It’s probably human nature to think about moving on to a new place from time to time. The prospect of starting over, putting our old problems behind us, and having new and exciting opportunities often appeals to us. Sometimes we just get restless and long for something new.
That’s how the man in today’s gospel lesson felt. Jesus Christ had cast many demons out of him and had delivered him from a terrible existence. The wretched man had been naked, living in a cemetery, with no family or friends. Everyone was afraid of him, for even chains and shackles could not control him when the demons took over. After the Lord set him free, the man understandably wanted to leave town, to follow the One who had delivered him. But Christ did not want him to do that. Instead, he was to return to his own house and tell what great things God had done him. So that is what he did; he proclaimed throughout the whole city how the Lord had blessed him and had given him his life back.
We surely cannot blame this poor fellow for wanting to move on. He must have been known in the country of the Gadarenes as that crazy man whom everybody feared. That is apparent from people’s reaction to the sight of him when he is finally clothed and in his right mind. They were afraid and probably wondered what would happen next. They even asked the Lord to depart because of it. Perhaps this was some kind of trick. Maybe he would become violent again at any moment. The man knew that this was how people viewed him and was probably ashamed, as any of us would be in his situation. So he wanted to put his hometown behind him and not look back. He wanted simply to be with Jesus Christ, who was probably the only person who had shown him compassion and friendship in many years.
But that was not Christ’s plan. He knew that the Gadarenes did not understand the Gospel. He knew that they were so disturbed by the amazing changes in the man’s life that they could not hear the word of the Lord. So it was time for the Savior to leave, but the man who had been possessed by demons was to stay. For eventually, people would see that the positive changes in this man were permanent. Over time, they would get to know him and accept him. And his new life would be living proof of Christ’s salvation. He would be living evidence that God’s blessing and healing have come even to demon-possessed Gentiles of whom everyone was terrified. He would be a living sign that the mercy of Christ extends to all and can heal even the worst wounds and diseases of our souls.
To this day, some are called to be itinerate evangelists, to travel from here to there proclaiming the Gospel; some are called to be physicians, nurses, teachers, or development workers in far-away lands. But most of us are not. Most of us are called, like the man in today’s lesson, to stay right where we are, among those who know us well—for good or for bad—to work out our salvation together with them. Our challenge is to accept with humility the family, the church community, the job, the school, the friends, the neighborhood, the blessings and the challenges, that God in His providence has allowed us to face. No, He is never the author of evil, but He calls us to put up with one another’s weaknesses and life’s disappointments with patience, perseverance, and forgiveness. If we think that the grass is always greener somewhere else, we will never learn that we are members of a Body, that we are not isolated individuals, but members of one another in Christ. Whether in church, family, work, school, or friendships, it is by bearing with one another that we work through our difficulties and learn to stop thinking simply in terms of our own desires, but in terms of what is best for others with whom we share a common life.
Staying put is often good, not only for our communities and relationships, but for ourselves. The man who had been demon-possessed could have left his town and put that sad part of his life behind him. It would have been easier for him to forget his painful past by moving on. But perhaps we kid ourselves when we think that it is best to put the dark moments of our lives completely out of mind. They are reminders of our weakness and of the truth that that we do not save ourselves, that we are always dependent upon the Lord’s mercy and blessing in our lives. We are never self-sufficient as Christians, and our journey is not one of perfect success. No, we should not obsess on our weaknesses, failures, and pains; it is rarely helpful to dwell upon them. We should be grateful and joyful about God’s blessings in our lives. But we should also acknowledge what our past sins reveal about us: our spiritual sickness and brokenness, and the fact that we can easily fall back into the pit of our own corruption. When we remember who we were, and where we are tempted to return, we are reminded to stay focused, to be on guard, and to be all the more thankful that the Lord has raised us up from our low estate. It was true for the Gadarene demoniac, and it is true for all of us who have put on the new life in Christ. When we remember what it was like to wallow in the mire of our passions like pigs in mud, we will glorify with humility the One who set us free.
Another reason for staying home was the impact that this man’s example would have on his friends and neighbors. For there is no more powerful evidence of the truth of the Gospel, there is no stronger witness of Christ’s salvation, than a life transformed. That poor man was so overwhelmed by evil that he had lost his identity as a person. When the Lord asked him his name, the man replied, “Legion,” because he was filled with so many demons. And, as we have seen, he acted like someone controlled by the forces of evil. But after Christ delivered him, the man returned to a normal human life, clothed and in his right mind.
If he had left town, no one whom he met would have known about his past unless he had mentioned it. And even if he told them about it, the story would not be nearly as significant for them as it would be for the people in his hometown. It is one thing to hear about someone’s transformation, but quite another to see it with your own eyes. And it was only by staying home that this man was able to become a uniquely powerful icon of what Jesus Christ can do to heal and fulfill even the most miserable human being.
Of course, we have not been running around demon-possessed, naked, and out of our minds in cemeteries. But we have all at times give into our temptations and allowed our passions to overtake us. Though we may have repented and found God’s forgiveness, we can still be ashamed to encounter people or situations that remind us of our failings. Out of pride, we do not want to be reminded of how we acted and how we may be tempted to act again. Granted, we should not put ourselves in situations of great temptation when we can avoid it. But we also should not hide our light under a bushel; we should not allow pride to keep us from showing others to what the Lord has done for us. Like the Gadarene demoniac, we should return to our house, our home, our neighborhood, our classroom, our workplace, our friendships, and become a living example of what Jesus Christ can do in the lives of sinners.Some may be skeptical of the changes in us or even afraid and ask us to leave, as they did to Christ Himself. Regardless of that, we should simply focus on living with joy, gratitude, and humility the new life that the Lord has given us. That is how we will proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God even as we remain in our familiar settings, giving thanks for the great things that Christ has done for us. And then others will know that the Lord’s mercy, blessing, and healing are for people just like you and me, right where we are, no matter how painful the past has been. As St. Seraphim of Sarov taught, “Acquire the Spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved.”