5th Sun. after Pent. July 25, 2021 “Fighting the War” Matt. 8:28-9.1
Today once again we consider the story of the Gadarene demoniacs. We have this passage today as the Church’s Sunday Lectionary gospel in Matthew, it is also included in Mark’s gospel, and it again comes up as part of the Church’s yearly Sunday lectionary in a few months in Luke’s gospel reading. This means that we need to pay attention as there is a very important message we need to absorb. It also means that you have probably heard most of what I’m going to say before, but God has a way of letting us hear something fresh when we have “ears to hear.”
So what is this message that is so fundamental? There is a major war going on all around us. Right here, right now. Today we have a fortunate converging of a baptism service and the story of the demon oppressed men. Did you pay attention as we prayed the exorcism prayers over young Abram at the start of the baptism service this morning? This is how the Church deals with the enemy in the battle for our souls. “…most crafty, impure, vile, loathsome and alien spirit, by the might of Jesus Christ who has all power both in heaven and on earth…Depart. Acknowledge the vainness of your might, which has not power even over swine…Breath and spit upon him.” We see the direct co-relation between today’s gospel reading and the baptism service.
The evil one hates us and wants to destroy us, but he is restrained by God. Thank God for His ever-present love. Through God’s grace, the demoniacs resisted this demonic attack, even when they had an entire legion of demons oppressing them. All God requires from us is to willingly choose to turn to Him and receive His love and protection. In Mark’s (5:6) version of this story we hear, “When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.” They are healed as the demons enter the pigs who immediately rush headlong to their death. Even animals can not bear the stench of the demons. God permits this to happen to show in very graphic and real terms, what is the end result of life with the demons. Their only goal is our destruction and death!
The demons have a good grasp on what is real. While they do everything in their power to cloud this understanding for us, they themselves are under no illusions and know that they are completely subject to Christ and his Church. They know that their time is short and coming to an end. In today’s gospel the demons cry; “What have we to do with You Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come to torment us before the time?” No, the Demons do not struggle with reality; they only try to distort it for us, hoping to keep us from discovering our true calling; desperately trying to keep us from waking up to who we are created to become – Sons and Daughters of God! To be forewarned is to be armed and ready to resist. This is the purpose of today’s gospel.
One of Satan’s strategies is to try to convince us that neither he nor God Himself even exist. Certainly not one of his better strategies as this fundamental awareness of God’s reality is written deep within every human being. Just considering for a moment how anything created came to be should dismiss this obvious lie for any thinking person. How do you dismiss the vibrant and pulsating life force in everything around you, how does a tiny apple seed grow into a huge apple tree, how did the millions of life forms inhabiting this planet begin. God asks Job and his friends (Job 38:4,7) “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth…when the stars were made …did you take clay from the ground and form a living creature and set it with the power of speech upon the earth?” Yet, the demons occasionally seem to have some success in influencing us prideful and deluded creatures with this lie.
The demons work through lies, deception and the twisting of truth, anything to try to keep us from waking up to realize who we are and why we are here. When we are distracted and not aware of true reality, their purpose of keeping us from actively pursuing our true calling as Children of God is fulfilled. They hate the light as it exposes their lies and deceit. In John (3:20) we read that “Everyone practising evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed.” The devil hates it when we consider true reality – as shown in these gospel passages – as it might cause us to wake up from our slumber. The enemy of our souls goes around as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He saves his roaring until he thinks he has us inescapably fixed in his clutches. Of course he never really has us this completely trapped, and often when we finally hear that roar it serves to wake us up from our slumber, and causes us to cry out with everything within us from the very depths of our being: “Help me God…Have mercy and Save me!” This is true prayer, and our loving Lord is always swift to answer true prayer. Our darkest moment can be the one that starts us back on the wonderful journey to our loving and ever gracious and forgiving Father.
The evil one seldom allows his Jealousy and hatred for us to be seen. He has a million disguises, and he likes to promise great spiritual insights that play to the mortal sin he suffers from and wishes to develop in us – “Spiritual Pride.” Most sinful activities and new age type enlightenments are great fun and offer a short term high or the promise of great spiritual growth for awhile. He gives us some positive feelings and lets us run with His delusional self-help program to get us thoroughly hooked. Then things deteriorate as he starts to reel us into his net to devour. The Fathers unanimously offer the antidote to defeat the enemy when he comes disguised as an angle of light, as “humility.” If we are visited by an angel of light, the Fathers tell us to cross ourselves and simply tell the visiting entity that there must be a mistake as we are not worthy of receiving an angelic visitation. Nothing defeats the enemy more thoroughly or is more effective in bringing us closer to Christ than true humility. The most often repeated and prescribed prayer the Church gives to us is “Lord have mercy,” followed by “on me the sinner.”
The Greek root word for “Have Mercy” is eleison. The root of this word is the same as for the oil of the olive tree. Right from the beginning – the dove brings back the olive twig to Noah’s ark. Holy Spirit – Dove; Olive tree – God’s mercy/ anointing. The vehicle for the healing of the wounds of the good Samaritan is the oil – grace and mercy of God. Olive oil anoints OT Priests giving them their power to rule. Not just a little dab but a whole container, (Psalm 133.2) “blessed is our God who pours out His grace upon His priests, as myrrh upon the head, that runs down the beard of Aaron, that runs down even to the border of his robes.” This is the prayer a priest prays as he puts on his epitrachelion – his stole. This vestment allows him to function in the priestly office. When you pray “Lord have mercy,” picture the healing oil of God’s grace and love flowing over you and soaking into all of the raw and hurting places.
We need to firmly get our minds and hearts to understand that the Kingdom of God is the ultimate reality, and is always present and accessible, here and now. The war rages all around us but it is already won! May God help us, to see this true reality and take comfort. Like the freed Gadarene demoniac, let us proclaim to all the world what wonderful things Christ has done for us! Glory to Jesus Christ!