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Weekly Message 11-04-07: Gadarene Demoniac

It was only back in July that we read this Gospel from St. Matthew’s account, and now we get to hear it again as recorded by St. Luke! 

I find it interesting to note that we hear this Gospel reading twice on a Sunday during the year, and it is read another time during the week, while the Catholic Church doesn’t ever use this reading in their 3 year cycle of Sunday readings. 

What I find even more interesting is that it seems that I always get to preach on this Gospel.  It’s a fantastic story, something that probably would make a good Hollywood movie:  We have a naked man, living in a graveyard, scaring the dickens out of the townspeople, so powerful that chains could not hold him. The hero comes, sets him free, and sends the demons (creatively) into a herd of swine who rush off screaming over a cliff into the sea to drown!

There is an interesting theme in this Gospel reading that can be summed up in just one word:  fear.  Everyone in this Gospel story, with the exception of Jesus, was afraid. The demoniac was afraid and the townspeople were afraid. Even after he was healed the townspeople were still afraid! Fear drove the man to isolate himself in a graveyard, and he made it his business to frighten anyone who happened by. Evidently, this atmosphere of fear was a focus of life in the region of the Gadarenes.

Fear is something with which we are all familiar. Since 911 many Americans have lived in fear that terrorists will kill them. Our national discourse seems to have revolved almost entirely around fear. It is a terrible way to live. We fear poverty, starvation, cancer, crime. We even fear the truth and honesty. “What if people knew how I really felt, who I really am? Surely, they would not like me.” So we run from the things that frighten us. We live in gated communities, we take lots of pills, we drink lots of alcohol, we eat lots of food, we watch lots of television, anything to take away our fear. Ultimately, all of these little fears come from the one big fear, that is, the fear of death. Which reminds me, it was Woody Allen who once said, “I’m not afraid of dying.  I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

It is curious that the Gospel calls us to do something quite different than we are used to doing with fear. It invites us not to run away from it. Jesus did not run away from the demoniac. He met him face to face. He did not run away from Calvary. He met death face to face. Of course, he was afraid! Read the account of his agonizing prayers in Gethsemane! But courageous people are not those who have not experienced fear, but rather those who know it intimately and who do not let it rule them. We are invited to meet our fears head-on with faith and hope in God who will never forsake us. If we do, we will discover that the monster we so feared is not so fearful after all.

We all have problems we need to face, fears that need to be admitted, sins that need reconciling and this cannot be done by hiding from them or pretending that they do not exist. Instead of running away we need to stop and look deeply at what it is that troubles us. We need to let go, to relax, to welcome the opportunity to face these things when they arise. The Lord invites us to leave our fears behind and come to him as we are.

My brothers and sisters, as we go forward this day as Disciples of Christ, let us all rise up against our fears and follow our Lord, who beckons to us to follow Him.  In just under two weeks, we will begin the Philip Fast that leads us into the Nativity of Our Lord.  Use this time of the fast to seek the Lord, as did the wise men who journeyed to find our Savior.  The madness is already starting, with holiday decorations on display and the media blitz of shopping, cooking, partying on all of the channels and radio stations.  There is a way to combat all of this, though; keep Christ as the central focus of the season, and all else will fall into place.  Don’t fear the coming frenzy; instead, use the time set aside by the Philip Fast to pray and reflect over the coming holy day, and the past years blessings.  That is my prayer for all of us this day.  Amen.

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