Sermon: 7th Sunday of Matthew

7th Sunday of Matthew

Matthew 9:27­­-35

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today we heard from Matthew the Gospel that describes two miracles the Lord performed “when he entered into his own city”. When we hear the phrase, “his own city”, this refers to Capernaum. Capernaum was the city where he spent most of his time. He spent most of the days there, and most of his preaching and his miracles were performed in Capernaum. And on this particular day, the Lord performed many, many miracles. He raised Jairus’ daughter, he healed the woman who had an issue of blood, but he also performed these two miracles which Matthew describes: he healed the two blind men by touching their eyes, and he also healed the dumb, mute man who was possessed by a demon. That doesn’t mean that someone is possessed if they happen to be mute, but there are particular events where a person is ill due to a demonic possession or some sort of demonic energy. But there is a particular interest in these two miracles that Matthew describes which I want to point out today.

The Lord, when he healed the two blind men, he expected from these two blind men that they believed. He asked them, “Do you believe that I can heal you?” And they said, “Yes, we believe”. Not only did they believe, but they were very willing. And we know from the parallel Gospel of Luke — another synoptic Gospel, where he gives us more details about these two blind men — they were following Jesus for a long time, but Jesus paid no attention to their call. They were calling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us”. But he paid no attention to them until he entered the house and privately asked them if they wanted to be healed, and they believed.

But with the healing of the deaf and dumb man who was possessed by a demon, he did not ask the man, but this man was healed simply by being placed before the Lord. So, on the one hand, we have the two blind man where their choice and their faith are being put to the test, whereas on the other hand, he doesn’t ask because the possessed man has no will. When a person is under demonic influence, that person cannot make a clear decision and choice. Their personality and personhood is erased. It exists, but it is suppressed, because it is influenced and overtaken by a dark and demonic influence. However, just by being placed in the presence of the Lord, the Lord’s divine presence was enough to heal the deaf and dumb man, who began to speak and hear. And the people marvelled and said, “It was never so seen in Israel” (Matt. 9:33), and they were glorifying God. But the Pharisees, Matthew points out, they were blaspheming, saying that Jesus was casting out demons because there was a master demon working in him to cast out demons. They could not in any way contradict what Jesus was saying, they could not reject his miracles, but because of the jealousy and hatred that they had towards the Lord, they were not able to discern the truth. They were therefore accusing him and blaspheming, saying these horrible words.

In another context, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus points out to the Pharisees that any sin that a person carries out can be forgiven — there is nothing that God cannot forgive — but God will not forgive blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. One can ask, Is blasphemy stronger than God’s forgiveness? No, we need to explain ourselves here. When Jesus is speaking of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, what he is saying is that, if you reject God — and by rejecting Jesus, you are rejecting God, rejecting who he is and what he is offering mankind — we ourselves condemn ourselves to eternal damnation, to eternal separation from God. It is possible for a person to extend their unforgiveness onto the metaphysical level and into eternity. Not just to be unforgiven in this world, but to be unforgiven in eternity. This is what the demons do, and is exactly what the demons want humans to do: to never be forgiven, never be accepted. This is exactly what Jesus is pointing out when he says that, any sin can be forgiven, but not the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

But in order to understand why there is this differentiation of wills, we also have to have in mind the way in which God reveals himself to mankind. God’s revelation does not imply coercion or persuasion. Even his miracles, when they are performed, they are not performed in order to persuade us, but in order to open our hearts, in order to move the soul so that we may understand and realise who we have before us. Jesus always targeted our freedom when he worked his miracles. Let me just leave you with this thought: Let’s just imagine for a second that, when Jesus rose from the dead, he never ascended into heaven, but remained on earth up to this day — who could contradict the Resurrection? Who could not believe in the Resurrection? Perhaps one of the meanings of the Lord’s Ascension is an oikonomia, so that he can give us all the chance and allow for all the space for freedom to act. That’s why the Holy Spirit is always associated with the notion of freedom. Let us therefore try to approach our faith with these principles and with these notions that today’s Gospel has transmitted. Amen.

Archimandrite Chrysostomos Michaelides