Sermon: 4th Sunday of Lent

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Mark 9:17–31

The story of the child possessed by a demon in today’s Gospel is an image of the spiritual state both of humanity in general and of each human soul.

As we just heard, this child was possessed by a dumb spirit, which made him unable to speak. Do we not all pass through periods in which we can neither hear the voice of God and feel his presence, nor open the mouth to our heart so as to seek Him with true prayer? It is a period of spiritual drought, as if we have lost all contact, as if we were dead. And many times this state throws us “into the fire and into the water”. In other words, it throws us into the fire of the passions — of anger, jealousy, carnal pleasures — and into the waters, into the turbulent sea of worldly cares, where the worries of life wash over us as waves, and we find ourselves on the verge of drowning.

And when we, like the disciples of the Lord, try to cast out this spirit, we find ourselves unable to do so. “And when Jesus had entered the house” — that is, when we briefly come to our senses and become aware of our spiritual state — we also, like the disciples, ask the Lord “Why could we not cast it out?”

We must remember that this story takes place immediately after the Transfiguration on Mount Thabor. The Lord had taken three disciples with him onto the Mountain — Peter, James, and John — and it was to these three that Jesus gave the ability to see his divinity. In other words, the disciples mentioned in today’s Gospel reading are the remaining nine, who had not ascended Mount Thabor or seen the glory of the Lord.

In other words, the remaining disciples could not cast out this evil spirit because they had not yet ascended. Likewise, it is not possible for us to throw off this spiritual state because we are still down at the bottom of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, we see all things from below with a worldly way of thinking.

How are we then to ascend? The Lord’s answer to the disciples is as follows: “This kind can come forth by nothing, except by prayer and fasting”. Prayer and fasting. These two actions involve and describe two movements: by fasting we move away from the self, from our own will and the demands of our passions, and by prayer we turn towards God. Without this movement, away from the self and towards God, this evil spirit, this state of spiritual drought, will not leave us.

But how are we to find the strength to make this move when we find ourselves in precisely this state of weakness and our faith seems lacking? We will cry out with tears, like the father of the possessed child, and say, “I believe, O Lord, help my unbelief”. This humble confession and petition was enough to free the child from the evil spirit. If we do the same, it will undoubtedly be enough to attract the grace of God, which will take us out of our drought and lead us to the still waters of rest. Amen

Fr Kristian Akselberg