Homily 420 – 5th Sunday APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
July 12, 2020
Epistle: (103) – Romans 10:1-10
Gospel: (28) – Matthew 8:28-9:1
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
In chewing on the Gospel passage from today, there is one aspect that is seen that is maybe unexpected.
We see the mercy Christ shows to those possessed. Without question, in His mercy, Christ delivers the possessed from their bondage.
Look also, though, at the demons. They were cast out but made a request of Christ before leaving.
It is difficult to understand the significance of the request by the demons. Yet Christ allows it. The demons enter the herd of swine and the rest, as they say, is history.
St. Theophylact in his commentary on the reading says that the actions of the demons show how truly evil the demons are. How that they would do the same to us as they did to the swine if they were allowed to do so.
So, Christ, in His mercy toward the demons, also reveals His mercy to us. The demons that afflict us and torment us are restrained. They are constrained. They are not allowed to destroy us.
They are, for us, quite necessary for our salvation. If we have no torment, no demons, nothing to work against, our spiritual muscles atrophy and become useless.
Plus, not to mention, what would our excuse for disobedience be then? Adam and Eve did not suffer torment or pain before the fall of humanity. They were deceived and beguiled to be sure, but they were not harmed.
They had no one to blame but themselves.
So we can use the things that torment us to overcome our passions. We can exercise with the weight of our sins, continually practicing repentance, refocusing our efforts away from ourselves, and reorienting ourselves to Christ.
Those familiar with physics will understand that without resistance – friction – we will simply go the direction we point ourselves. We will be unable to change direction. Unable to repent.
Perhaps this is why the demons don’t repent.
Even here, in this account, they recognize that the Christ, the Son of God, is fully in control. They were afraid that Christ would send them to their destruction “before the time”.
That is, now and not the end of time.
And yet, they are longing not for repentance, but to continue in the direction in which they are currently headed. Self-centered, only concerned with their own well-being.
And the humans – the people of the city – when they saw what happened to the swine, they wanted no part of Christ. They pleaded with Him to just leave. Go away. We don’t want to change.
We are like the swine we keep. We enjoy being unclean, independent.
From this, we can also see that if we find what St. Theophylact calls “swinish behavior”, we can be sure that Christ is likely not present. To have Christ present means relinquishing our swinish ways.
Rest assured that if we desire to continue in our ways as we are, Christ will leave us to it. There is no “standby” mode for following Christ. If we ask Him to leave, He leaves.
We should look at our sin and our temptations, and see them for what they are – rejections of Christ. Repentance practice, if you will.
God forgives us when we fail – when we fall. God has already forgiven us. Not that we can continue in our sinful and swinish ways. So that we can repent, and change our ways.
How do we know that our repentance is real? Genuine?
In the best case, we no longer commit that sin, and we continue seeking Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. But that is the best case.
We also know our repentance is real when we keep doing it. Over and over and over. Day by day, moment by moment.
These sins are distractions. They seek nothing but our attention. They are like butterflies when we are trying to concentrate. We have to repent – and return to the work at hand rather than follow them where they roam.
If we ask Jesus to leave, that we might devote our selves to this butterfly or that, He allows it. If we get into trouble, He like the prodigal son’s father is ready to run to us.
If it isn’t already too late. The teaching of the Church is that repentance cannot be initiated after death. And that death sneaks up on us unexpectedly.
The elders of the Church tell us repeatedly to be mindful of our death. That we might repent, and be like the wise virgins, with our lamps trimmed and full of virtues to offer our bridegroom.
Because every moment of our lives, unless we explicitly reject our Lord, which is our destruction just like the swine – every moment of our lives needs to be spent refocusing our effort on Him, and on those made in His image – the people all around us.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!