St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
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/ Weekly Message / 07-01-07: Fifth Sunday Of Matthew

07-01-07: Fifth Sunday Of Matthew


It is an interesting point we come to in the cycle of readings; once again, we are at the reading of the famous “Gospel of the Pigs” as recorded by St. Matthew.  We will hear this gospel reading again later on in the church year as recorded by St. Luke, and it is also recorded in the Gospel of St. Mark.  In fact, there are striking similarities by all of these evangelists, in that they all got their story from the same source.  The version we heard today has just a little less information than the other two, but the story is essentially the same.  In fact, if you were to open up your bibles and read for yourself, you would notice an interesting pattern; in each of the Gospel stories, Jesus had just been involved in healing someone, then He got into the boat and headed to the other side, bringing him to the region of the Gadarenes.  Then, upon completion of this story, Jesus gets back into the boat, and heads back to Galilee, where he heals someone else.

Do you see the pattern?  Jesus is actively at work in His ministry; he is doing his job, going from town to town, telling people about the Kingdom of Heaven, healing the sick and curing their illnesses, and recruiting faithful people along the way.  And then, WHAM!  Jesus runs into a stumbling block in the region of the Gadarenes.

We pick up today’s Gospel reading where Jesus had gotten off the boat and was walking through town, where he is met by two demoniacs coming out of a cemetery. To be living in the cemetery itself means these demoniacs were in dire straights, as they couldn’t tell any longer where they were.  In order to understand this, you need to realize that, to the Jewish people, to even be in the presence among the dead is considered impure.  Among the Conservative and Orthodox Jews, there is still a Chevra Kadisha, a specific society who have the duty of bathing and caring for someone who has died, and for arranging for their burial. 

Specifically, they approach Jesus and yell at him, “What do you want with us, O Son of God?  Have you come here to torment us before the time?” The demoniacs, while crazy and possessed, weren’t fools.  They knew Jesus’ mission, and the entire plan He was carrying out on behalf of His Heavenly Father – eternal salvation or eternal damnation. These demons seem to know the first and the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Even Christ's disciples stumbled with that truth. The demons knew it wasn’t yet time for their eternal torment to begin, and so they brazenly ask Jesus why He is there by saying, “Wait a minute, we're not supposed to be thrown into the abyss with Satan and experience eternal torment until Your second coming.  Have you come before your time?”  They knew enough to address Jesus as “Son of God;” again, they knew enough to know precisely who Jesus is. These demons know a lot.  And they say a lot.  But they don't follow Christ. 

The demons then begged Jesus to send them into the herd of pigs, feeding nearby.  According to the different biblical scholars, it was a herd of approximately 2000 pigs; what we don’t know from studying the Scriptures is whether the owners of the swine were Jewish or Gentile. What we do know is that Jesus accommodated their request with a simple word, “Go.”  When Jesus appeared, the demons wanted to leave and so He commanded them to do so with only one word. That instantaneous miracle shocked everybody. It wasn't necessarily what He did, it was primarily how He did it.

The reality of His miracle was clear to those observing when a normally peaceful herd of pigs demonically raced toward a cliff, dove in the water, and drowned, while at the same time, the individuals that had previously been demonized were now "sitting, and clothed, and in [their] right minds" (Mk. 5:15). The bystanders saw a deliverance they would never forget.

We then read on and learn that the herdsmen, seeing this miracle, fled into the city to share this news with the townsfolk.  They, in turn, came to meet Jesus, and begged Him to leave them.  You would think that the people, having beheld such a miracle, would beg Jesus to stay and listen to His teaching, but this is one of those Gospel stories where the opposite happens.  Instead of praise, Jesus is rebuked.  While it is something that can leave you scratching your head, you must realize that this is a strange land, in that the people have no desire to be saved, Jew or Gentile alike.

To the Jewish people, a pig is one of the most unclean animals, and is not to be herded, nor touched, nor eaten.  If the owners of the herd were Gentiles, it is possible the demons requested to be placed into the swine to incur the wrath of the townspeople against Jesus for wiping out their local economy.  This could be a practical reason for telling Jesus to leave town – he destroyed their livelihood.  If the owners were Jewish, Pharisaic Law forbade them from being having any dealings with such dirty creatures.  Not only is their livelihood ruined, but their hypocrisy is also exposed.  They are caught in their own sinfulness. 

The people of the Gadarenes made a choice when confronted by Jesus; they could have solemnly sworn to change their ways, and accept Christ right then and there, but they didn’t.  So too, my brothers and sisters, are we confronted by Christ; we can either accept Him, keep His commandments and serve Him with gladness, or, like the Gadarenes, we can beg him to depart from us, and face our eternal damnation.  It seems to me that all of us assembled here this morning have already made that choice.  But there are others who are not present among us; there are others who were once here, but aren’t anymore.  I would hate to think they have consciously turned their backs on Christ, but the truth is, sometimes the devil gets into us, and confuses us, and makes us think we’re better off without Christ.  It’s a painful thought, and rightly so.  This Gospel message today is a stern reminder that, but for the grace of God, could be any one of us.

I think this is probably one of the appropriate Sundays to sponsor a “bring a friend to church” day, or better still, an “invite a former parishioner to church” Sunday.  All of us know someone who is a good person, kind, caring, considerate, but they are lacking something; it’s like they’re in a boat, floating along, without a rudder to guide their direction.  These souls, my brothers and sisters, are precisely the ones Jesus tells us to go and proclaim the good news to.  These are the souls the devil prefers we avoid, because they have no compass to point them towards Christ.  We must be their compasses.  We must point them to Christ.  We must point them towards

Burke Road
.  Sometimes, we must even drag them here.  No doubt, my brothers and sisters, the road to hell is paved with excuses like, “I wanted to go to church, but something else came up.”  Really?  Barring illness, or the absolute need to work, in almost all of our lives, nothing ever comes up on a Sunday morning ….its by God’s design that this time is set aside for us to worship Him.  All of the organizations that set up football and cheerleading practices on a Sunday morning, or tournaments or try outs are stumbling blocks put before us by the devil to see if our reaction, and to see if we are really true believers.

My brothers and sisters, take from this Gospel what you will; as for me, it’s a wake up call to do a better job of evangelizing Christ to those around me.  I’m willing to help bring souls towards Christ…how about you?  There would be no greater sight than to see this building, and eventually, our new church, packed with true believers.  Let us all make this our goal, together, as Disciples of Christ.

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