November 11 (October 29), 2018: 24th Sunday after Pentecost. Virgin-martyr Anastasia the Roman (256). Ven. Abramius the Recluse (360) and his niece St. Mary, of Mesopotamia (397). Martyrs Claudius, Asterius, Neon, and Theonilla, of Aegae in Cilicia (285). Ven. Anna (known as Euphemianus) of Constantinople (826). Ven. Abramius, archimandrite of Rostov (1073). Ven. Abramius, recluse of the Kyiv.
Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Mission, Madison, WI
Epistle: Ephesians 2:14-22
Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Based on how they treated the demoniac, the Gadarenes are not unkind people. Rather than drive him out of their land–or worse, kill him–they made an effort to keep him from harming himself or other people.
The “chains and shackles” they used to restrain him, however, were insufficient. Freed from his restraints, the man is “driven by the demon into the wilderness.” It is here, away from the constraints of civilization that he finds Jesus and the disciples.
The fundamental kindness of Gadarenes is important because it testifies to what St Justin Martyr will teach toward the end of the second century. Just as God prepares the Jewish People through the revelation of the Law, He prepares the Gentiles through philosophy and a love of virtue.
But just as the Law was only a preparation, so too the love of virtue. Both prepare the human heart to receive Christ but neither is, in itself, sufficient. One must still personally and freely welcome Christ.
When we look at the Old Testament as a preparation for the Gospel one of the things we notice is the materiality of God’s grace.
In the beginning, as the late Fr Alexander Schmemann points out, divine grace takes the form of food and drink: “every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food” (Genesis 1:29, NKJV). And even though we rebel against God and are expelled from the Garden, God continues to share His grace with us through the good things of the earth.
Slowly through the centuries, God teaches us the goodness of creation. By steps, we learn that the creation is part and parcel of divine grace. Creation in each of its parts, a physical manifestation of God’s mercy and love. The goodness of creation anticipates the Incarnation of the Son.
What do we learn from creation?
We learn of the goodness of marriage and family life; the joy of seeing our children’s children grow to maturity (see Psalm 126:6, Proverbs 17:6).
We learn the joy of wine–new and old; of festivals and feasts.
And we experience the blessing of wealth, of social prominence and political power. And yes, we even learn the goodness of military might and victory of our enemies when they are also the enemies of God.
But together with this, we learn the limits of creation. Good though all these things are, their goodness is circumscribed. These smaller good things point beyond themselves to the singular Good of Jesus Christ.
Make no mistake though. God prepares us to receive Christ by teaching us the real goodness of creation. Before humanity able to receive Christ, however, we had to learn the joys and sorrows of marriage and family life. We needed to learn the possibilities, limits, and temptations of wealth and power before our hearts are open to receive our Savior.
All that God gives the Jewish People, He gives, as St Paul tells us, to break “down the middle wall of separation” between humanity and God and to create from humanity the Church, the “dwelling place of God in the Spirit” in creation.
And just as God slowly teaches this to the Jewish People through the Law, He teaches these same lessons to the Gentiles through philosophy and their love of virtue.
So why, if God has done all this, do the Gadarenes not receive Christ but instead ask Him to leave? Why of they afraid of He Who is the fulfillment of all the good things in their lives?
The answer is hidden in the heart’s secret place. We can’t say with any certitude why the Gadarenes behaved as they did. What we can do though is suggest a possible answer.
Sometimes in the spiritual life, we become so impressed, so enamored, with the grandeur of God’s revelation that we miss the smaller moments of His grace. This shouldn’t surprise us. It is something that frequently happens to each of us.
We are often so overwhelmed by events in the world around us–say in the political realm–or by all that we need to do in our professional or personal lives, that we miss the small moments.
Let me suggest this. Jesus comes to us in the small moments; He speaks to us not in a loud voice but “a gentle whisper” that we, that I, often fail to hear.
Given all this, it isn’t a surprise that the Gadarenes fail to receive Christ. So focused are they on the large things of life, they miss the small occasions of divine grace and mercy that make up their lives and indeed each human life. Even the life of one possessed by the demons.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! The smallest act of grace in your life is, well, you. Before God reveals His love to you in the grand sweep of your life or even the myriad events that make up that life, He reveals His love for you in a way that is so intimate that you easily overlook it.
You see God’s first word of love to you is you.
The most basic revelation of God’s love for you is you. God’s love for you was first revealed to you when He knitted you together in your mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13-18).
The Gadarenes turn away from Christ because they don’t know this about themselves.
And just as with the Gadarenes, we still today turn away from Christ because we haven’t yet come to know that our lives, in all its details, are the first revelation of God’s love for us.
Like the Gadarenes, we turn away from Jesus not because of this or that element of His teaching or witness. No, people turn away from Jesus because they don’t yet know who they are. In not knowing that their life a sign of God’s love for them, they don’t know who they are.
Who are they? Who are we? For all our shortcomings and failures, we are the revelation of God’s personal and superabundant love in Jesus Christ for the whole human family.