21st Sunday after Pentecost 2019
In today’s Holy Gospel our Lord Jesus Christ and his disciples sailed to the country of the Gadarenes on the opposite shore from Galilee. When our Lord entered into this land, He came upon a man who was demon possessed – who went about naked among the tombs. This man was so fierce and so feared that he was kept in chains and shackles, bonds which he often broke through in his ferocity and demonically fueled strength. As soon as our Lord came near, the man possessed by the demons cried out, ‘What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!’ Christ confronted the demons possessing the man and asked: ‘What is your name?’ The demons replied, ‘Legion’, for there were many demons possessing the man.
This legion of demons possessing the man could not bear the authority and light of our Lord and at His command they were forced to flee into a herd of pigs, which then went crashing headlong off the cliffs and into the water.
The herdsmen fled and told all of these things to the people of the city and when they came, they found the man who had been possessed clothed, and in his right mind, and sitting at the feet of Jesus. And it is interesting to note that the people, upon seeing this, were afraid and asked our Lord to leave their country. They were more concerned with the loss of their swine than they were with the restoration of a man.
Commenting on this Gospel scene, Metropolitan Anthony of Sorouzh noted: ‘Here is the Savior Jesus Christ is God Who became man. He is the Word of God Who created the universe; He rules the whole world by His wisdom. And suddenly here, as in a whole series of other occurrences, He forgets about everything, it seems, because in front of Him is a specific need, one specific suffering person: this is enough for Him to turn all His divine and human attention to that person. This is a remarkable trait in Christ; this is a remarkable trait in God. We often think that there are great and worthwhile things, and things that are small and hardly worth our attention. But it is not so with God. There is no suffering, no pain, no need, no joy that God cannot relate to completely, with all His Being, and sometimes introduce a new element into a hopeless situation — open, as it were, a door, which makes a way out of this situation where there was no way out before. And here Christ, God of the universe, as if forgetting everything in the world, focuses all His attention on this man, because this man is suffering, because he needs help, because he is in grief.’
With God, everything is personal. God is concerned with each individual person. We must remember this both as a source of encouragement and consolation regarding God’s tender care for us, and also as an example and an inspiration regarding how we should attend to the individual right in front of us.
The demons possessing the poor man in today’s Gospel were legion… innumerable. The influence of the demons upon this man was dramatic but let us not fail to see ourselves in this Gospel scene. Demonic possession does occur, but we are most often confronted in our lives with demonic harassment and provocation. And it frequently the case that these demonic harassments and provocations can come from a legion of demons.
We must never rest on our laurels thinking that our sins and our passions are just ‘little ones’. Remember the story of Gulliver’s Travels… Gulliver was shipwrecked and washed ashore upon the island of Lilliput, populated by people who were no bigger than mice. The Lilliputians found this giant of a man upon their shore and, in their fear, decided to tie him down. But how could they tie such a large man down? Their rope was like the thinnest string in his presence. But string by string they began to secure him and after many hundreds, maybe thousands of strings were secured, they had him held fast. Though each string was little and seemingly insignificant, when a legion of strings were used, Gulliver was held fixed to the earth.
It is the same with us and all of our little sins. Perhaps each one may seem insignificant to us… just a little white lie, just a little gossip, just a peek at something inappropriate on the computer, just an honest assessment of someone else’s shortcomings. But all of these little provocations will add up and bind us to the earth. The greatest saints frequently called themselves the greatest of sinners. This was not a disingenuous humility… this was an appraisal of the many little passions and sins which they had the wisdom and the vision to see within themselves.
Christ sees our sufferings. He sees the legion of demons which may not have gone so far as to possess us, but certainly harass and provoke us. If we would have the humility and the self-awareness to truly see our sins and could then cry out: ‘Lord save me!’ Christ can disperse the demonic hordes and restore us to health and sanity.
This image of the formerly possessed man – clothed, in his right mind, and sitting at the feet of Jesus – is a beautiful picture, and one that we should aspire toward.
One who is spiritually clothed is one who has retained or who has renewed the white garment of baptism. That renewal of our baptismal garment comes from the repentance of a contrite heart. Let us pray that God will create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. That clean heart and right spirit restores to us a right mind, restores us to spiritual health and well-being. And from that peace of well-being, we may then go about our lives while we spiritually sit at the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ.
May God grant us such health and sanity!