Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
In the Gospel reading for today we hear the account of the Lord’s coming into the country of the Gergesenes and His encounter with the two men possessed by devils. These men lived among the tombs and, as the Gospel puts it, they were ‘exceedingly fierce’ such that no-one could pass by that way. The demons inhabiting these poor souls knew our Lord immediately and cried out to Him: ‘What have we to do with Thee, Thou Son of God? Art Thou come here to torment us?’ The demons knew Who they were dealing with and they knew they had no power over such a One as Jesus. So they beseeched Him, asking if He were to cast them out of these men, could they be allowed to enter into the herd of swine. With one word, ‘Go’, our Lord commanded it and the demons left the men and entered the swine and the entire herd of swine went mad and ran violently off the cliffs and into the sea where they drowned.
This Gospel passage is a vivid scene demonstrating the realities of the spiritual world and the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. But perhaps what is most astounding and provocative from this morning’s Gospel is the reaction of the local people to these miraculous acts… they begged Jesus to go away and leave them alone.
Though it was against the observances of their faith, raising and selling swine was incredibly lucrative… bringing in a healthy income to these people. While we might have expected that the townspeople would have exalted Jesus Christ as a hero for freeing them from the torments of the demons, instead they were upset that He had interfered in their affairs, their worldly ambitions and disobediences… and they told Jesus to go away from them, to depart from their coasts.
How could these people be so blind… so selfish? Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, do we react the same way when the Lord comes to us? Perhaps we cry out to Him to save us from the troubles and the sorrows of this life, but when He comes, and the danger has passed, and our conscience stirs and rebukes us for our many disobediences to God, for our selfish pursuits... do we dare to say to our God, ‘Go away… depart from me’? Sadly, it is all too often the case that we want God near, but maybe not too near in our lives.
Fr Seraphim Rose of blessed memory, upon encountering the revelation of God as a Person, said: ‘The problem of realizing that God is a Person, is that He might demand something of you.’
As long as God remains simply a pious concept in our lives, as long as our Christianity is merely a spiritual adornment to inspire us toward being a better person, as long as God is simply our co-pilot and we retain control of the wheel… in all these things we keep God at a controlled distance in our lives. When we have need of Him, we call upon Him, but for the rest of the time, we might as well be saying ‘Go away… depart from me.’
And God, in His love, will stand back… If we insist on our own way, He will allow it. Love cannot be forced… it is patient and kind and endures all things - even crucifixion for a world that looks the other way…
Ultimately, we will either say to God: ‘Thy will be done’, or, God will sorrowfully consent to say to us: ‘thy will be done’.
What prevents us from saying ‘Thy will be done’? I think many of us may hesitate in an echo from The Confessions of St Augustine - where he was being drawn to the Christian faith, recognizing the Truth of Christ and being pulled toward it. Yet he states: ‘Grant me chastity, O Lord… but not yet!’ In other words, grant me salvation, O Lord, but please don’t inconvenience me or get in the way of all my plans and my passions!
I think this is our biggest fear... that, as Fr Seraphim pinpointed, God will demand something of us. We want all the benefits and reassurances of a life with God. We desire His blessings. We enjoy the inspiration and hope that He provides. We turn to Him in our times of sorrow and sufferings, and we yearn for His comfort and consolation.
And yet, how often, when we are too busy, too preoccupied with ourselves, too immersed in the illusions of our control of our own destiny, too wrapped up in our passions… how often then do we treat God like the Gergesenes saying: ‘Go away, depart from me.’
Dear brothers and sisters, we really cannot have it both ways. We cannot be ‘fair-weather friends’ of God – only turning to Him when it is convenient or necessary for us. God is not the object of our piety… He is a Person. He is THE Person from Whom all blessings and goodness flows. He is our life and our hope.
Let us then be attentive to Him. Let us be forever grateful to Him. Christ stands at the door of our heart and knocks daily, hourly, at each and every moment. May God forbid that we would ever say: ‘Depart from me!’ God give us the wisdom to understand that He knows what is best for us and for our salvation. Let us trust in Him and always have a welcoming heart for Him which cries out: ‘Come closer to me Lord Jesus, never leave me! I am yours!’