Truth in Action
1. And when He had come down from the mountain, many crowds followed Him.
2. And behold, there came a leper [and] worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if Thou willest, Thou canst make me clean.”
3. And stretching forth [His] hand, Jesus touched him, saying, “I am willing; be thou cleansed.” And straightway his leprosy was cleansed.
4. And Jesus says to him, “See thou tell no one; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses directed, for a testimony to them.”
5. And when Jesus had entered into Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him,
6. And saying, “Lord, my boy is cast down in the house, sick of the palsy, frightfully tormented.”
7. And Jesus says to him, “I will come and cure him.”
8. And the centurion answering declared, “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come in under my roof, but only say the word, and my boy shall be healed.
9. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under myself; and I say to this [man], ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does [it].”
10. And when Jesus heard, He marveled, and said to those that followed, “Amen I say to you, I have not found so great a faith, no, not in Israel.
11. And I say to you that many shall come from the east and west, and shall recline with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens.
12. And the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13. And Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, be it done to thee.” And his boy was healed in the same hour.
14. And Jesus, coming into the house of Peter, saw his mother-in-law cast down and with a fever.
15. And He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose, and ministered to them.
16. And when the evening was come, they brought to Him many that were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and He cured all that had an illness,
17. That it might be fulfilled what was declared by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “He took our weaknesses, and bore [our] diseases.”
18. And Jesus, seeing many crowds around Him, gave orders to depart to the other side.
19. And one of the scribes coming said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow Thee wherever Thou goest.”
20. And Jesus says unto him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven [have] nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to recline the head.”
21. And another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”
22. But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and leave the dead to bury their dead.”
On the mountain, Jesus is the Divine truth-giver. In the next episode, however, and throughout the next series of events, He lives the very truth which He has been teaching. The Divine Preacher becomes the Divine Healer. Therefore we read, “When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him, and behold, a leper came and worshiped Him saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed’” (8:1-3).
The leper who comes to Jesus, calling Him “Lord” and worshipping Him, represents that part of us that desires to have a religious life that is deeply spiritual, and alive. We recognize that false principles have harmed us, and that we have twisted the truth to defend our selfish interests and self-centered ambitions. Like the leper who comes to Jesus, we too come before God with an earnest desire for real religion, not just devotional ceremonies, pious practices, and pseudo-teachings that justify self-absorption. We want the truth; we want to be healed.
Understanding this basic human need for genuine truth and authentic religious experience, Jesus’ puts forth His hand and touches the leper, healing him instantly. Jesus’ compassionate gesture represents the cleansing effect of truth in each of our lives. 1
So begins a series of divine healings. After completing the healing of the leper, Jesus is approached by a Roman centurion. Like the leper in the preceding episode, the centurion also addresses Him as “Lord”: “Lord,” he says, “my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented” (8:6).
All diseases and sickness in the Word have their spiritual counterpart. Because leprosy is a disease which attacks the skin, and is sometimes relatively light, it represents a relatively external state of spiritual decay — a state brought on by the falsification of truth. But paralysis represents a much deeper and more dangerous spiritual condition. That’s because paralysis attacks the muscles, representing a state of internal paralysis. It is a state in which we may know the truth well, but cannot get ourselves to do it. In states of “spiritual paralysis” we may indeed acknowledge that God is the source of all life. We may know the truth (our “skin” is healthy) but we lack the ability to get the limbs of our body moving in agreement with our beliefs. In such states we need to call upon God to heal us of our paralysis — to get us moving.
The centurion’s request is an acknowledgment of Jesus’ power. It is to admit that every least movement of our body, from the flexing of our biceps to the blink of an eye, has its origin in God. Without His Divine Power, which sustains us at every moment, we are as helpless as a paralytic. But when we acknowledge the fundamental truth that all power to do good is from God alone, and ask God to grant us His power, we are immediately healed. Therefore we read, “And his servant was healed that same hour” (8:13).
As the series of miraculous healings continues, we come to a third healing. Jesus enters Peter’s house and sees Peter’s mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. In comparison with the relatively external skin disease of the leper, and the more internal sickness called paralysis, the “fever” which is here mentioned represents a much deeper and more serious spiritual condition. Throughout the Word, burning, raging fevers are associated with the heat of hell — the intense, burning desire to do as we wish, without regard for God or the neighbor. 2
But as soon as Jesus touches the woman, she is healed. Not only is she healed, but she also does something that is not mentioned in the first two healings. We read, “Then she arose and served them” (8:15).
This third healing teaches the purpose of Jesus’ healing work, and is therefore the most significant in the series. Not only is it the deepest form of healing so far — the healing of our inmost drives, ambitions, and loves — but it also demonstrates what happens to us when there is a healing at this level. We desire to serve others. “Then she arose and served.” God heals us not just for our own salvation, but also so that we may serve others as well. 3
When these healings become known, great multitudes begin to follow Jesus. They are excited about His miraculous healings, and interested in the extraordinary nature of His work. Jesus knows, however, that fascination with miracles is short-lived and relatively external. More important is the truth He has come to teach — every external miracle is an example of a more internal truth. Therefore, He says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (8:20). The term “Son of Man” refers to the divine truth that He has come to teach — truth that He knows will be difficult for people to receive. He is aware that it is easy to praise Him for His miraculous abilities, but when it comes to the more important task of understanding and receiving the truth, there is little interest. Therefore, this truth, which He calls “the Son of Man,” finds nowhere to lay its head. 4
This becomes evident in the next episode when one of the disciples says to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (8:21). This is a seemingly mild and understandable request, but when seen more deeply it represents the desire to return to former states of self-love. In this case, the phrase “my father” represents the very worst of our hereditary inclinations to evil. 5
Using this as an opportunity to teach a more interior lesson, Jesus says to His disciple, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury the dead.”
Sometimes, if we are following someone in a crowd, taking a moment to “look back” can cause us to lose sight of the person we are following; as a result, we might easily lose that person in the crowd. Similarly, once we embark on the journey of regeneration, there is no looking back. There is only one direction — to follow wherever the Lord leads. Any attempt to turn back to former states, any desire to look back with affection to the way we were, is a sign that we are not yet disciples. It is an indication that, in our hearts, we have not yet truly received the Lord. Instead, we prefer to cling to old habits, attitudes, desires, and selfish ways of thinking — represented here by the desire to give “our father” a decent burial. “Let me first go and bury my father,” we say. Whenever this is the case with us, “the Son of Man” — the truth that Jesus teaches — has not been fully received; it has no place to lay its head.
In sacred scripture, the term “Father” when associated with God refers to the divine love which comes to us from God; it is compared to the love of a parent for a child. However, the term “father” can also have an opposite meaning. It can refer to our lower nature — the hereditary evils that are passed on from generation to generation. Therefore, Jesus says, “Follow Me.” It is an exhortation to rise above our lower nature (or “father”) and begin a new life. It is an invitation to commit our lives fully to following Jesus.
If we are to truly follow God, there must be no reversion to former states, no backsliding, no clinging to the past, no looking behind. In comparison with the new life we are about to begin, the past is gone; the false ideas we cherished, and the selfish delights we enjoyed are behind us now. And there is no need to give them a “decent burial.” As Jesus says, it’s time to follow Him and “let the dead bury the dead.”
Calming the Sea
23. And when He had stepped into a ship, His disciples followed Him.
24. And behold, there came to pass a great quaking in the sea, so that the ship was covered by the waves; but He was sleeping.
25. And His disciples coming, caused Him to arise, saying, “Lord, save us, we are perishing.”
26. And He says unto them, “Why are you frightened, [O you] of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
27. And the men marveled, saying, “What manner [of Man] is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him!”
The preceding episode ending with one of the disciples asking Jesus if he could go bury his father. But Jesus said, “Follow Me.” Apparently, Jesus’ advice was taken to heart because the very next verse begins with the words, “And when He [Jesus] entered a ship, His disciples followed Him” (8:23). As we shall see, the refrain, “Follow Me,” will be a consistent one throughout the gospels.
This time they are following Jesus to the seashore where Jesus takes them aboard a ship. In the language of sacred scripture, the words “boat” and “ship” symbolize our understanding of truth. Just as boats and ships carry us through the currents of life, our understanding of truth carries us along on our spiritual journey. In the world of commerce, ships and boats often contain valuable riches; similarly, the Word contains the treasures of spiritual wisdom — treasures that are so necessary on our voyage through life. 6
For the most part, as long as everything is going fine in our lives, and there are no serious storms, we are content with our understanding of truth. This is our boat, and as long as the sea is calm, we have no problems. Our voyage is smooth and pleasant.
But when the circumstances of life get rough and we are assaulted by the storms of life, when the waters rise, and the winds blow fiercely, our trust in the truth we have received begins to waver. Our “boat” begins to rock uncomfortably, and we begin to have doubts. During these times of emotional turbulence it seems as though God is unaware of our situation. And although He is very much with us — even in our boat — it seems as though He does not care about what is happening. In fact, it seems as though He is sleeping! 7
Meanwhile our boat (our belief system) seems to be covered with waves. Terrified, we wake Jesus, who appears to be asleep in the boat, and we cry out, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (8:25). As our boat continues to be lashed by the storm, it seems as though the truth that He has given us, and in which we have believed, is of no avail. Our boat seems to be sinking. But Jesus remains calm, even in the midst of the storm, saying, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” (8:26).
Like the disciples who fear that their boat is sinking, there are times when we do not believe that divine truth can bear us through the storms of adversity. And yet the Lord is within the truth He has given us — even when we do not see immediate results. “I prayed,” we say, “but nothing happened,” “I treated my friend with every kindness, but he still cheated me,” “I have always been a good person, but this terrible thing happened to me anyway.” “Where was God when I needed Him most?” “Was He asleep?”
We know that God does not sleep: “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). Those who live according to what doctrine teaches and trust in divine truth, know that God is never asleep. He is continually awake and alert, the center of their faith, commanding the winds and the sea to be still. And so we read that “Jesus arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (8:26).
A belief system which places a proper understanding of God at its center cannot be shaken, and cannot sink, no matter what arises in our daily lives. But a faulty belief system — a belief system with “holes” in it — is not a reliable boat to convey us through difficult times. That is why the very first and inmost aspect of any belief system is a right idea of God. 8
A “right idea of God” includes the idea that God is omnipotent — that He has all power. In other words, there is a force in the universe that is greater than ourselves, greater than nature, greater than anything. Indeed, this force is rightly called our “Higher Power.” As human beings, each of us derives from God’s omnipotence the power to combat the evil and falsity that invade our lives — sometimes pouring in like waves crashing against a boat. It must be emphasized, however, that we need to have absolute trust in God’s power — the power of His truth to spiritually protect us at all times. Without this complete faith, we are like little rowboats that are pounded by the tempestuous waves of life. 9
In the miraculous calming of the storm, Jesus reveals His Divine Omnipotence. He has already demonstrated His power over the human body, healing leprosy, paralysis and fever. He now demonstrates His power over the forces of nature, calming the wind and the waves. The story powerfully illustrates the way in which God calms emotional turbulence in each of us, bringing about a sense of inner peace, stilling our minds and calming our spirits. We are reminded of what God said, in the psalms, through David: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
When Jesus concluded His Sermon on the Mount, the crowd marveled, asking “Who is this man who speaks with such authority?” This time it is the disciples turn to marvel and wonder who Jesus is. For they said to each other, “What manner of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” The question of Jesus’ identity is becoming increasingly significant.
Casting out Demons
28. And when He had come to the other side of the country of the Gergesenes, two met Him who were demon-possessed, coming out of the sepulchers, exceedingly fierce, so that no one was able to pass through that way.
29. And behold, they cried out, saying, “What [is there] to us and to Thee, Jesus, Son of God? Art Thou come hither before the time to torment us?”
30. And there was, a distance from them, a herd of many swine feeding.
31. And the demons implored Him, saying, “If Thou cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.”
32. And He said to them, “Go.” And when they came out, they went away into the herd of swine; and behold, all the herd of swine rushed down a cliff into the sea, and died in the waters.
33. And they that fed them fled, and went away into the city, and reported all [things], and the [matter] of the demon-possessed.
34. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and seeing Him, they implored [Him] that He would pass on away from their borders.
When Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Mount, the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes. But it was clear that His ministry was not just about teaching. He also came to heal. In the healing of the leper, the paralytic, and the woman with a fever, Jesus displayed His power to cure illness. But in the calming of the sea, He displayed another kind of power — the power to control the wind and the waves. So far, all of these miracles show that Jesus has power in the natural world.
In the very next episode, however, Jesus meets two demon-possessed men. This time He will demonstrate that His omnipotence extends beyond the natural world. He will show that He has power in the spiritual world as well.
The episode begins in the country of the Gadarenes where Jesus is met by two demon-possessed men. The men do not speak to Jesus directly, but rather the demons within them do, saying, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine” (8:31). Jesus responds with one word — a simple command: “Go” (8:32). Immediately, upon hearing Jesus’ command, the demons come out of the men and enter a group of pigs. The pigs, now possessed by insane spirits, race down a steep hill, and plunge into the sea where they perish in the waters.
In the Word, every literal story contains a spiritual lesson. In this case, the casting out of the swine from the demon-possessed man pictures the way God casts filthy thoughts and impure feelings out of our minds, delivers us from evil, and restores us to sanity. Those thoughts and desires are driven out of our present awareness, tossed down a steep hill, and plunged into the depths of the sea — far removed from our consciousness.
Miraculous healings display one level of Jesus’ power. Calming the wind and the sea display another. The people are amazed, and they follow Him, wondering what manner of man He is (8:27). But in this next episode, when He exhibits His power over evil spirits, the reaction of the people is different. They are bewildered and frightened. They do not know what to make of this man. To make matters worse, they are greatly disturbed by the loss of their swine. Therefore they beg Him “to depart from their region” (8:34).
As long as we cherish filthy thoughts and greedy inclinations, so obviously depicted here by the swine, we wish God to be elsewhere; we beg Him to “depart.” Like the Gadarenes, we might not be proud of our secret sins and swinish desires, but we are often reluctant to give them up. Similarly, the Gadarenes didn’t appreciate it when Jesus drove away their herd of swine. And so, “They implored Him to travel out of their borders” (8:34). 10
They preferred to keep their pigs.
1. Apocalypse Explained 600:19: “Because a ‘leper’ signifies good consumed by falsities, the way in which such an evil is to be cured by Divine means is described by the process of the cleansing of the leper, understood in the spiritual sense.” See also Apocalypse Explained 962:10: “As ‘leprosy’ signifies the profanation of truth, and the profanation of truth is various, it can be light or grievous, interior or exterior. Because the leprous condition is according to the quality of the truth profaned, its effects are various.” In this case, because the leper was willing to worship Jesus and be cured by Him, it can be assumed that this was a “lighter,” more exterior case — only “skin deep.”
2. Arcana Coelestia 5715: “There once appeared a great quadrangular opening that extended obliquely downward to a considerable depth. In the deep was seen a round opening, which was then open but presently was closed. From it exhaled a dangerous heat, collected from various hells, and arising from burning lusts of various kinds, as from arrogance, lewdness, adultery, hatred, revenge, quarrels, and fights, from which arise in the hells such heat as exhaled. When it acted upon my body it instantly brought on disease like that of a burning fever.”
3. True Christian Religion 406: “A person is not born for his own sake, but for the sake of others; that is, so that he should not live for himself alone, but for others.”
4. Apocalypse Explained 63: “The statement ‘The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’ means that Divine truth had no place anywhere, that is, with any person at that time.”
5. Arcana Coelestia 313: Everyone who commits actual sin thereby induces on himself a nature, and the evil from it is implanted in his children and becomes hereditary. It thus descends from every parent, from the father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and their ancestors in succession, and is thus multiplied and augmented in each descending posterity, remaining with each person, and being increased in each by his actual sins, and never being dissipated so as to become harmless except in those who are being regenerated by the Lord.” See also HD 83: “All people are born into evils of every kind, insomuch that their proprium is nothing but evil. Therefore, people are to be born again, that is, regenerated, in order that they may receive a new life from the Lord…. Every person’s interior evils are from the father, and the exterior from the mother.”
6. Apocalypse Explained 514: “In the Word, ‘ships’ signify the knowledge of truth and good. This is because ships carry riches over the sea for traffic, and ‘riches’ signify in the Word the knowledge of truth and good, which also are doctrinal teachings. In a stricter sense, because ships are containing vessels, they signify the Word and doctrine from the Word, because the Word and doctrine therefrom contain the knowledge of truth and good, as ships contain riches.”
7. Apocalypse Explained 514:22: “When people are in what is natural and not yet in what is spiritual, desires arising from the loves of self and the world, rise up and produce various commotions of the mind. In this state the Lord appears as it were absent; this apparent absence is signified by His being asleep; but when they come out of a natural into a spiritual state, these commotions cease, and there comes tranquility of mind. This is because the Lord calms the tempestuous commotions of the natural mind when the spiritual mind is opened, and through it [the spiritual mind] the Lord flows in.”
8. Divine Love and Wisdom 13: “The idea of God forms the inmost element of thought in all who have any religion, for all constituents of religion and all constituents of worship relate to God.” See also True Christian Religion 163: “A right idea of God in the church is like the sanctuary and altar in a temple, or like the crown upon the head and the scepter in the hand of a king on his throne; for on a right idea of God the whole body of theology hangs, like a chain on its first link.”
9. True Christian Religion 68: “Unless a person acknowledges God, His omnipotence and the protection this gives him against hell, and unless he on his part also fights against the evil in himself . . . he must inevitably be plunged into and drowned in hell, and there buffeted by evils, one after the other, like a rowing-boat by squalls at sea.”
10. Arcana Coelestia 1742:2: The life that evil spirits have and love desperately is the life belonging to the desires that derive from self-love and love of the world; consequently, they love the life that goes with hatred, revenge, and cruelty; and they imagine that no delight can exist in any other kind of life…. The same applies to the devils who, having been cast out of the demoniac by the Lord, begged for fear of their lives to be sent into the pigs. That these were people who during their lifetime had surrendered themselves to foul avarice becomes clear from the fact that such people seem to themselves in the next life to spend their time among pigs. They do so because the life of pigs corresponds to avarice, and therefore they find it delightful.”