We encounter a powerful story of the love and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ for mankind in today’s gospel reading. The word gospel means “good news.” But if someone came to us and asked us about this, if they posed the question to us “What is the good news?” How would we answer them? It is important that each of us has an answer and can give an answer. In the first epistle of St. Peter, he writes “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” What is the good news of which the gospel speaks? This particular reading gives us a glimpse of the good news that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Luke the evangelist tells us that Our Lord travelled across the sea of Galilee. This was not a short trip, likely taking at least 2 hours by sailboat and possibly twice as long depending on the winds etc. Why did our Lord Jesus travel to this land? Was He going to visit one of the cities of the Jews and preach the news of the kingdom of God to them? The answer is no. We know that the place where He went, the country of the Gadarenes was not a habitation of the Jews. This is clear from the fact that there are swine or pig farmers in that area.We recall that pigs were considered unclean and forbidden by the Mosaic law. Jews did not eat swine and did not want to be anywhere near those animals.
So it becomes clear to us that our Lord Jesus Christ had travelled to this region for one very specific reason: to help this poor tormented soul, who was possessed by demons. That is a glimpse of the good news, that Our Lord Jesus Christ loves us so much, that He is willing to go out of His way in order to heal us, even when we are far, far away from us. He is always looking to help us. This was true of the demon possessed man who lived very near the gentiles, and it is true for each of us. The Lord goes out of His way in order to encounter each of us in our lives and even on a daily basis.
One of the dirty little secrets of many religions is that there is typically a preferred group that believes that they are favored by God, His chosen and elect. This manifests itself in Hinduism with the caste system. You are born into a class and there is nothing that can be done to change your class. It is set for life. Likewise, the Jews believed that they were God’s chosen people (which is of course true, but not completely true). The good news of Jesus Christ is that God’s love is revealed to us in further detail. Things that were hidden are now made clear to us. His love is not limited to one group of people, one ethnicity or race or one specific time. God’s love is for all of humanity, the pinnacle of His creation. He created us in His image and likeness and He is focused on repairing and restoring this perfect image within us. St. Paul writes “He desires that all men be saved, and come unto knowledge of the truth.” That is the character of God and we believe this with all our hearts as Christians.
The demon possessed man is an image of the old man, similar to Adam after his fall in the garden. We are told that this man was naked and out of his mind. Instead of living in a house, he lived among the tombs. From this we get the sense that he was close to being dead. Spiritually he was defeated, corrupted, overthrown by the enemy. His soul was dying. The passions had become so energized and prominent within him that he was quite beast like and literally crazy.He was also naked, his body was not warmed and protected by clothing, but exposed to the elements, the heat of the sun, the chill of the night, the biting of bugs, the filth of the ground. He is a symbol of our spiritual state before our baptism into the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is it that we sing when we baptize someone into the church? “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ, Alleluia!” We put on a white garment when we are baptized, that is in fact why the priests undergarment (sticharion) is white or light in color. It is to be a reminder of the baptismal garment of purity and holiness. When we are baptized, we put on Christ and His righteousness and holiness. Our soul is no longer naked, but clothed with the very best garment, the wedding garment that we will wear to the great banquet in the Kingdom.
When we are baptized we no longer live among the tombs and associate with the dead in soul. We once again live in a house. Yet this is not like any ordinary house. It is a mansion that belongs to our heavenly Father. The Lord spoke of this when He said “In my Father’s house there are many rooms.” Through our baptism, we cast off the old and dying man and we are renewed by the new Adam, who is Christ. Since we are clothed and cleansed we are also invited to come and live in the shelter of the house of God. We are protected from the spiritual elements and embraced by the loving protection of God our Father. Finally, through our baptism we are seated at the feet of Christ attentively and in our right minds. The Word of God rescues our lives from insanity. He grants us sanity, He makes our lives whole. These are just some aspects of the good news that we have in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are desired by Christ, forgiven by Christ, purified and healed by Christ, clothed by Christ and invited to live together with Christ. Can anything be better than this?
Yet another aspect of the gospel and its good news is that all news is a double edged sword. The coming of the Lord to the Gadarenes was good news for the demoniac, but it was bad news for the villagers and townspeople. They were afraid of Jesus and His great miracle of sending the demons into the pigs. Do you understand why? Because it was unlike anything they had ever seen, but there is something else…they were afraid that they would lose their food and their income if the other pigs in the area behaved similarly. Let us not be like them my brothers and sisters. Instead of thinking and worrying about everything we might lose by inviting Jesus into our hearts and our lives, we should think about everything that He desires to offer us. Let us cling to Christ and sit at His feet regardless of what we might have to sacrifice in return. After all, is any sacrifice too much for us in comparison with what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us and given to us by His grace? As St. Paul writes,
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”(Phil 3:7-11)
This is the good news. A God who loved us so much that He gladly took our weakness and our death and abundantly gave us His strength and His life…and glory be to God forever AMEN.