Glory to Jesus Christ!
My friends, it’s the same old story.
Have you ever used that phrase? I know that I have. It’s one of those wonderful phrases we have in the English language that end up saying more than they seem to say.
But really: the same old story. None of those words, by themselves, necessarily indicate anything bad at all, do they? “The same,” if something is good to begin with, then that which is the same is also good. The converse is true, also, of course, so it depends where you’re starting from. “Old”: There is nothing necessarily wrong with being old, something being old, depending on what you’re dealing with. And a “story”: that’s just something that’s told and re-told; words that express something that’s worth passing on.
So we shouldn’t be afraid of the same old story. In fact, as Christians, we welcome it. Through the course of the year, during the Divine Liturgy we will hear the same old story told. Old, yes, but also ever new, for it once again lives by the life-giving voice of the Church, and it comes to meet us wherever we may be as we walk the path of grace and faith.
We have a chance especially to notice this re-telling of the “same old story” when we hear the Gospel this week. We hear of our Lord casting out the legion of demons from the Gerasene Demoniac. And the demons flee into a herd of swine, and the herd of swine promptly take off running and throw themselves into the sea and drown.
And if you’re thinking that we’ve already heard this, and not too long ago, you’re right. It’s difficult to forget a Gospel reading which includes a herd of pigs hurling themselves into the sea. At least, it is for me. But eighteen weeks ago, on the fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Saint Matthew related this episode to us in his Gospel. Today, Saint Luke also tells us of this exorcism.
It’s the same old story. And yet, like I said, ever new, too. For we have once again the opportunity to learn and to take to mind and to heart the lesson and the fruit of the Gospel.
The scene should still be familiar to us. Our Lord arrives by boat in the land of the Gerasens and encounters a man possessed by devils, wearing no clothing, living among the tombs. The devils cry out in fear before the Lord, and the Lord – having mercy on the possessed man – casts the demons out of him and into a nearby herd of swine, which then runs violently down into the water and drowns.
We might make note, though, of a couple of particulars which Saint Luke relates to us and which might speak to us in a special way today. The same old story, but ever new.
The first particular that Saint Luke points out is that when news had been brought into the nearby town of what had happened, the people “went out to see what was done; and they came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at His feet, clothed, and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”
Did you notice that? They found the man, out of whom the devils were departed clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.
This is the very hallmark of a people accustomed to being oppressed by the devils. That they become afraid at the sight of a person clothed and in his right mind.
It’s not so different today. For all the talk of daring and revolution and counter-culture, what is truly daring is to be clothed, to be modest both in body and in soul; what is truly counter-cultural is to be in your right mind, to use your God-given reason and good sense. In a society where even an entire herd demon-possessed pigs would rather drown themselves than hang around the general population, simply being clothed and being in your right mind can be a daring and even frightening act of rebellion. So I say: let’s do it.
And that brings us to the second point Saint Luke makes. The man who had been delivered from the demons wanted to stay with our Lord. Follow Him. He knew what kind of a place he was living in, and having tasted of the goodness of the grace of God, he wanted to leave where he was and follow the Lord anywhere.
But the Lord calls him to a different purpose. He says to him, “Return to thy house, and tell how great things God hath done to thee.” And he went through the whole city, publishing how great things Jesus had done to him.
So it is often with those who have been delivered, those who have by the grace of God undertaken the monumental work of being clothed and being in their right minds. There can be a great desire to leave behind a society frightened by spiritual normalcy. A society which, when it had seen the works that the Lord had done, instead of rejoicing in the grace of God, rather asked Him depart. One may have a great desire to leave that behind.
But more often than not, the Lord says to us: “Return to thy house, and tell how great things God hath done to thee.”
The house, the city, the world may not want to hear it. The great things that God has done to us may only serve to bring about fear and a desire that the Lord depart. But yet… the Lord still wishes it to be done. He wishes that those who are clothed and in their right mind also tell of the great things God hath done for them.
Yes, in the end, it may be the same old story. But it is one worth telling, to the greater glory of God.