You can’t feed them both

Word of God: speak! by Fr. Dana Jackson

Matthew 17:21

This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.

The season of Advent (often referred to as a “mini-Lent”) is a time of self-examination, a time of deep reflection on Christ’s coming: to remember His first coming in Bethlehem, and to prepare ourselves for His imminent second coming. But how do we prepare?

There’s an old story that’s been used many times as a sermon illustration: it’s about two wolves. They are not real, physical wolves, but two “natures” warring inside a person. One is dark and evil, embodying anger, envy, greed, arrogance, resentment, lies, pride; the other is light and good, embodying joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The question is asked, “Which one wins?” And the answer is, “The winner is the one you feed.”

This is not a Christian parable, so let’s transform it into one. For a Christian, the dark and evil nature is what Paul calls the “old man” – the sinner that we all used to be:

· “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” – Romans 6:6

· “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” – Ephesians 4:22

· “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” – Colossians 3:8-9

The light and good nature is the “new man”

· “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” – Ephesians 4:23

· “[since you have] put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” – Colossians 3:10

Although we have been born again, we all still struggle at times with this inner battle between the old man and the new man. Paul himself cries out:

I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? – Romans 7:21-24

In the verse that follows Paul drives home the answer: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Only Jesus Christ can defeat the old man that refuses to die!

But we must actively participate in the battle: we cannot sit on the sidelines and passively watch. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is pouring out grace and mercy in our hearts, but the enemy is also pouring out lies and temptations through our old man, our old habits, our old desires.

Which one will win? The one we feed – not the one to whom we give offerings of food, but the one to whom we give our attention, our time, our treasure, our talent.

The sad fact is that some of us are rather half-hearted about Jesus, and we feed both the old and the new man. We want to feed the new man just enough to get into heaven, but keep feeding the old man in order to “gratify the desires of the flesh” – Romans 13:14b. But we cannot do both: there is no way to successfully mix the two.

Jesus tells us as much on multiple occasions:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” – Matthew 6:24

· “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” – Revelation 3:15-16

Remember Jesus’ words to His disciples when He had come down from the mount of Transfiguration and encountered a young boy with a demon? The disciples could not cast it out, and afterward they asked Jesus why they had failed.

So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, 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 nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” – Matthew 17:20-21

I don’t believe Jesus was saying, “you have no faith”, but rather, “you have some faith, but you need much more in order to cast out this powerful enemy; this is not a fig tree or even a mountain, but a live adversary”. Greater faith is required, and faith comes through the new man; doubt and fear come through the old man. Fasting closes down the food supply to the old man, and prayer enlarges the pipeline to the new man.

We are fond of quoting Ephesians 6:12, which tells us, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” If we quote it, we need to take it seriously.

If we are to take on the principalities and powers, the rulers of this dark age – and that is exactly what we are called to do – then let us be fully prepared. Jesus’ disciples couldn’t cast a lone demon out of a young boy without prayer and fasting … perhaps we should expect our battles to require a bit more ammunition than just a word or two spoken loudly.

Non nobis Domine+

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