Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. And as He stepped out on land, there met Him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before Him, and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me.” For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. And they begged Him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged Him to let them enter these. So He gave them leave. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so He got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Him; but he sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
Luke 8: 26-39 (Gospel of the 6th Sunday of Luke)
Have you ever felt trapped in a situation? Ever felt completely overwhelmed? Like there is literally no way out. Today’s Gospel lesson from the Gospel of Luke tells the story of the healing of a man possessed by demons. The story is similar to the account told in the Gospel of Matthew 8: 28-34, 9:1 (Fifth Sunday of Matthew), with one marked difference. In both accounts, the demon-possessed man is healed by the demons being sent into a herd of swine. The herd of swine in both accounts rushes down a steep bank and into the sea where they perish. This was a big blow to the economy of the region where people raise livestock. A herd of swine suddenly perishing would have created some economic strife for some of the citizens of that area who raised the swine as a business enterprise. Thus, in both Gospels, the people of the town ask for Jesus to leave their area.
The man (in the account from Matthew, there were two men) we meet in today’s Gospel was tormented by demons. He was really trapped by them. How many of us are tormented by demons? Abusive relationships, substance abuse, financial crises, marital problems—all of these things that people are chained to, that rob people of dignity and worth and joy. The man wore no clothes. He was vulnerable and exposed, and consigned to living in the tombs, abandoned by family and friends shows further how tormented his life was. Again, it seems that in some way he represents all of us at times in our lives.
When the man saw Jesus, he seemed to recognize Him, questioning him “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Luke 8:29) This is a fairly early announcement of Jesus as the Son of God. Do WE recognize Jesus, the Son of God, here with us? Do we cry out to Him when we’re lost or confused or beaten down? Do we expect to hear Him answer us? To heal us?
When the people saw the man clothed and sitting at the feet of Jesus, they probably wondered how their whole social order had been reversed. It was now the demon possessed man who was healed and sitting at the feet of the healer. And some of them, the farmers, had lost their herd of swine.
Unlike Matthew’s account, where we don’t read anything about the man who had been healed, we know from Luke’s account, the man who was healed begs Jesus to stay with Him. Jesus, however, tells the man not to stay with Him, telling him “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39) And the man went and did exactly that, telling the whole city what Jesus had done for him.
There are three lessons to be learned here. First, the man asked Jesus to stay with him. As I reflect on this, I wonder how often we (I) ask Jesus to be with me. Some Christian denominations use the phrase “asking Jesus into your heart”. That’s not a phrase used in Orthodoxy. Nonetheless, in our prayers, we should invite Jesus to be with us. We should pray that we grow ever closer to Him. We should ask Him to guide our hearts, our thoughts and our actions.
The second lesson is that sometimes we think we are called to something and Jesus calls us to something else. In this Gospel passage, the man had an overwhelming desire to stay with Jesus, perhaps join the group of disciples that was travelling with Jesus. However, Jesus told the man that this was not going to be his role. For this man, He wanted him to tell those he met, presumably in his town, what Jesus had done for him. Most of us have had the disappointment of not getting a job we wanted, or a role in the school play, or the starting position on a sports team, or an office we had hoped to be elected or appointed to. When this happens, often we are so disappointed that we don’t look for the proverbial “other door” that usually opens. Sometimes Jesus rejects OUR ideas because HE has a different plan for us. Have you asked Jesus what He wants from YOU? Have you listened to His answer? Have you sat at His feet and have you felt relief? Like the man, do you “beg” to be with Jesus.
The man didn’t go away sulking that his request was not met. He did what Jesus asked him to do. He told everyone about Him. Which bring us to the third lesson, being a Christian takes a lot of courage. The man knew that Jesus wasn’t popular. After all, the people of his own town asked Jesus to leave. So it was really courageous for him to talk about Jesus. The challenge for us, in a modern world that in many corners if shutting out Jesus and Christianity, do we have the courage to talk about Him? Do you tell others all that Jesus has done for you?
Every breath and all creation glorifies You, O Lord. For by means of the Cross You rendered death powerless, so that You might show the peoples Your Resurrection from the dead, as the only One who loves humanity. (First Resurrectional Praise, 2nd Tone, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Ask the Lord in prayer today to be close to you, take the opportunities He provides even if they were not the ones you were looking for, and have courage in your Christianity!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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