The Exorcism of the Lunatic Son
10th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 17:14-23

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.[1] Today is the 10th Sunday after Pentecost. On this day we read about the exorcism of the son who is a lunatic. This story has many applications and meanings. The external meaning is simply that Jesus heals a boy who is grievously afflicted by a demon by casting it out. Let us see why he was afflicted.

This story is related in all 3 of the synoptic gospels, so we will have a fuller picture if we take all these into account.

A man comes to Jesus, and begs him to help his son, his only child. The man calls his son a lunatic. In that day, there was the superstition that when the moon came out, it made some people crazy, and they called such people lunatics. Actually, it was a demon, not the moon. Demons commonly use folklore and superstition to entrap the unwary, and remove suspicion from themselves. This demon obeyed the cycles of the moon because it suited his purpose, but he could actually afflict the boy at any time. The father blamed the moon, when actually there was someone else to blame, and not only the Devil, mind you, but himself also.

The man says, "Lord have mercy on my son,"[2]and he kneels down. He says that the boy is "sore vexed" - "ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water."[3] What is the meaning of this? Fire is anger, and lust, jealousy and the rest of those hot passions, by which we are so afflicted and which are so tasty to us. They must be tasty and succulent to our sinful souls because we indulge ourselves so often in these terrible passions. The water quenches zeal, quenches ardor, quenches desire for holy things. It is worldly cares. A man will send himself to perdition with either the one or the other, or, more commonly, both.

This boy is cast into the fire and the water and he is terribly afflicted, and the father begs our Lord's aid. Jesus has a interesting response. He says, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?"[4] This is sort of an odd thing to say to the people present, but it cuts to the heart of the matter. He rebukes two people here, or two groups. First, He rebukes the father, because the father has very little belief. He blamed the apostles, instead of himself and said, "... I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him."[5] Our lord is pointing out to the father - it is YOUR unbelief, it is YOUR depravity which has hurt your own son. This is a truth for all parents to understand. We visit affliction upon our own children because of our own passions. This is a terrible truth, and a frightening truth for all of us to bear. Indeed, even demon possession can be visited upon a child because of the sins of his parents. This is a terrible truth, but you must know it. And all the other things that can happen to a person are many times the responsibility of the parents, because they do not teach him, and because they live depraved lives themselves. Be careful, my brothers and sisters. Before you judge yourself to be immune from these problems, consider what you are teaching your children, not only in words, but in deeds and attitudes. Measure your life against the requirements of the Christian life before you are so quick to judge others as depraved, and yourself as blameless.

Our Lord is also rebuking everyone around: "Faithless and perverse generation" - these are the same people that in a short while would say "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" because they wanted to be under a temporal king, and not the King of all. So Christ has the man bring the boy up. In another account He tells him, "All things are possible to him that believeth."[6] The man says: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."[7] Indeed, the Lord had already exposed this man's unbelief, his lack of faith, his judgmentalism. The man had all these weaknesses, but he also had the germ of belief, and our Lord did not require everything of him right away. He healed the son, even though the father had only a small amount, a little germ, of belief. He who has ears to hear, and believes, let him hear.

The apostles came to our Lord apart, and they were very upset and troubled. Remember they had gone out into the countryside, and they were raising the dead, and healing the sick. The lame were walking, the blind were seeing, the deaf could hear, and the demons were cast out, by not only the twelve, but also the 70. They were amazed at the grace that God was sending through them. And yet, it did not "work" this time. They were concerned - had they lost this gift? Had their unworthiness caused them to be passed over by the Lord? What did He tell them?

Your unbelief is the reason. "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."[8] And I tell you, this is not just figurative. Mountains have moved. A mountain moved to save the holy Baptist, and mountains have moved at other times, literally, but this mountain means something else. A mountain is high. Pride exalts itself, and raises itself up, as if to the heavens, like the tower of Babel. The Devil, the liar, the slanderer - he is like a mountain, exalting himself up to the heavens. And you can say to this mountain move, and IT WILL MOVE, if you have faith. Wherever this mountain might be, whatever affliction you might have, whether it be of your own self, or of someone that you care about, indeed you can say to the mountain, "move", and it will move, IF you have faith as the mustard seed. The mustard seed is a small, tiny seed, very very small, but it is very pungent and hot. There is warmth and flavor in it, and it affects a dish exquisitely with its pungent flavor. And also, when you put it into the ground, it grows into a great tree.[9] This is what our faith should be like. It need not be big in a worldly sense, but it needs to be hot, pungent. It must be strong, and it needs to grow.

Our Lord also told the disciples concerning the demon, "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."[10] It is related to what He had just said about faith, because the mustard seed, when it grows, is buffeted by winds, and in danger for much of its life as a seedling, but it grows into a great tree, and there is abundant fruit from it. Without prayer, and without fasting, I tell you, you don't have faith. You do not have faith, or love for God, if you do not live how He has told you to live. This way of life includes prayer, fasting, desire, putting God first in all things. If you do this, then "this kind" - meaning not just the "kind" that made the boy fall into the fire and the water, but also the passions that make you and me fall into fire and into water will be eradicated from our souls, and we will find peace. By the way, we do not always innocently fall into sins. I think we most often jump into these things, because we LIKE them. This "kind" that is embedded in our souls - this kind comes out not but by prayer and fasting. This does mean prayer and fasting in a literal sense, which is absolutely necessary. Without fasting, the church does not see how a man can be saved. This is on account of our character. The church understands this and that is why it is obligatory upon us, because it is necessary for our salvation. The "prayer and fasting" enjoined upon us by our Savior also includes the whole continuum of the Christian life, and the whole perspective we should have.

The whole purpose of our life is the salvation of our souls. There is nothing more important. There is nothing that has any meaning, but to know the God-man. We just had a feast where we saw what it will be like, a little bit, to know the God-man, to see the Uncreated Light, to understand and apprehend the energies of God. This is meant for the elect.[11] But when they saw God transfigured on the mountain, the holy three apostles had already traveled a long way. They had labored to go up the mountain. We must labor, brothers and sisters. I don't understand how completely this terrible heresy has occurred in our day, and even for many hundreds of years - that Christianity is a life without labor, but only with belief.

I don't understand how it happened - how the Devil so beguiled so many hearts and souls of men to think that is belief ONLY that saves a man. It is labor that saves a man, because of what he believes. It is becoming like Christ. It is doing as He tells you and as He teaches you. Without labor you cannot be saved, or without desire, without prayer, without fasting. Fasting is what? It's our blood, the giving of our blood, like the martyrs gave theirs - so says our blessed Metropolitan[12]. It shows we are sincere. That's what it is - showing that we are sincere, showing that we are not liars. That's what our fasting is, and our prayer and our long vigils and our prostrations and our giving up of ourselves. That's what our turning away from lust, or anger, or deceit, or any other thing that casts us into the fire or the water is. Our life is one of sincere labor because of love for our Savior.

A Christian should consider himself to be a slave of a benevolent master. "Slave of God" - that is the terminology used in the scriptures. Indeed, there will come a time when we will be fully worthy of that name "friend". Christ said He would call us friends,[13] but we have a way to go before we can appropriate that name. Indeed, it is ours - it is our destiny to be friends of God. But we must have humility, and work out our salvation now, and labor. So this demon, this passion that afflicts us, regardless of whether a man is possessed by a demon or afflicted by demons as we are - this kind comes out only by prayer and by fasting. This is the Christian life. It is a life of labor, it is a life of zeal, it is a life of desire. May God help you to be zealous for your salvation - to pray, to fast, and to love God above all things. And then you will find peace.

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[1] The following sermon was transcribed from one given Aug 11/26. 1997, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost. The usual readings for this day are 1 Cor 4:9-16 and Matthew 17:14-23 (The exorcism of the son who was a lunatic).

[2] Matthew 17:15, partial

[3] Matthew 17:15, partial

[4] Matthew 17:17, partial

[5] Matthew 17:16

[6] Mark 9:23, partial

[7] Mark 9:24, partial

[8] Matthew 17:20, partial

[9] cf. Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-19

[10] Matthew 17:21

[11]cf. ". 2 Pet 1:3-4, "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: {4} Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust, and the entire service for the Transfiguration (August 6th according to the church calendar), which explains this significant consequence of the incarnation of God.

[12]Metropolitan Vitaly, first hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, has said this many times, including a sermon during the Fall pastors conference in 1996 in Mahopac NY.

[13] Cf. John 15:15