A true Halloween story.
Homily 379 – 19th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 27, 2019
Epistle: (194) 2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9
Gospel: (38) Luke 8:26-39
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
This account of the demon-possessed man from the Gospel is certainly a challenging one. Sometimes I think because the man was delivered, we don’t think about the remainder of the account. The story is scary on a few levels, and as long as “all’s well that ends well,” we can skip over the troubling parts.
Or, we might dismiss it as a Halloween tale designed to entertain us with a jolt of fear, but with a good ending.
I think we take that approach with some risk of peril.
It is perhaps worth a look, though, a bit deeper, as to why this demon-possessed man might have acquired such problems.
There are some who would equate the man’s demon possession with mental illness. Certainly that could be the case – but we don’t know the causes and sources of many mental illnesses.
Some would take the opinion that the individual made poor choices.
But the account we’re given provides a voice – and a name – to the beings that possessed the man. After the man was delivered, he was reported to be unchained, clothed, sitting calmly at the feet of Christ.
Often, it is helpful to understand how the readings are used liturgically. In this instance, there is a reference to this event in the precursor services to Holy Baptism.
During the enrollment into the catechumenate, we begin with exorcising demons. To our modern sensibilities, it seems somehow “quaint.” Perhaps.
But like most things in life, we might need to recognize that we may not have a complete picture when it comes to the world of the unseen – be that angelic or demonic.
In the prayer, we command Satan to leave. In no uncertain terms. The prayer says:
Therefore I charge you, most crafty, impure, vile, loathsome and alien spirit, by the power of Jesus Christ, Who has all power, both in heaven and on earth, Who said to the deaf and dumb demon, “Come out of the man, and do not enter a second time into him:” Depart! Acknowledge the vanity of your might, which does not even have power over swine. Remember Him Who, at your request, commanded you to enter into the herd of swine.
So, this very account is remembered each and every time a person is received into the faith and life of the Church.
That has implications. For all of us.
What it means is that each of us has something in common with the Gadarene man. We are also delivered from demonic possession.
Now, we might not manifest the possession by living chained and naked in a cemetery. That is not an everyday sight, for sure. But we have our demons.
In looking at the demon-possessed man, we need to see not him, but ourselves. What he represents for us is the fallen part of our nature – a human nature that we all share.
When we look at others, we are reminded of our own struggles in our attempt to be human. Even the great people of our Church, and of our faith. Everyone struggles.
St. Paul understood this – what he describes in the Epistle passage we read today is that he was given a demon – a messenger of Satan – to keep his ego in check.
Like us, St. Paul begged God to take the affliction away. But God said no.
God likes to be manifest in us – His creation. These struggles we have are there so that we cannot take credit for the good things we do – because it isn’t us doing them, but God working through us.
Thus, St. Paul is able to say, “And so, it is with joy that I would rather find glory in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.
That’s a powerful counter-cultural statement. And the antithesis of what our society would have us believe.
What St. Paul understands is that the weaknesses bring us the presence of God – Christ, our Lord. And that is cause for rejoicing!
So when something worthwhile is accomplished through us, we can with confidence give thanks to God for His blessing and know that He is with us. Christ will deliver us, just as He delivered this demon-possessed man.
Here is the tell-tale statement in the Gospel – the demons could not stand to be in the presence of Christ. They would rather be cast out into a herd of swine that be in the presence of Christ.
The implication of that is that since Christ is present in our weaknesses – the areas that we cannot accomplish through our own strength or initiative – that very presence delivers us from the demons that torture us.
Like the Gadarene man, we can then be certain that we are delivered.
Finally – the Gadarene man wanted to be with Christ. That seems a natural response to the one who delivers us, who heals us. But Christ said no.
Unlike most of the accounts in the Gospel, where the one delivered was told to keep it quiet, or to offer the offering for deliverance described in the Torah, this man was told to return to his home, and tell everyone – proclaim – what God had done.
Like the man, we also are asked to tell everyone what God has done for us. The difference is that we get to remain in Christ’s presence – we receive the best of both.
The joy of Christ’s presence – and the joy of proclaiming Him to the struggling humans around us.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!