St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral
On the "Impossible"
One word that has all but been excommunicated from our modern American cultural vocabulary is the word "impossible". We are told, as you all know, that you can do anything that you want to do, that you have the power to achieve anything that you want to achieve. But this excommunication of the word "impossible" from our cultural vocabulary has very interesting social and personal ramifications. On the positive side, it enables people to aspire to do things that are daunting, difficult, and unlikely because they truly believe they have the power and the ability to do things that are nearly impossible. But on the negative side, people have a hard time coping when there is no solution to difficult problems.
We see this when it comes to terminal illnesses. On the positive side, people make heroic efforts. They leave no stone unturned to find healing, to seek miracles, and so on. They keep up hope, they keep up a positive attitude because they believe that nothing is impossible. And then on the negative side, when death is inevitable often times people today have a very hard time accepting it.
So how do we handle seemingly impossible situations? How do we navigate that uncertain territory between the possible and the impossible? Between hope and resignation? Between heroic efforts and quiet acceptance?
Well, our Gospel story today comes down on the side of heroic efforts, hope, and miracles - as most Gospel stories do. I think one of the clearest examples we can find of this is at the end of Matthew's account of the healing of the epileptic boy, where we read, "Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said 'why can't we cast this demon out?’" Jesus says to them "Because of your unbelief. For surely I say to you if you have faith as a mustard seed you will say to this mountain move from here to there and it will move and" - here is the famous phrase - "nothing will be impossible to you". Then He adds later however, "this type doesn't go out but by prayer and fasting. He adds a little footnote there. "Nothing will be impossible to you." But it might be tough. You might have to do some prayer and fasting. It could even require a heroic effort.
We find the same phenomenon in our Gospel today. The blind man sits by the wayside. He hears the tumult of the crowd as Jesus passes by. And then, "he cried out saying, "Jesus, son of David have mercy on me!" Those who went before warned him that he should be quiet. "Hey, quiet down, just accept your fate. You're a blind man, everyone knows that. Nothing can be done about it. You're creating a disturbance; you're becoming annoying. Just settle down." But what did the man do? What do we hear in our Gospel story? But he cried out all the more. The more they told him to be quiet, the more he screamed out "Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" He cried out all the more. In other words, he was persistent. He was not going to give up. He was going to be persistent, he was not going to accept the advice of bystanders "your situation is impossible, forget about it and shut up." Rather, he cried out all the more.
There's another parable in another chapter of the Gospel of Luke. I would like to read it to you - it's very brief. It’s known as the parable of the unjust judge. "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city and she came to him saying, ‘Avenge me of my adversary’" - in other words, settle my case in my favor. "And he would not for a while, but afterward he said within himself ‘though I do not fear God, nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she will weary me.’" Then the Lord says, "Hear what the unjust judge says. And shall not God avenge his own elect who cry out day and night to him though he bears long with them?"
Why did the unjust judge answer the widow’s request? Because he did not want to be worn out by her continual nagging. (We see this in our marital relationships from time to time, don’t we. Sometimes we do those things that we are disinclined to do because we don't want to hear about it any more. So this is what is going on). And Jesus draws the lesson "So will not God do the same for his elect who cry out day and night to him?"
Cry out all the more. Did you hear in this parable the same words as in the other: "cry out"? Cry out all the more. Often, my brothers and sisters in Christ, we pray too weakly. We do not cry out. There is no passion, there is no intensity in our prayer - it's limp and it's weak.
Do you get very far in a courtroom when you are limp and weak if you are an attorney? No, you do not. It doesn't work that way. Similarly, if you want results, you have to put some passion and intensity into your prayer. Often we give up too easily. That's the second half of that little phrase "cry out all the more". All the more, right? Why give up so easily? Keep it up. Not only let it be passionate and intense, but let it be frequent and regular, consistent over long periods of time.
I think most of us are familiar with the story of Monica and St.. Augustine. Before St.. Augustine became a Christian Bishop and Church Father he was a pagan. He was living with his girlfriend. His mother was a devout Christian; she was concerned about him. What did she do? She cried out all the more - day and night. Not for weeks and weeks, not for months and months, not even for years and years, but for decade after decade she cried out for her son's soul. It's only because of her prayer that he became the great Church father and saint that he is.
Now having said all that, on the other side, there is a time to accept the inevitable. I think the best example in the Scriptures is a little bit long passage from II Samuel Chapter 12. You know the story of David and Bathsheba - I won't go into it except to say that from their illicit liaison, a child was conceived. "Then the Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David and it became very ill. David therefore pleaded with God for the child and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground." (He had the right technique, right? - crying out, fasting, laying all night on the ground). "So the elders of the house arose and went to him to raise him up from the ground, but he would not - nor would he eat food with them." (He was intense about it). "Then on the seventh day it came to pass that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said ‘Indeed while the child was still alive we spoke to him and he would not heed our voice, how can we tell him that the child is dead, he may do us some harm.’" (In other words, David's been fasting and praying - when he gets the news that his prayer has not been answered, he may be unhappy about it). "When David saw that his servants were whispering, David perceived that the child was dead. Therefore David said to his servants ‘Is the child dead?’ and they said ‘he is dead’. So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes and went into the house of the Lord and worshipped. Then he went to his own house and when he requested they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him ‘What is this you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died you arose and you ate food’. So he said ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and I wept, for I said, "who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me that the child may live?" But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.’"
In other words, David accepted the inevitable. While there was still hope that the child might be cured and healed, he fasted and prayed and wept - he cried out to God with all his might day and night. But when the situation ended and the child died, then it was not time for him to put on a hysterical show of grief - it was over. He got up, he sat down, he washed, he ate and he drank.
How do we know, my brothers and sisters in Christ, when a situation is truly impossible, when it is over? It occurs, as the saying goes, "when the fat lady sings." Then we know. When we have heard the tune; there is no more hope. The situation has ended; it is over. When others - and this is important - when our trusted friends and advisors witness unanimously to us that the situation is not going to turn around, then we know. We can trust it. It is the more than one person’s perception. Perhaps against our most basic instincts, but we know it is over. Those of you who are doctors know how difficult it is to tell people that it's not going to get better, that there is no hope. People have a hard time receiving it. But that doesn’t really change anything. When it’s over, it’s over.
But until that moment, let us take the example of the blind man in our Gospel whose nearly impossible situation did not prevent him from crying out. And even when some others told him to give up, to forget it, that it was hopeless, what did he do? He cried out all the more. He was intense and he was persistent.
Let us do the same, let us follow his holy example, and even when situations
appear to be impossible in the eyes of man - until it is all over, let
us cry out all the more, day and night. May the Lord hear your cries even
as he did those of the blind man.
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