Christ Has Won Over Death

The people of the Gerasene countryside loved their pigs too much. Perhaps they were overly fond of bacon – as are some of us. I like bacon, but the bacon-love of some seems to border on idolatry. I saw a Little Caesar’s pizza ad that said “in bacon we crust.” The Gerasenes preferred their bacon to Jesus.

Seeing what Jesus had done – how he had healed the possessed man and driven the pigs over the cliff – all the people of the Gerasene countryside were afraid – and they asked Jesus to leave…. So he got into the boat and went away. Just like that. Jesus cast out the man’s legion of demons and, in reaction, a legion of the man’s countrymen cast out Jesus.

How sad. How tragic. When we ask Jesus to leave our country, when we send him away, it seems that sometimes he does go away.

He taught his disciples to behave in the same way – that if any house or town does not receive us or hear our words of peace and good news that we are to shake the dust of that place off our feet and go on our way (Matt 10:14). He taught us also neither to give to dogs what is holy nor to cast our pearls before swine (Matt 7:6). That is, when we encounter those who relentlessly scoff and deride our gospel of eternal life and union with God, we should not try to force them to listen. There’s no point. The worldly are not worthy of the godly (cf. Heb 11:38). The question is, am I among the worldly or the godly?

Jesus comes to the country of the Gerasenes. He heals the first person he meets. He casts out demons. He offers the Gerasenes healing and life and, best of all, his presence among them, but they ask him to leave. The good that he has to offer is clearly displayed for all to see. If, seeing his goodness, we reject him, we are lost.

Likewise, the gospel we have to offer the world is nothing less than eternal life and union with God. If, hearing this good news, some part of the world rejects it, then that part of the world is lost.

But not all rejected him. One man alone among all the Gerasenes, seeing that Jesus was leaving, begs to go with him. The man Jesus healed and restored to his right mind could not bear to see Jesus leaving them so soon.

But Jesus sent him away. He had for him a higher purpose. He told him to return to his home and declare how much God had done for him. And he did. He went away proclaiming throughout the whole city just what Jesus had done for him.

Notice, by the way, his subtle realization of Christ’s divinity here – Jesus told him to preach what God had done for him and he preaches what Jesus had done for him. He puts Jesus in the place of God, and rightly so for that is what he is.

Jesus makes this man he healed to be an evangelist to the people he is leaving. So while he gets in the boat and goes away, he leaves behind an emissary. He does not abandon these people utterly. And this is unusual. Usually, after healing someone, Jesus tells the person to keep it a secret. But this time he tells the man to declare the good news to his countrymen. There is still hope for them to see the truth.

Of all the Gerasenes, only this one believed in him. Only one saw that Jesus was God. And that was a demoniac that he healed. But if the Gerasene demoniac can be healed and can see the truth of God, then there is hope for the other Gerasenes as well, due to the sort of evangelism coming from this man.

Sometimes it gets down to one. Sometimes there is only one who believes. I think immediately of Noah. In all the world, only Noah and his family were faithful to God, and so God turns away from the rest of the world, flooding it all, sparing only Noah and his family in a boat.

Jesus also gets into a boat to leave the country of the Gerasenes. The only faithful one among the Gerasenes wanted to get into the boat too, just as Noah had been spared from his generation in a boat. But this time, even though Jesus leaves the Gerasenes behind, he does not flood them, true to his promise. And instead he leaves the faithful one among them to give testimony to God and to the good healing and deliverance that God has brought into his life.

In addition to Noah, I think also of our holy father Theodore Romzha, whose feast day is October 31st. He also must have felt pretty alone in his faith. As a young, new, and inexperienced bishop he had immediately to deal with the invasion of the Soviet Red Army – arresting his priests, confiscating his parishes and assigning them to the Russian Orthodox, taking even his car and leaving him with nothing but a horse and buggy to visit his parishes. They pressured him too, of course, to break his communion with Rome, but he steadfastly refused – preferring whatever persecution they would offer to betraying his church. Ultimately the Soviets resolved to simply do away with him. And they deliberately crashed a vehicle into his horse and buggy hoping this would kill him. When it didn’t, they poisoned him in his hospital bed. And he died close to midnight on the 31st of October – November 1st, Moscow time. Nikita Khrushchev personally signed the order for him to be murdered.

Just as the Gerasenes cast Jesus out of their country, so too did the Soviets try to cast Jesus out of their country and all the lands they occupied. But as in the countryside of the Gerasenes, here again Jesus left behind some of the faithful to tell all that God has done for them. And the seeds of their testimony watered by the blood of their martyrdom has borne fruit in the re-blossoming of our church in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.

We don’t know whether the Gerasenes were persuaded by the testimony of the man but we do know that such a testimony can have that effect. We have seen it in our own time.

There are also some who would like to cast Jesus out of our country. But it doesn’t matter even if they were to become the majority. Even if we were as few as the Byzantine Catholics were against the Soviets – or as few as Noah’s one family against the world – or as few as one man formerly possessed by demons against all his pig-loving countrymen, it is our gospel, our true God, our true Church that will prevail in the end. Christ has already won over death and that is the last enemy.

Fr. John R.P. Russell

By

Fr. John R.P. Russell is a husband, a father of four, a priest for the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Parma, and a painter particularly influenced by abstract expressionism and iconography. He has an M.Div. from the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Ss. Cyril and Methodius and a B.A. in art with a minor in religion from Wabash College. He blogs here: http://holydormition.blogspot.com/. Some of his paintings can be seen here: https://paintingprosopa.blogspot.com/

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