My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
It is a truth, my friends, that at all times we must strive for the salvation of our souls, and must urge ourselves to desire salvation as much as possible.
Today the Church offers us the usual evangelical instruction, at once teaching and proposing the divine words to our ears, not doing so casually, not merely directing words in the general direction of idle ears, but in with the firm purpose that we understand with the inner hearing of our hearts.
The divine Scriptures are treasure which we should be eager to search with great love. And since this is so, let us then set forth the Gospel which is read today, let us listen, and understand what is being said:
At that time: There came to Jesus a certain man falling down on his knees before Him, saying: Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic, and suffereth much: for he falleth often into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said: O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to Me. And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour.
Any man who has himself fallen into grievous and incurable sufferings and woes will often be afraid and will hide himself away; he is entirely beside himself with fear and trembling. But when a father beholds the evils which befall his child, and has no one able to help and give relief, he suffers all the more; he is inwardly torn apart and his heart is pierced. Such was the affliction and pain which gripped that man who saw his child being at turns drowned or burned by the action an evil demon and suffering incurably. For this reason he came to the Lord, told Him of the unbearable malady of his boy, and related in detail his cruel sufferings. He spoke of suffering in order to move the Divine Physician to mercy and pity.
The father called his son a “lunatic,” which – aside from the modern understanding and use of that word – simply meant that his son was affected by the differing phases of the moon – “luna” in Latin. Saint John Chrysostom points out, however, that this sickness in reality did not come from the moon; rather, a wicked demon would watch the phases of the moon and attack the sufferer, in order to arouse blasphemy against God, the Creator of the moon.
Thus, the father of the lunatic was deceived when he thought his son to be affected by the moon. The man was, in fact, quite disbelieving, and came to the disciples with great doubts; therefore, in the Lord’s plan the possessed boy did not receive healing from His disciples and apostles, on account of the great lack of faith of his father. Now, often grace has worked for the sake of the saints, without faith on the part of those who came to them; this man, however, forgetting his own sin of unbelief, reproached the disciples and even reproached them publicly for not being able to heal.
Therefore, since he had spoken less of the disciples in front of all the people, the Lord also rebuked his unbelief before all. In saying, “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” He castigated all in general, not only the father of the suffering boy, but also the whole unbelieving crowd which was present, which had seen so many miracles wrought by Christ and by His disciples. He called them a not merely unbelieving, but also perverse, meaning a wicked people which does not understand right and wrong.
How long, He said, shall I abide with you unbelievers who so grieve Me? But, being merciful and loving of mankind, He also said, “Bring him hither to Me,” so that His power might be manifested to the benefit of the poor suffering boy, even in the sight of the unbelieving and the perverse.
And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour.
While St. Mark and St. Luke in their Gospels say that the Lord specifically rebuked the unclean spirit, here St. Matthew says that He rebuked the demoniac, for the indeed the Lord commanded and rebuked them both; He commanded the demoniac to be chaste, and the demon to flee. This shows that He rebuked the sufferer because of sin, so that, by receiving the command, he would hasten the demon’s departure; for the demon departed, and the child was cured from that very hour. Our Lord did not simply cure him, but did so most gloriously and in a matter of moments, thereby demonstrating His great power, which is proper to God alone.
Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief.
We see that the disciples ask their question in private, because it concerned matters great and unknown. Perhaps they were afraid that they might have lost the grace and the power which they had received over unclean spirits. The Lord publicly revealed the fault of the father who brought the boy to be unbelief; His disciples, however, He accused of unbelief in private, rebuking them as being imperfect, so that out of shame they would strive for the perfection of faith.
Even before they began to cast out the demon, the disciples did not believe that they could do so; they doubted that the demoniac could be healed, although they had already healed many others; therefore, after setting out to expel the demon, they met with no success. Well and wisely did our Lord publicly upbraid the father of the suffering boy, as well as the unbelieving people, reproaching them for their faithlessness; yet He reproved the unbelief of His disciples in private, because the Divine Master did not wish those who were to be His witnesses and the universal teachers of the Gospel to the whole world to be put to shame before the multitude.
For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain: Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove…
Here our Lord is not speaking of that faith which believes in Him undoubtingly and knows Him to be true God, but of that faith needed to work miracles. For a man to have such faith appears simple, but it is, on the contrary, something very lofty, not easily attained. Such faith is born of boldness before God; but such boldness comes only from pleasing God.
My friends, great and intense labour is needed to acquire, through pleasing God, such boldness before Him that one firmly believes that He will grant all that one asks; as it is written, “Ask, and it shall be given you.”
If, however, the Apostles did not openly move mountains, it is no cause for consternation. It was not because they were unable, but because they had no need to do so. Nonetheless, certain saints who came after them, though far inferior to the Apostles, moved mountains, when the need arose, in accordance with the Divine Master’s word. The devil himself has been likened to a mountain, on account of his self-exaltation and pride; and him the saints move easily and simply, when they wish.
…and nothing shall be impossible to you.
Not only will ye move mountains, says the Lord, but nothing wlse will be impossible for you, O friends and disciples.
But this kind is not cast out, but by prayer and fasting.
The whole race of demons, said the Lord, departs by no other way than by prayer and fasting. Not only the prayer of him who heals, but also that of him who suffers and is being healed, is exceedingly terrible to the demons. Fasting greatly supports and strengthens prayer, not letting a surfeit of food weaken the body’s vigour, nor allowing it to disturb the mind. When the body is strong and the mind acts in stillness, then prayer becomes mightier than fire and more terrible than anything. For this reason these two virtues ought always to be joined together. If one is a slave to one’s appetite, it is extremely difficult and arduous for him to be freed from the fury of the demons. He who prays and fasts has few wants; he who has few wants cannot be a lover of money; he who is not a lover of money is very assiduous in prayer. Prayer combined with fasting delivers a man from death.
And when they abode together in Galilee, Jesus said to them: The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: and they shall kill Him, and the third day He shall rise again.
Finally, everywhere the Lord is seen teaching the disciples about His Passion at the same time as He works miracles by His own immeasurable divine power, lest it be thought that He suffered on account of His own weakness.
When He was walking throughout Galilee, His disciples, after hearing of His Passion, did not wish even to see Jerusalem. Again, another time He took them aside and separated them from the others; He desired them alone to see what took place, that they might not be troubled at the time of His Passion, thinking Within themselves and saying. How is it that One so great in glory, Who raised the dead with power that belongs only to God, Who rebuked the sea and the winds, and crushed Satan with a wordhow is it that He is now put to shame and has fallen into the snares of murderous men? He foretold what would happen to Him, and conveyed everything to the disciples plainly, so that they would not say, when the time came for His Passion, that He was just another man who fell unawares into the hands of his enemies: rather, knowing His dispensation, they would understand that He was compelled by no one, but went to suffer willingly. What was there to hinder Him from fleeing or refusing to suffer, since He knew beforehand and clearly spoke of the events to come?
It was to save the world that Christ delivered Himself up to death, having come down to us on account of His infinite mercy. Elsewhere, the Lord teaches and says, “No man taketh My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” After He had given His disciples the doleful words that men were to kill Him, He saw that they were saddened, and He went on to tell the joyful news that He would rise again on the third day. Thus He also consoles us, teaching us that joyful things follow upon sorrowful, and that we should not grieve needlessly over our sorrows, but look for things joyful and blessed.
When we are surrounded by misfortunes, we should await better things. Having heard the word of our Lord, let us also, my friends, be zealous in prayer and fasting, as the Lord said, so as to drive far from us the passions which trouble us. One who fasts is lightened in spirit; he prays with sobriety. For this reason the Apostles were always fasting and praying. Let us also love abstinence together with prayer, and not fall away in time of trial, but have hope of better things. Let us not be puffed up by the passing beauty of this world and become careless, but set our hearts upon unchanging and eternal beauty. Only thus we may become chaste, wise, meek and humble, and may be able to practice every virtue, and may obtain eternal blessings in Christ Jesus our Lord.