We know what happens to collaborators.

Homily 565 – 21 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 29, 2023
Epistle – (203) Galatians 2:16-20
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 Jesus meeting a man bound by demons can be a bit mystifying.  If we are to see this as another account of Jesus casting out demons.  Yet, there seems a lot of detail for that to be the only reason it is in the Gospel.

There is some context that we probably should be aware of if we want to better understand the messages in this passage.  So, let’s explore a bit of the context, then think about what it means for us.

First, the country of the Gadarenes, opposite Galilee.  In the modern day, this is what is known as the West Bank, meaning the west side of the Jordan River.  In those days, is was known as Decapolis – deca polis – meaning ten cities.

These were ten cities that were Hellenistic, meaning Greek-speaking, and part of the Eastern edge of the Roman Empire, and served as a buffer between the Empire and the enemies that might come from Mesopotamia, modern Iran and Iraq.  Very importantly, these cities were excluded from the rule of the Herods, the Kings of Judea.

They were described as autonomous, or free.  The primary worship was of the emperor of Rome himself.  The Gentiles in this area outnumbered the Jews by a fair amount, and there was a fair amount of intermingling of culture between the Semitic tribes and the Greeks.

As mentioned, the area was an important defensive position for the Romans.  As we might imagine, it was the home of a fairly sizable military force, the Tenth Roman Legion.  A legion included 5,000 trained combat-ready soldiers, and an additional 5,000 in support workers, men who could replace or add strength to the primary legion of troops.

Interestingly, and important to the story of the demoniac, the symbol of the Tenth Roman Legion, their mascot if you will, was a wild boar – a wild pig.

So, that’s the context, factually.  What that context adds to the story is what we may want to focus on.  This area was a land, like Jerusalem itself, which was occupied and ruled by the Romans.  This area had a lot of Jewish collaborators – as did Jerusalem itself.  The power of the Romans was unparalleled.  And, to a significant extent, unchallenged.

There were occasional skirmishes and uprisings, all of which were quashed pretty quickly and efficiently by the Romans.  Jesus Himself was probably seen as a potential threat to the Romans, based on this incident.

Because in this case, the demons identified themselves as “legion.”  Today we understand that to be “many”, but back then, it was a direct not-so-subtle link to the Roman Army.

When those demons were cast out, they entered the pigs – the mascot of the tenth Roman legion – at the demon’s request.  And they plunged off a cliff together.

Jesus demonstrates His mastery not only of demons, but by implication, of the Roman occupiers.  He shows that if He desired to do so, He could free Judea, and indeed the world, of Roman oppression.  He had that level of power.

Afterwards, the reaction of the Gadarenes is telling.  They beg him to leave their country.  We may wonder why this is?  Why would the deliverer be asked to leave?

We need to remember that the Gentiles, and the Jews, in the area were all collaborators with the Romans to one degree or another.  When a new regime comes to power, collaborators don’t have a very nice time.  They are instantly reduced to the lowest rung of society – no power, considered less than human, the cause of much of the mess to begin with.

In those days, collaborators were routinely enslaved, or executed by the new regime.  So it isn’t surprising that Jesus was asked to leave.  They got the message.  The Jews there knew that they had put the Roman gods before their One True God.

The message to us today follows from this.  We see ourselves in a land where the forces of evil are in control.  We understand that God will have ultimate victory – but are we subject to being accused of being collaborators?

What does it mean to us to be collaborators in our world today?  It likely means different things to each of us.  The common element is for our own participation in, and acceptance of, the values of the society around us.  This can take many forms, but implies some degree or another of diversion from the life of following Christ.

Maybe it means forsaking the gathering together to worship God, so that we might entertain ourselves with sport.  Maybe it means taking advantage of those who work for us so that we might profit.  Maybe it means being hostile toward immigrants and refugees, fellow human beings made in the image and likeness of God.  Maybe it means compromising our moral and social values to fit in, or retain our place in society.

Collaboration with the world means, ultimately, being selfish, even to a small degree, in what we do.  Every time we say “don’t take what is mine” we betray our selfishness, and our collaboration with the surrounding society.  Every time we enhance ourselves, especially at the expense of someone else, we tell the world that we are OK with them, and accept their ways and culture.  Every time we exercise power over another, for our benefit and not theirs, we are collaborators.

I urge all of us to not be selfish, to not be collaborators.  We know that collaborators in the last judgement will be gathered like weeds and burned, cast out of the Kingdom of God – not because of God’s justice, but because of our own desires and wishes.  We, like the people of the Gadarenes, will have asked Jesus to depart from us.

Instead, become someone who puts the needs, and wants, and desires of others ahead of your own.  Those are the ones worthy of the Kingdom.  Those are the ones who, like the delivered demoniac, will be asked to stay behind, to be a witness to the collaborators of all that Christ has done.

And through the deliverance of Christ, we too will find our salvation.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.