Homily – What Swine Do They (WE!) Love?

In this homily on St. Luke 8:26-39, Fr. Anthony shows how easy it is to place our enemies as the villains of Gospel lessons… and reminds us that this is only because we see them through the log (pride!) in our own eyes.  This recording also includes the Liturgy of the Faithful. Enjoy the show!
Check out this episode!

The Deliverance of the Demoniac at Gardenes;
What pigs do we love more than the salvation of man?
Homily on St Luke 8:26-39

We see how the world suffers and it breaks our hearts.  This is why we love the Gospel; because it the declaration of the deliverance of mankind – and of the entire Cosmos – from suffering.  We have given our lives to this Gospel; it is the Truth that offers salvation.

But I sometimes wonder if we love the Gospel too much.  Or rather, that we love it wrongly.  We have this powerful word here before us; we have it and we reach out and hold it here in our hands.  And we love it so much and the world needs it so much that we wrap our hands around it as tightly as we can.  But notice what happens when we hold things so hard in our hands!  Our whole demeanor changes. Our hands get all balled up and then look at what they become: fists!  Weapons!  And these fists become the way that we then share it with the world that needs it.

But does the world really need our fists?  Were our hands given to us so that we might pummel others into submission?  Is the closed hand the best place to hold the Gospel?  What if, instead, we held it in hearts and let the Living Water of God’s grace flow from it?  What if we then opened our hands to welcome and help our neighbor?

The Lord said that they would know us by our Love, not by our ability to fight or win arguments.

This is one of the truths we learn from studying today’s Gospel.  Because of our lectionary, this is a Gospel that all Orthodox Christians are very familiar with.  This allows us to focus on different parts of it and go deep.  Today I would like to focus our attention on the reaction of the people in and around Gaderene to Christ’s work.

You know the history: there was a man who was continual threat to these people.  We do not know the history; we do not know how he ended up losing his mind and being possessed by demons.  We do know that he was suffering.  His was a soul in torment.  Perhaps the people of the area tried to help him; if so, they did not have the ability – the power and grace – to do so.  Perhaps they never really tried.  Regardless, by the time the Lord came, that poor man was living in the wilderness and among the tombs. And the Lord saw his pain and – like the shepherd bringing in that 100th sheep – He saved him.

But how did the people react to this, when they saw him “sitting at the Lord’s feet and in his right mind”?  Did they rejoice at the deliverance of this tormented soul?  Were they awed by this beautiful manifestation of God’s power?  Where they moved by His compassion?  For this is the only rational reaction to such a thing.

But no.  They lamented the loss of their flock of swine.  They feared what other things Christ might do in their midst.  Not only didn’t praise or thank Him: they asked Him to leave.

What do you think they would have said if Christ had asked them if they would prefer He bring their swine back, even if it meant returning the soul of the man to the torment of the demons?  Let’s go further with this: what do you think they would they have said if Christ had asked them, before saving the man, if they would be willing to give up their swine to end the torment of this man and return him to their community?  Do any of us doubt that they would have rejected that, as well?  After all, they loved their swine more than the health of this man.  The evidence for this is plain to see: if their hearts were not moved with compassion when they saw with their own eyes the sight of this man in his right mind at the feet of Jesus, then there is no reason to expect that their hearts would be moved with compassion at the mere idea of such a his deliverance.

They loved their swine more than they loved their neighbor.  Which is to say, they did not really love at all.

This is a terrible thing.  But we have to admit that it is not rare.  We don’t have to look back through two thousand years of history to the encounter of Christ with the people of the Gaderenes to see this.

[Trigger warning: this will upset some of you, stay with me.  It’s intentional.  I’m going somewhere with this.]

Here in this community, there is a similar dynamic.  Not one person, but many people have been suffering.  They have been doing damage to themselves and to us, so we bind the ones we can in chains and put them in jail.  But we can’t hold all of them and we can’t hold any of them forever.  And so they wander, tormented, in the wilderness and among the graves.  But love – the love of Christ – has seen their suffering and has offered them refuge.  But some of the people of the surrounding area prefer the former status quo of homelessness, of torment, to the provision of care.  And so they ask the shelter – they ask the care-givers – to leave.  We’ll see what happens.

But it isn’t just here, either.  The same dynamic has been working itself out halfway around the world.  This time it hasn’t been just one person suffering, nor has it been a hundred.  Rather, it has been millions of people.  For decades they had been homeless, wandering in the wilderness of isolation.  They desired nothing more than to be restored to the community of Christ, His Holy Church.  But no one could – or would – end their pain.  And then love came, this time in the form of Patriarch Bartholomew.  He saw their suffering and he offered them the grace – the grace of Christ – that brought them back “into their right minds” and restored them to the Church.  Millions of souls delivered in this one brave and virtuous act.  Millions of souls brought out of the tombs into the living Body of Christ.  And how have the people of the region reacted to their restoration?  Some rejoice, but many prefer the swines of their prejudice and animosity – the herd they had been keeping and living off of for generations – to the deliverance of these people.  They cannot abide the loss of that herd.  They are restoring that herd and working to return the people to the desert of isolation.  And the one who had delivered them?  Did they thank him for this great work?  Were they led by the good works he had done in their midst to worship the God that is in heaven?  No.  Like the people of Gaderenes, they asked him to leave.  They broke communion with him.

It’s all terrible, right?

But now we come to the point.  It is easy to see the patterns of the Gospel in the world around us.  History repeats itself, with us as the heroes or and our enemies as the villains.  It’s so obvious – it fits so well!

But what if it doesn’t?  What if our vision of the world is obscured by the great big honking log we have sticking out of our eye?  Doesn’t it obscure any mote that might be in the eye of our neighbor – or even of our enemy?

Do you see how we have taken the Truth, a truth that we love, and wrapped it up in our fists and used it to damage those we should be helping?  Rather than the beating fists, how about if we offer the hand of love and reconciliation?  What if, instead of standing opposed to our brother, we stood next to him with our hand in his and united with him in common service?  What if, instead of using the Gospel to divide the people of God, we used it for its real purpose – to make us one as God Himself is One?

It won’t be easy.  We’ll have to give up the swine of our self-righteousness, the “pigs of our pride”, if you will.  But that is the offer that God has made to us: if we want to be saved, if we want to share salvation with others, we have to let go of our pride and drown our self-righteousness.

Let us now open our heart to Christ so that His grace may flow from it … so that the suffering in our midst – and throughout all time and place – may be saved.

This is the love.  This is the Gospel.  This is the salvation of the world.