Fourth Sunday of the Great Fast
O unbelieving generation, how long shall I have to put up with you;
how long shall I be with you
Mark 9: 19?
St. Luke thought it important to record the same event. And no doubt the Church finds it important as well since this gospel narrative is read twice each year because of its most serious implications. Even in the very presence of the Son of God, his disciples have difficulty arousing within themselves an acceptable faith response. This event is bound together with the feast and event of the Transfiguration, some forty days prior to the glorious Resurrection. At least the three disciples who actually accompanied the Lord to the height of Mount Tabor should have been beyond questioning the purposes of the Lord. Many famous artists, have caught the connection between what happened today and the manifestation on the mountain of Christ's association with Moses and Elias. Today's scene of human wretchedness reveals the terribleness of human plight, where man is subjected to evils with which he cannot cope. Had Christ, as Peter suggested (v. 33), stayed on the Mount of glory and splendor, the scene below would have remained unchanged. He had to leave the heights, descend once more into the valleys of desperate human need and confront again the unbelief and stupidity of his own followers, the forces of evil which had man in their power, the rejection of his own people, the blindness of the religious leaders, the mockery of the powers of worldly empire. All this was brought into perfect focus in the Cross which is but a few weeks away. But all are oblivious. Talk about ignorance being bliss!
The man sadly and gloomily confesses, "I asked your disciples to cast it out and they could not." Wherein lies the difficulty with these men? They had been lax in cultivating their faith by prayer and, as a consequence, their trust utterly failed. They trusted not God nor Christ, his divine Son, nor the authenticity of his mission, or even what their own would be. So it has been many a time since then, in many a crisis in the Church of God. Failure has resulted from a lack of trust or from weakness of faith, and this, in turn, from severe lack of prayerfulness which precedes the need for fasting. Our bishops, our leaders, our priests and deacons seem to be paralyzed with fear of the people and the people's willingness to live an authentic Orthodox faith. We as leaders have allowed a caricature of the Church to persist and are deathly afraid of restoring it to an ability to save man's soul. In the history of the Church, many a failure in revival efforts has been traceable to the same cause. We are not nurturing faith so that it is powerful in our midst. We settle for outward manifestations, but these are lacking in authentic faith basis. We do not urge enough prayer at the public services of the Church which results in failure to call upon God in the privacy of our homes. If we do not pray in the open, we do not pray in the privacy of the closets of our homes. Neglect of the inner chamber is the solution of most spiritual failures. We have settled for a superficial approach to salvation which instead leads to damnation because it demeans the value of the soul. We emotionally feel we cannot oppose the thinking that is espoused by so so many in which they think by democratic process they can re-establish the foundation of the Church. Recruited in this process are those of worldly means who threaten to withhold their great treasure to the use of the Body of Christ unless they are heard and what we hear from them is some kind of nonsense about a radical difference in an American Church than that which has been able to save souls in the past in other countries and continents. Genuine faith as a result is scarce and in many places non-existent.
So it is not difficult for us to understand in our own personal struggles and observations with the devil as was the case when the disciples fail to cast out devils. To be much on our knees in private in communion with our heavenly Father is the only surety that we shall have him with us whether in our personal struggles, or in our efforts to bring souls to Christ.
Today we seethe disciples fall from the loftiest summits to the hard realities of daily life. We are living at a time in the life of our blessed Church when we are not equal to the challenges we face. Has it not been too often with us? A man throws himself at the feet of Jesus and implores his help for his son. His disciples have not been able to cure him! Jesus has a singularly severe word which applies both to his disciples and to us. He accuses his contemporaries of being a "faithless and perverse generation." He does not hide the fact that He has difficulty in enduring them. Can we imagine how we fail to satisfy the Saviour in our life time, in this life-span? The impotence of the disciples shows how little is their faith! They depend on themselves completely and inevitably fail. How could it be otherwise? We as the leaders of the Church today depend, not on; the Holy Spirit, not on the holiness of the Body of Christ, but on our own feeble selves and wonder why out people are leaving in droves. We are not feeding them, not nourishing them, we are not leading them to paradise.
After every time of exaltation, we are brought down with a sudden rush into things as they really are, where it is neither beautiful, poetic nor thrilling. After the glory of the Transfiguration, Scripture testifies that the exalted suggestion of Peter was ignored because He did not really know what he was saying Luke 9: 33. And so many times today we read and hear some such similar insights that it seems those who should be bravely, prayerfully guiding the Church and leading it would apply these words of Scripture to themselves and their observations.
What is faith, for Jesus? What is He looking for in us? What does He expect from us? It is not a simple creeded belief, it is the assurance that everything is possible to God, our Father, the assurance that He gives what He promises and what He ordains. Faith is a power which ...moves mountains Mark 12: 23. To move mountains is to know that there is no burden so heavy that our Almighty God cannot resolve it. If Jesus accuses his first disciples of unbelief, what does He think of us today? What patience must He have to continue to tolerate us?
The height of the mountaintop is measured by the dismal drudgery of the valley below; but it is in the valley that we have to live for the glory of our God. We see his glory on the mountain, but we never live for his glory in our daily valley. It is in the pale of humiliation, of so-called failure that we find our true worth to God because that is where our faithfulness is revealed.
When you are on the mountaintop with God, Christ, with Moses and Elias in the company of the Father, we can believe anything and everything. But what about when we are faced with facts of the lowly valley and all its implications? You may be able to give testimony regarding your slowly progressing sanctification, or even its halt, or perhaps of backsliding, but what about the long-standing thing that is a humiliation to us right now? What about the overwhelming problems we daily face and must over come, but cannot find the resources to overcome in our spirit?
When we are on the mountain with the Lord we see all the unlimited power in heaven and earth which belongs to the Lord, so why are we all, our bishops, our priests, our deacons, our people skeptical now, simply because we are in the valley of humiliation right now?