The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (8:28-9:1)
How can we forget the scope of God’s love and mercy for all mankind? It is the basis and foundation for all of the work of salvation which is found within the holy gospels and the rest of the Scriptures. The Lord Jesus demonstrates His exceeding goodness not only toward the Jewish people, His own people, but towards the demon possessed men who dwelt in the country of the Gergesenes.
St. Matthew recalls this story in part, because he wants to draw the reader’s and hearer’s attention to the fact that the Lord is come to save more than one select group of people. He is come to save the whole of mankind. He is come to make all people, His people. It is likely that the country of the Gergesenes was a land of the gentiles. This is demonstrated by the fact that there are herds of swine nearby. Such herds of swine would be unimaginable among the Jews since pigs were considered unclean and were never consumed or handled by the Jewish people. The Lord Jesus Christ had such love and compassion that He could not stand to see these men imprisoned, enslaved and tormented by the demons. It did not matter that they were not His people, Our Lord Jesus desires to make all men His people. He desires that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
There are many lessons for us as we hear today’s gospel. We are surprised by the similarity between the demon possessed men and the people of the city who came to meet Jesus. The demons cry out “what have we to do with thee, O Son of God?” And the people of the city do nearly the same thing when they beg the Lord to leave their city. Each group believes that they have something to lose by the presence of Christ. The demons believe that they will be tormented by the mere presence of Christ. They know that they will lose their grip on the souls of the two men whom they had possessed.
Likewise, the people of the city feel that they will lose their livelihood by the mere presence of Christ. After all, the herdsmen had lost quite a bit of wealth by losing their herd of swine, which ran into the sea and perished. We expect the demons to be uncomfortable with the presence of Christ, but we should be surprised that the people reject the presence of the Lord in their midst. During the Divine Liturgy we pray for “the ignorance of the people.” Here in the gospels we have this clear example. They cannot see past their particular situation to the great and powerful miracle that the Holy One of Israel has just performed in their midst. Instead of rejoicing at the restoration of two men who were created in the image and likeness of God, we find that they are gripped by sadness and despair since they lost their swine.
As a Christian it is good to make peace with one simple fact: Jesus Christ is always trying to disrupt our lives. This is a process of holy disruption. What is the character of this holy disruption? It is the process of disrupting the sin in our lives. The Lord Jesus is always trying to expose us with all of our frailties and shortcomings, to the light of His grace. The mere presence of Christ is powerful enough to disrupt our lives. We often sense the Lord trying to come to the city of our hearts. How does our heart react to this visitation? Do we greet the Lord with joy, as we saw at the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem? Or do we greet the Lord in order to quickly dismiss Him and remove Him from our lives?
When does the Lord visit us? Every time that we have a thought that reminds us of God. Every time that our conscience speaks to us and attempts to correct us. Every time that we think about praying. Every time that we are faced with the pain and suffering of others. Every time that we see the poor. Every time we read or hear the Bible. Most importantly, every time we come to the divine liturgy. These are opportunities when God visits us.
Let us take the liturgy for example. What is the disposition of our hearts during the liturgy? Do we long to meet and to commune with Jesus Christ or do we find our minds wandering to all of the things that we’ve got planned after the liturgy. Are we more excited about communion or coffee hour? More excited to chat with our beloved friends or to unite with our beloved Savior? Every liturgy and every day and every moment of every day, brings another chance to either accept Christ into the city of our hearts or to quickly show Him the door. It is a chance to make Him either first or last, but He does not accept to be somewhere in the middle. Listen to the words of our Lord Jesus to the church of Laodicea
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Rev 3:15-20
The people of the city thought that they had everything and that all they needed was their pigs. But in their confidence that they had it all, they turned away the One who was worth more than all of the treasures of the universe. They rejected Him because He disrupted their lives, or had the potential to disrupt their lives. The Lord waits at the door of our city. What do we see? Do we see someone who wants to trouble and disrupt our lives or do we see the One who loves us and wants to not only be part of our lives, but beckons and calls us to be part of His life, which is true life! Behold, He stands at the door and knocks….how will we answer? Glory be to God Forever AMEN.