In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Glory to Jesus Christ.
We don't like to hear stories about demons in the world in which we live. I was reading a sermon by Father Ted Bobach - he's of my favorite sources for online reading. It said that if you search all of Scripture, there are very few instances where the word demon or demonic can be found in the Old Testament. I think he said, if I remember correctly, maybe four or six instances. Regardless, it's a handful. There are also very few instances of the use of the word in the epistles. But the gospels are repleat with references or uses of the words demon or demonic.
Clearly the Lord is telling us something. Clearly there's something about this idea of demonic activity in the world that is important to our salvation. And if we look at today's Gospel account, we come to see a little bit of what that might mean to us in the world in which we live, in the people who surround us, and even inside of ourselves.
The first thing that we encounter is is the man who identifies himself as Legion.
And we find in his words two opposing perspectives on his encounter with Jesus. The first one is one of obstinence and contempt. "What do you want from me, Jesus, You Son of the Most High God?" Is this not exactly the perspective that we find in the world around us when we encounter people, when we try to talk with them about our faith? The world's perspective is that faith is meaningless. The world would ask, "Why would you believe such such nonsense, such stories? None of it can be proven." Remind me to come back to the issue of "proven" before we reach the end.
The second thing that the the demon possessed man says shows his recognition of his place as being subservient to and in fact one of worship towards Jesus. "I beg You, don't torment me." His clear meaning is a plea that Jesus would take from him the things that are causing him pain and suffering. Poor Legion doesn't say it in those words, but we can hear it in his voice.
And in fact, we know with some certainty that this is Legion's perspective, because when the Lord casts the demons out, what is the formerly demon possessed man's request? "I wish to be one of Your disciples. I want to follow You wherever You go." It is the demons that speak through his mouth before the Lord's miraculous healing. It is the right-minded and healed man who speaks the request to become a disciple!
The next thing that we find associated with the demonic activity that that leads us to an open discussion of why demons are present in the Gospels for our edification and education lies with the people of Gadara. First of all, they are not Jews. They are Gentiles. This is known clearly because they raise pigs for their own use. The pig was a ritually unclean animal to the Jews.
The people of Gadara are witnesses to a miraculous healing of one who had been a thorn in their side. Saint Luke records that they had tried to subdue this man. They chained him. They set guards around him. They did everything they could to try and keep him from harming them, so fierce was his demonic possession. Now when the harm is taken from them by Christ, their perspective changes totally. "We can't tolerate this kind of thing, this 'healing' in our presence. Leave us. God, please leave us!" Can you imagine saying that? Can you imagine having a heart that would feel this way?
Saint John Chrisostom defines the people of Gadara as being more possessed than Legion, exactly because of this perspective. "We don't want to lose our possessions. You've stolen our possessions from us by curing this man. Yes, you cured him, but at the cost of our our livelihood - our pigs are gone! We've lost money. We've lost things. And those are more important to us than Legion. Yes, he was a problem to us but he didn't harm our livelihood."
This idea of wanting to serve God that Legion shows is something that I think we all too often skim over when we read this Gospel account. We recognize our need to be servants of God. We recognize that He has given us talents, and with these skills and abilities there are things that we should do, ways in which we should put God's given gifts to use - to His glory, efforts that are consistent with His will for us in our lives. But how often do we honestly consider what it means to truly serve Him?
These these candles that are here in front of me. What is their purpose? They give light, and in so doing they give glory to God. And they completely consume themselves in the one thing that they were created to do. They have one talent. To throw light. And they do it without complaint and until all of their capacity to give that light is gone.
The censer behind me has a piece of charcoal in it. What is the coal's purpose? It's purpose is to ignite and throw out heat so that it can cause the incense to burn and provide smoke that gives blessings. It has one purpose, to bring about the possibility of giving blessings. And it serves its purpose to God, it consumes itself entirely until it's gone, serving that purpose.
So, what of us? What did God create us to do, create us to be? He has given us more than one talent, more than one capability. Are we using the talents He has bestowed on us, or are we using them to serve only ourselves? Do we work to His glory, or are we satisfying ourselves?
The world around us would attempt to convince us that self-serving is the only logical choice, for there is no God. They would hope to convince us that our faith is in vain. They would tell us that we worship fantasies.
You'll say, "But Father, there are people out there who might espouse some of those things, but they also do good things." I would reply, "Yes, they do." But the Holy Fathers teach us that works are not indicative of faith. Faith manifests itself in works, but works don't bring about faith. A person can do a good thing without recognizing that God is among us. In short, they can do a good work without seeking to bring glory to God in the process.
I asked you near the beginning of today's homily to remember the issue of proof. There's an expression. For those who do not believe, no proof is adequate. For those who do believe, no proof is required.
Let us not require God to prove Himself to us. Let us serve the purposes for which He has given us talents. Let us serve, and in serving let us consume ourselves in doing His will, all things to His glory, trying to live a life that is consistent with His divine will, and not ours.
Glory to Jesus Christ.