Sunday sermon on the most frequent Sunday Gospel lesson Luke 8:26-39
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
If you’ve paid attention throughout our liturgical year, there is one Sunday Gospel lesson that is read more than any other – that’s the Gospel we heard today; the Gospel about a demon-possessed man who lived in the tombs and about the pigs that drowned in the lake.
We hear this story on up to three Sundays a year (depending on how early or how late is the Pascha). So, out of 52 Sundays in a year, we get three Sundays dedicated to this story. There are memes made (as the kids on the internets say these days) every time this reading comes up. People joke about the “deviled ham” or all the bacon that Jesus is willing to sacrifice for us.
But what’s so special about it? Why this story, out of so many others in the New Testament?
The answer is kind of simple – the healing of the demon-possessed man and different reactions to this healing encapsulates the story of our salvation – the state of humanity before the incarnation of the Son of God, what He did to us, and the proper and improper ways of reacting to what He did.
The story begins with Jesus arriving at the country of the Gadarenes. This was the land of the Gentiles, meaning they were pagans, they did not worship the One True God. We can see this by the fact that they herded swine, something that the Jews wouldn’t do.
At the time of the incarnation of the Son of God, when God became man, what God found was humanity that in general (even among the God-chosen people of Israel) forgot how to worship God. Many gods were worshiped, along with the One True God; something that God does not really appreciate, since He is our Creator and the Giver of Life.
As soon as Jesus arrived into the country of the Gadarenes, a demon-possessed man came out to meet Him. We are told that he was possessed for a very long time. Demon possession that we read about in the Bible is nothing like what we see in the movies. Demons don’t just possess people because they want to; they need our consent. And even before any possession happens, a person needs to open himself to it and be going down the wrong path for some time. And the wrong path is the one away from God, away from proper worship, away from His love and mercy.
There are really only two ways. Sometimes we try to convince ourselves and lie, sometimes we listen to the lies of others who tell us that there are numerous paths in our life. But there are only two – towards God and away from Him. A path of life and a path of death.
Humanity was on the path of death for a very long time. And one of the main characteristics of death was slavery to the devil, who was the ruler of the dead. So Christ became man at the time when humanity was tumbling and rumbling in a very wrong direction, when we were completely enslaved by the demons.
Christ met the possessed man, who was naked and living in the tombs. Another detail that might evade us today, since our cemeteries usually are the nicest places in a town. In the ancient times, the tombs were outside the city, outside the ordered civilization, if you will. This was done to avoid contamination from the dead and decaying bodies. They didn’t have caskets with vaults that could be fully sealed.
So living in the tombs meant that the man lived in the wilderness, in the place of wild beasts and chaos. And that’s a perfect illustration of a godless life – wilderness and chaos.
As soon as the man saw Jesus, the demons inside him recognized the Lord of all, and cried out in agony. Being in the presence of holiness, in the presence of God Himself is not a pleasant thing. Jesus did not torment the demons on purpose, all He did was ask them (politely) to leave the man alone.
In the four Gospel accounts that we have, we see Christ ministering to people, healing them of demon possession almost every time He heals someone. He encountered us in a very depraved state, out of which we could not get ourselves out. We needed help, we needed a saving hand, we needed Divine intervention.
When the demons realized that their end was near, they tried to bargain with the Lord. Instead of being thrown into the abyss, a place of the eternal torment, they asked Him to let them go into the pigs. This is a very important detail here. The demons could not possess even the pigs, and after entering them, they all rushed down the cliff in madness of the possession and drowned. In order to possess someone, they need consent, and dumb animals are unable to give consent. Humans can, and when humans mess around with darkness, they get possessed.
When the herdsmen saw what had happened to their pigs, they ran into the town to tell everyone. In a way, they became the first preachers of the Gospel, of Christ’s victory over the demons. When the people came out, they were more upset at the lost business, than delighted about being liberated from the slavery to the demons.
And the healed man? He wanted to become one of the disciples. Instead, Jesus made him one of the apostles. The word “apostle” means “to be sent.” Christ sent him to his home to “proclaim what great things God [had] done for [him].” And a home was not just a place where his wife and kids lived. A home was where they lived, along with his parents, her parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, the whole deal.
So he preached, basically, to a small village. And we can imagine they all in turn preached to others. And that’s how the Gospel was spread.
On the other hand, most of the people of that country asked Jesus to just leave them alone. And this foreshadowed the reaction of a lot of people, even to our day, to Christ. He healed us from possession, from slavery; He died for our sins on the Cross, washing away our transgression by His blood; He made us one with God again…and yet, “leave us alone, and stop trying to ruin our lives by making us better, by giving us purpose.”
So this story, that we hear up to three Sundays a year, is a summary of our salvation. We are saved, we are already healed from demon possession, but this does not mean that we don’t sell ourselves back into slavery. Sometimes stable misery is better than unfamiliar freedom. That’s the only reason I can come up with why people, even and especially Christians, reject the gift of salvation.
And when we accept this gift, then we are the apostles, we are the ones sent to our homes to proclaim what great things God has done for us.
So we are again left with two paths: slavery or being apostles; possession or preaching.
Choose wisely. There is no third path.
To our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has healed us and saved us and liberated us and brought us back into communion with the One True God, we give all glory, honor, and worship, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.