22nd Sunday After Pentecost
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Glory to Jesus Christ. Glory forever. How much destruction can sin really cost? To what depth is a man ready to fall before he repents and returns to his real self? Is there such a thing as falling too far, a soul falling beyond the hope of redemption? If there ever was one such a soul, he is depicted in this morning’s Gospel according to Saint Luke. He is a soul who is falling so far as to be without a name. He is simply referred to as the demoniac, his possession by evil demons being so complete it seems to have swallowed up the man and he does not even speak with his own voice. Saint Ambrose of Milan says, “We are authors of our own tribulation. If someone did not live like a swine, the devil would never have received power over him. If he did receive power, it would be power not to destroy but to test him. After the Lord’s coming, the devil could already not corrupt the good. So perhaps he now does not seek the destruction of all people but only of the fickle.”
And yet the Lord comes to this man where he lived among the dead, wearing hardly anything but chains and fetters. Can we think of a worse place to live? Not only is he homeless, but practically dead already. The overall setting is on the shores of Gadara, a dwelling outside the promised land, a place for unwashed Gentiles on the Sea of Galilee. In fact, the demon-possessed man is a symbol of all Gentile nations, a society that’s evil beyond their own control. Then with a word, the Lord addresses the Legion of demons inhabiting the man and commands the demons to plunge furiously and straight-way into the sea through the herd of swine. The Gadarenes who were previously afraid of the demoniac find something even more terrible and awe-inspiring. For their neighbor, who was previously naked and withheld by chains now is, “… sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” In a moment, he is transformed from possessed to possessing, from unwilling slave to a willing witness of eternity. This terrible sight the Church calls a martyrdom, a witness of the world to come that cares no longer for the Prince of this world and all his service and all his pride. The martyr is the one who boasts in nothing save in the cross of Christ of Christ by whom, says St. Paul in this morning’s epistle, “… I am crucified to the world and the world to me.”
This martyric attitude produces a depth of dispassion as described in the Life of St. Anthony the Great of the Desert. “His clarity of soul shone through. Grief had not narrowed him nor had pleasure touched him, and he showed no dejection of mind, no extremes of joy. He was not excited by the presence of the crowd, nor was he elated to see so many acclaiming him. Utterly tranquil, he seemed a man ruled by reason, and shaped as nature had designed him to be.” (Life of St. Anthony by St. Athanasius of Alexandria)
Brothers and sisters, how can we account for such an amazing and terrible transformation? Does this not give us hope in our own situation and condition? The Great Akathist, Glory to God for All Things, which our family has a tradition of praying this time of year leading up to the American holiday of Thanksgiving, has a great verse about this kind of transformation:
“No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but Thou canst restore a conscience turned to ashes. Thou canst restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With Thee, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. Thou art love; Thou art Creator and Redeemer. We praise Thee, singing: Alleluia!” (Kontakion 10)
Do you feel abandoned this morning? Lost and without hope? Know then that the same Lord who cured a demon-possessed man can bring back anyone from the brink. Truly, with Him, “there is no-thing and no-one that cannot be redeemed.” To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.