Today we recount the story of the demon possessed men and the swine drowning in the sea. This account from the Gospel of Saint Matthew is also echoed in the Gospels of Mark and Luke as well. Swine have a vivid memory in my life! My aunt and uncle raised hogs and their home was sandwiched between a pig-pen where table scraps were often cast, and the farrowing or birthing house where little piggies played and squealed. I remember the sight and the smell all too well!
Let’s dive if we shall into the pig-pen! Raising swine for food is against the Jewish law so the mostly Gentile townsfolk were not welcoming a Jew sent by God. I don’t want You here in my darkness, go away. I do not want to change, go away! We don’t want to abide by the law, go away! The hogs, unlike the possessed men chose to drown themselves in the ocean rather than live with this demon. What a waste of port chops but after all, maybe the swine should not have been there in the first place amongst the Jews.
Most of us Christians eat pork with a few exceptions including our Eritrean and Ethiopian friends next door. Old Testament restrictions against eating pork were rules specifically governing ritual cleanliness and were intended to be applied only to the Jews. St. Paul and the Jerusalem council decided this and in Acts 21, St. Paul states that circumcision was not necessary for the Gentiles nor was the restrictions against eating pork and shellfish. Bacon, bacon, bacon!
We all have some things in common with the possessed tribesmen. At times we tend to keep our sins in the comfort of darkness, bathing in the rich fertile mud enticed with manure, rather than exposing our temptations to the correction and healing of Christ. St. Theophan writes: “When a man is given over to the passions, he does not see them in himself and does not fight against them, because he lives in them and by them. But when the grace of God becomes active in him, he begins to discern the passionate and sinful in himself, acknowledge them, and to repent and decide to guard against them. A struggle begins. At first, the struggle begins with deeds, but when is released from shameful deeds, then the struggle begins with shameful thoughts and feelings. And here the struggle encounters many steps … The struggle continues. The passions increasingly are torn out of the heart. It even happens that they are entirely torn out … The sign that the passions are torn out of the heart is that the soul begins to feel repulsion and hatred for the passions.” (St. Theophan the Recluse, How the Spiritual Life Proceeds)
We come to church with judgment and anger and look for ways to be irritated! Do we really want God or do we want the demons? Do we really want Jesus coming into our home exposing our sins and telling us what to do? Go away! I’ll cozy up to Christ when it is convenient for me.
We all say the prayer: “Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one!” Saint James writes in his first chapter: “Let no one when he is tempted be saying, “I am tempted of God”; for God is incapable of being tempted of evils, and He Himself tempteth no one. But each is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own desire. Then after he conceiveth the desire, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, after it is fully formed, bringeth forth death. Cease being led astray, my beloved brethren; every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights, with Whom is no alternation or a shadow cast by turning. [Jas. 1:13-17]
If we chose to continue wallowing in the darkness of sin telling the Lord to Go Away, we must be happily tormented in the pig pen of sin!
Fr. Gabriel Weller 7/9/17