over the world ever since mankind first listened to the seduction of the evil one and started down a different path, away from God, the source of our life – a path away from goodness, of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” We also know that God has not abandoned us but calls us in true freedom to come back to the path of eternal life. He appeals to us through prophets, through the Son of God Himself, come in the flesh, and to this day through the Church He established.
Yes, people see all the signs and warnings of death all around us. They love to talk of doom and gloom. They love to complain. But they don’t do anything about it. We see the damage we are causing to God’s beautiful creation and how we are killing animals and plants and ultimately ourselves. Seeing families fall apart, our education system become a joke, our air and water contaminated, and people greedily wanting more and more stuff that we have no more room for it in our closets or landfills, we complain and do more of the same.
The villain – the evil wolf – in Tomorrowland could take comfort because: Seeing all the signs of catastrophe and impending destruction, people choose the path they’re on vs. the path of change. The path of destruction demands nothing of them; they don’t have to change or do anything different. They can remain passive and let destruction happen to them.
God, however, call us to change – matanoia, repentance, a radical transformation of our mind and actions – to turn from evil and to do good. No more deception. No more the passive, easy way.
Simply to believe that God exists and that He made us is not enough. That is NOT faith. As we heard in today’s Gospel passage, the devil knows full well that God exists. He identified Jesus as the Son of God. So, can we then say that the devil believes in God? Of course not! To believe in God is to love Him, and to love Him is to obey Him. Ultimately to believe in God is to trust Him: when He says, “Don’t do that,” we trust that He knows way better than we do. When He says, “Do this,” we trust that He intends good for us as a result. After all, He could have given up on us a long time ago, but He didn’t and even died on the Cross for you and me. At the very least, even if we don’t understand the “whys,” we owe Him our obedience, if we say that we believe in Him. Sure, it is hard to obey God; in this world it is hard to do good and easy to do evil. The ways of God are going against the grain of our contemporary society, but, truth be told, God’s ways have always run contrary to the ways of this world. Thus we have to work at it by God’s grace and help, which is why He gave us the Church, so that we can strengthen one another and support each other.
One more thing, people may say, “I’m an Orthodox Christian, and I’ll obey God and the high moral standard He expects of His people, but I’ll be happy for other people to choose and do whatever they want.” Oh, this is so subtle! Of course we love everyone, especially the sinner. Jesus Himself came and sat with tax collectors, harlots and sinners, but, out of genuine love, He called them to repentance. Love can never be selfish. If we see someone else on a destruction path, we have to do an intervention to save them, or do we say, “Go ahead and do whatever you want and kill yourself?” The Son of God Himself, after all, became man to intervene in our world to save us, because He loved us. Ultimately, of course, we cannot force anyone into doing anything, as God Himself never compels us but appeals to us and has done the heavy lifting to remove the obstacles that would have made our repentance impossible.
But as we heard from St. Paul this morning, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” We would be doing others a great disservice to fail to speak the truth in love. When, for example, a white woman says, “Now I feel black and that I’ve always been black,” we need to speak the truth and say that “it is excellent that you can identify with black people and love them, but you are white” no matter what you ‘feel’ or how much you try to keep a dark tan. This is not about feelings but about reality. When a man suddenly announces, “I always felt like I should be woman,” we need to correct that person’s delusion in love, reminding him that despite feelings and what hormones can do to remove hair from parts of his body, the truth is that every single one his cells has an X and a Y chromosome, regardless of feelings. The feeling that “the grass is greener on the other side,” will not last. This is why, despite people following their feelings more and more, they are seeing more therapists and take more Prozac than ever, to no avail. The real medicine they need is to be told the truth in love, with patience and gentleness, and to stand by them in their struggles.
And, if we appear to condone their errors, not only are we encouraging them into continuing the path of destruction, but we are also then guilty of participating in their sin.
The two wolves are at war within each of us. Which one will win?
Let us feed and cultivate the wolf of truth and love now with the heavenly Bread, the Medicine of immortality, our Lord’s own flesh and blood that He has consecrated for us, as He has consecrated us as his holy people, destined for life eternal.