21st Sunday after Pentecost
Sermon on the Gospel lesson from Luke 8:26-39
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Before we can have a relationship with a person, we need to react or respond to the them first. A lot of times, our first reaction to them can determine how the relationship might go.
For example, if I react negatively to a person I just met, especially if I do it to their face, then chances of us developing any sort of relationship are bleak. If I keep an open mind when meeting others, and if I give them, and myself, time to get to know them better, to see who they actually are, instead of coming to conclusions right away, then there is a chance for further relationship.
In other words, our first reaction is very important. In today’s Gospel lesson we heard four different reactions of people coming face to face with Christ. In all four cases we see how the initial reaction to Jesus either opened up the door for a relationship or shut it completely.
We see Christ arriving by boat to a country of the Gadarenes, which was a Gentile region, meaning there were no Jews there. Christ often took breaks from preaching and teaching and healing; even though, fully God, He was also fully human, so He needed to rest, to pray, and to regain His physical strength. Very likely He came to this country for this purpose.
As soon as He stepped out on land, He met a man of the city, who was possessed by demons, and who lived, basically, in the cemetery, in the tombs. Immediately, upon seeing Jesus the man reacted, or rather the demons in him reacted. They fell down to the ground before Him, called Jesus by His Name – the Son of the Most High God, and begged not to be tormented.
This is the first reaction of demons to Jesus Christ; and this is the only reaction they could have because the job of demons is to destroy and defile anything that is good, beautiful, pure, and godly. The mere presence of Christ tormented them.
It is also interesting that they were able to recognize in Jesus not just a great man, but the Son of God. In the Gospel accounts, we see only the righteous people, such as Saint Symeon, who received Him in the Temple, and prophetess Anna, who was also there, and demons recognize right away Jesus for Who He is – that is God.
All others are confused and scandalized by Him, even, in some cases, after the Resurrection. So if we are struggling to recognize Jesus, there’s still hope for us. All it means is that we are not yet holy enough, nor are we that evil.
As Christ was having a conversation with the possessed man and healing him and sending the demons into the pigs, the swineherds, who were supposed to be in charge of those pigs, saw everything. After seeing all the pigs run off the cliff and drown, the swineherds also ran, but to the city to tell everyone.
In it we see the second reaction to Christ. The swineherds very likely were shocked for having lost all the pigs, and having witnessed an apparent exorcism. But we never see them engage with Christ, they never approached Him – all they did was witness a miracle and tell others about it. They just remain in the background, hesitant to choose a side between awe and amazement or anger and rejection.
The people, who had come out to see what had happened, however, did choose a side and they had a very strong reaction. They were afraid. Fear is a natural reaction to something supernatural. In the book of Psalms, in the book of Proverbs, and in the book of Job we are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
The initial reaction of fear to Christ for these people was a great beginning. They were about to develop a relationship with Him, they were about to welcome God, they were about to grow in wisdom…but instead, they react very much like the demons.
The demons begged Jesus not to be sent to hell (how bad must hell be that even demons don’t want to go there?), but to be sent into the pigs. And the people begged Him to leave them alone. Very similar reactions, “Do not torment us, Jesus, Son of the Most High God!” and, “Go away, leave us alone.”
The demons had no chance at relationship with Jesus Christ because they stand against everything that He stands for. But the people had that chance and they wasted it. Notice that the Lord obeys the wishes of both the demons and the people – He sends the first into the pigs and leaves the second alone. Therefore, we must be careful what we ask God because He just might do what we asked.
And finally, the fourth reaction to Jesus Christ was from the man who was healed from being possessed by demons. As Jesus was getting into the boat to leave that country, without finding the much-needed rest, the man came up to Him and also begged Him. But he begged to be with Jesus.
His life was transformed, he was free from the awful demon-possession, from slavery, he was free to return to the society, but all he wanted was to be with Jesus, to become one of His disciples.
Here, however, Christ does not obey the wish of the man. Instead of taking him on as a disciple, Jesus sends him out as an apostle, “Return to your home, and proclaim what great things God has done for you.”
The Gospel that the apostles began to proclaim in the first century is still proclaimed today, and the message is exactly what the man was told to say, “Tell everyone what great things God has done for you.”
And what is that message? It is the message of liberation, of being set free from the slavery to the demons and their evil works. It is the message of being saved through the works Christ accomplished upon the Cross. It is the message of us becoming the sons and daughters of the Most High God. And as His sons daughters, it is the message of us inheriting His eternal Kingdom.
So, four reactions, four very different reactions to Christ, and only one real relationship developed. Only the man who was healed walked away from his interaction with Christ having now a relationship with God.
Why? Because he was the only one who did what Christ told him to do, the man followed the will of God. Even though, he had a request of his own, he wanted to do something different, he wanted to be with Christ; yet he followed a command of Christ to proclaim what great things Jesus had done for him.
That’s exactly what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.” Not my will be done, even if I am asking for things all the time, but Your will, O God. When we say “Thy will be done,” we are asking God that He does His will through us, and not the other way around, not our will through Him.
When the people of the country of Gadarenes woke up on that day, they probably did not expect to lose the full herd of swine and come face to face with God. But they did. Maybe we do not expect to come face to face with God every day we wake up and go about our business. But we do.
Every single day, we come face to face with God. We react and interact with the Lord. We do it in our prayers, or lack of them. Omitting to pray is a reaction to God, it’s not a very good one, but it is a reaction. Our interactions with other people – at home, on the streets, in the store, driving on the highway – are all opportunities to react and interact with God.
And our desire to see that our life, in whatever we do, is incomplete without Christ, like the man who was healed realized, is our reaction to Christ.
Our relationship with the Lord depends on how we react to Him. It’s not about how He reacts to us because we already know how He reacts – He reacts with love and patience; He reacts by dying for us; God is literally dying to have a relationship with us.
How do we react? Today, right now, having gathered together, sitting in this church, in these pews – how do we react to Him? What kind of a relationship do we want to have with Him? From now till the end of the Liturgy, we will have multiple opportunities to react to Jesus.
May we beg Jesus that we might be with Him, like the man who was healed begged Him. And may His will be done through us, just like we ask Him every time in the Lord’s Prayer.
To Christ, Who desires to have an eternal relationship with us, we give glory, honor, and thanksgiving, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
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