Healing_of_the_demon-possessedThis homily was delivered on 28 July 2013 at St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Mission in Gulf Shores, AL.

Matthew 8:28-9:1

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we have a Gospel reading that most of us are probably very familiar with – we read this Gospel 2-3 times each year because of the way it falls in the lectionary cycle. Basically, this Gospel tell the story of the healing of a demon possessed man. As we well know, this is not the only healing our Lord does during His ministry, and it’s not even the only time He casts out demons. But this is a story with a twist. At the end of this reading, instead of the people coming to thank and to worship Christ, as is usual and as we expect, instead they come to drive Him away.

The demon possessed men mentioned in St. Matthew’s Gospel were well known to the people of the town nearby. In other Gospel accounts, we learn that the locals had even tried to chain and to bind these men, but they were given superhuman strength by the demons and always broke out of their chains. The men terrorized the locals and the people traveling nearby. It had gotten to the point where everyone had basically adapted to the situation – people didn’t travel nearby, and the townspeople stayed away as well.

At the beginning of our reading, our Lord did pass by the tombs where the men lived. The demon possessed did not attack Him, as they usually did, rather they recognized Him. “What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Son of God.” The demons recognized Christ as the Son of God and God. The tables were now turned – instead of striking fear in the hearts of men, it was their turn to be afraid. The demons feared our Lord; they feared He had come to “torment them before the time.” They feared being cast into the abyss by Christ for their evil actions. So the demons begged our Lord to be allowed to go into a nearby herd of pigs so as not to be thrown into the abyss.

Christ blessed the demons to leave the two possessed men and to go into the pigs. At this moment in the Gospel reading, we see a vision of the way that demons and sin destroy our lives: as soon as the demons entered the pigs, they ran down a steep cliff and drowned themselves in the sea. Even the pigs can’t stand being possessed by the evil of the demons. I think it would be good to meditate on this moment from the Gospel reading in our time of private prayer – if the demons had such a devastating effect on the pigs, imagine what they do to our souls when we allow them in, when we fall to sin and evil in our lives. Lord have mercy on us!

The keepers of the pigs saw all of this taking place – the approach of our Lord, the healing of the demoniacs, and the suicide of the pigs. They ran to the town to tell the people what had happened.

At this point, we have a certain expectation – we expect the townspeople to come praising Christ. We expect them to thank Him for freeing two of their own from such a horrible fate as their possession by demons. We’ve seen Christ worshipped for far less spectacular miracles over the course of His ministry as recorded in the Gospels.

But this is not what happens – the people instead come and beg Him to leave. They want Him out of their town, gone for good. And the humble Lord speaks not a word, but gets into a boat and leaves their shores.

So the big question, of course, is why? Why would the townspeople make our Lord leave after He’d performed such a great miracle? I have two thoughts this morning, one much more interesting than the other.

1 – perhaps they simply drove Him away because He had destroyed their herd of pigs. Losing that herd was certainly a financial hardship on the people, so the townspeople could have simply driven this stranger away with no other motives in mind than money.
2 – what Christ brought and represented was change, and as human beings we don’t like change. The people had all grown used to their routines, to the demons that lived among them in the tombs. They were used to the evil in their midst. But then Christ came and changed everything. He brought something new, and something far better. The people were unable to see that our Lord made things better, however – all they saw was change to their routine, and they rejected that change. And in their rejection, they also rejected the ministry of the Son of God.

We can quickly become like the people of this town – we easily get used to sin, we get comfortable with the demons in our lives. When we reach this level of comfort, surrendering ourselves to Christ and allowing Him to rid us of our demons, making things incomparably better, becomes a difficult and delicate undertaking. Just like the townspeople, we grow fond of our demons and delusions, else we would be trying even now to overcome them. We must struggle to continually look at ourselves, look for our hidden demons, for the sin that lurks in the dark places of our lives, so that we can open those crevices to the light of Christ, allowing Him to heal and restore us, just as He restored the demon possessed men from this morning’s Gospel reading.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Posted by Matthew Jackson