Beside ourselves

Wednesday of the 13th Week of Matthew 

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In today’s Gospel, we see both the Lord’s friends and His enemies stating that He is possessed.

      And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. – Mark 3: 20-27

This passage reveals that during His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ had friends who were not His disciples.   They were simply His friends, the relatives and neighbors among whom He had lived during the time before His three-year mission for the salvation of the human race. Perhaps these friends were among the people who, in another place, the Evangelist records as saying, “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” or, in other words, “Is this not just another ordinary fellow like ourselves?” Their saying that “he is beside Himself” means, according to St. Theophylact, that they believed He was possessed with a demon.   Being His friends, though uncomprehending ones, they say this out of concern for His welfare. They think Him to be a victim of evil. Being His enemies, the scribes from Jerusalem say the same thing out of malice. They call Him a servant of evil.

Does not the same thing occur to us Orthodox Christians?   We have friends and relatives, both non-Orthodox and nominal Orthodox (or even those who claim to be pious!), who try to dissuade us from a Gospel mindset, an otherworldly life, because they believe that it is bad for us, something evil.   It interferes with having a “good life,” and being our friends they want us to have a “good life.”   They think that we are victims of evil. We have enemies who hate the Faith and claim that we are not mere victims but active servants of evil.   Which kind of person, one wonders, does us greater harm? Often, perhaps, it is the former kind, because we are more inclined to listen to them.

Here is a rule of thumb you can count on: Most human beings – the overwhelming majority, including the overwhelming majority of baptized Orthodox – are, to a greater or lesser extent, in delusion (plani in Greek, prelest in Slavonic). I do not mean that most people are seeing preternatural visions or doing obviously crazy things, though that kind of thing is certainly on the increase.  Most people have garden-variety delusionthat is, they are simply, fundamentally mistaken most of the time about what is really going on outside of them and inside of them.   This includes us. The difference between them and us, if there is a difference, is that we know we are mistaken, we have the means to work on it, and we are working on it. We are crying out day and night, “O Lord, deliver me from delusion!”

If we, who are Orthodox and moreover trying to do something about it (however feebly), are frequently in delusion, what about all the other people out there? In other words, why should we listen to them?   I do not mean that they cannot teach us how to grow vegetables or drive a car or do algebra. I mean that they cannot give us our life orientation. They cannot advise us as to “what it is all about.” Let us not be swayed when they claim that we are out of our minds.   Of course we are, but we know the way back into our minds, and we are trying to go there.   They too are out of their minds, but they do not know the way, and they cannot show it to us.

O Lord, only Truth and only Way, deliver us from delusion, heal our fragmented minds and divided wills, and keep us on the straight path to Thee our Life! Amen.

The Lord exorcises the Gadarene demoniac. Sixth century mosaic, Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

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