Epistle to the Galatians 1:11-19
Gospel According to St. Luke 8:27-39
It’s usually more exciting to go off on a trip than it is to stay at home. Travel gives us at least a bit of adventure, a change of scenery, that gets us out of our usual routine. Sometimes if we stay in the same place too long, we get restless and long for something new.
That’s how the man in today’s gospel lesson felt. Jesus Christ had cast many demons out of him and had delivered him from a terrible existence. The wretched man had been naked, living in a cemetery, with no family or friends. Everyone was afraid of him, for even chains and shackles couldn’t control him when the demons took over. After the Lord set him free, the man understandably wanted to leave town, to follow the One who had delivered him. But Christ didn’t want him to do that. Instead, he was to return to his own house and tell what great things God had done him. So that’s what he did, he proclaimed throughout the whole city how the Lord had blessed him, had given him his life back.
We can’t blame this poor fellow for wanting to move on. He was certainly known in the country of the Gadarenes as that crazy man whom everybody feared. That’s apparent from people’s reaction to the sight of him when he is finally clothed and in his right mind. The people were afraid. They even asked the Lord to depart because of it. Perhaps this was some kind of trick. Maybe he would become violent again at any moment. The man knew that this was how people viewed him and was probably ashamed, as any of us would be in his situation. So he wanted to put his hometown behind him and not look back. He wanted simply to be with Jesus Christ, who was probably the only person who had shown him compassion and friendship in many years.
But that wasn’t Christ’s plan. He knew that the Gadarenes didn’t understand the Gospel. He knew that they were so disturbed by the amazing changes in the man’s life that they couldn’t hear the word of the Lord. So it was time for the Lord to leave, but the man who had been possessed by demons was to stay. For eventually, people would see that the positive changes in this man were permanent. Over time, they would get to know him and accept him. And his new life would be living proof of Christ’s salvation. He would be living evidence that God’s blessing and healing have come even to demon-possessed Gentiles of whom everyone was terrified. He would be a living sign that the mercy of Christ extends to all and can heal even the worst wounds and diseases of our souls.
Some are called to be itinerate evangelists, to travel from here to there proclaiming the Gospel; some are called to be physicians, nurses, teachers, or development workers in far-away lands. But most of us are not. Most of us are called, like the man in today’s lesson, to stay right where we are, among those who know us best—for good or for bad—to work out our salvation together with them. Our challenge is to accept with humility the family, the church community, the job, the school, the friends, the neighborhood, the blessings and the challenges, that God in His providence has allowed us to face. No, He is never the author of evil, but He calls us to put up with one another’s weaknesses with patience, perseverance, and forgiveness. If we think that the grass is always greener somewhere else, we will never learn that we are members of a Body, that we are not isolated individuals, but members of one another in Christ. Whether in church, family, work, school, or friendships, it’s by bearing with one another that we work through our difficulties and learn to stop thinking simply in terms of our own desires and agendas, but in terms of what is best for others with whom we share a common life.
Staying put is often good, not only for our communities and relationships, but for ourselves. The man who had been demon-possessed could have left his town and put that sad part of his life behind him. It would be easier for him to forget his painful past by moving on. But perhaps we kid ourselves when we think that it’s best to put the dark moments of our lives completely out of mind. For they are reminders that we do not save ourselves, that we are always dependent upon the Lord’s mercy and blessing in our lives. We are never self-sufficient as Christians, and our journey is not one of perfect success. No, we should not obsess on our weaknesses, failures, and pains. We should be grateful and joyful about God’s blessings in our lives. But we should also acknowledge what our past sins reveal about us: our weakness, our spiritual sickness, and the fact that we can easily fall back into the pit of our own corruption. When we remember who we were, and where we are tempted to return, we are reminded to stay focused, to be on guard, and to be all the more thankful that the Lord has raised us up from our low estate. It was true for the Gadarene demoniac, and it’s true for all of us who have put on the new life in Christ. When we remember what it was like to wallow in the mire of our passions like pigs in mud, we will glorify with humility the One who set us free.
Another reason for staying home was the impact that this man’s example would have on his friends and neighbors. For there is no more powerful evidence of the truth of the Gospel, there is no stronger witness of Christ’s salvation, than a life transformed. That poor man was so overwhelmed by evil that he had lost his identity as a person. When the Lord asked him his name, the man replied, “Legion,” because he was filled with so many demons. And, as we’ve seen, he acted like someone controlled by the forces of evil. But after Christ delivered him, the man returned to a normal human life, clothed and in his right mind.
If he had left town, no one whom he met would have known about his past unless he mentioned it. And even if he told them about it, the story would not be nearly as significant for them as it would be for the people in his hometown. It’s one thing to hear about someone’s transformation. It’s another to see it with your own eyes. And it was only by staying home that this man was able to become a uniquely powerful icon of what Jesus Christ can do to heal and fulfill even the most miserable human being.
Well, we haven’t been running around demon-possessed, naked, and out of our minds in cemeteries. But we have all at times give into our temptations and allowed our passions to overtake us. Though we may have repented and found God’s forgiveness, we can still be ashamed to see certain people or to be in situations that remind us of our failings. Out of pride, we don’t want to be reminded of how we acted and how we may be tempted to act again. Granted, we shouldn’t put ourselves in situations of great temptation when we can avoid it. But we also shouldn’t hide our light under a bushel; we should not allow pride to keep us from showing others to what the Lord has done for us. Like the Gadarene demoniac, we should return to our house, our home, our neighborhood, our classroom, our workplace, our friendships, and become a living example of what Jesus Christ can do in the lives of sinners.
Of course, some may be skeptical of us. Some may even be afraid and ask us to leave, as they did to Christ Himself. But with perseverance, humility, and love, we should focus on living with joy and gratitude the new life that the Lord has given us. Others will see and take notice, and that’s how we will proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God even as we stay at home, giving thanks for the great things that Christ has done for us. And then others will know that the Lord’s mercy, blessing, and healing are for you people just like you and me, right where we are.