Be careful what you pray for.
Gal. 1:11-19; Luke 8:26-39.*
The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, known as The Sixth Sunday of Luke.
The Sixth Sunday after the Holy Cross; also, the Holy Martyr Zenobius & his sister, Zenobia; also, the Passing of the Holy Martyr and Priest, Oleksiy Zarytski in 1963.
Return to ByzantineCatholicPriest.com.
11:40 AM 10/30/2011 — I like, sometimes, to look at the little minor things that happen in the Gospel that no one else bothers to look at. And I was drawn to the last sentence in today’s Gospel lesson. Here Jesus exorcises demons from a man, casting the demons into a herd of pigs.** This is nothing unusual for our Lord; he’s done it before. What I find interesting is that, after he does it, they run him out of town, or, as St. Luke puts it, “As soon as they saw him, they implored him to leave.”*** Now, there could be a lot of reasons for that: he is, after all, wandering around the country of the Gadarenes who are Gentiles, which is confirmed by the presence of a herd of pigs, which you would never find in the country of the Jews, because they don’t eat pork. So, it’s possible they just didn’t like him because he was a Jew. It’s also possible they didn’t think much of having a whole herd of swine disposed of in such a casual manner.
But one commentator I read suggested a more sinister possibility. He suggests that “The attitude of [the] local people towards this miracle reminds us that meeting God and living a Christian life require us to subordinate personal plans to God’s designs. If we have a selfish or materialistic outlook we fail to appreciate the value of divine things and push God out of our lives, begging him to go away, as these people did.”† And I found that to be a very astute observation; because I’ve found—and perhaps you have, too—that even people who pray very much are secretly wishing that God would keep his nose out of it. I think of St. Augustine who, before his conversion, while in the midst of a life of reckless abandonment, prayed to God saying, “God, give me chastity, but not yet.”
We want things from God. We want relief from our sufferings; we want an end to our troubles; we want to enjoy good health; we want family harmony; we want success in our relationships; and God is not adverse to giving us these things. But that’s not all you get when you haggle with God. When you accept Christ into your life, your whole life changes, or at least it should. This is what our Lord meant when he said, “If you would be my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me.” In other words, it’s a package deal: the price is that you give yourself completely to him.
And there’s a lot of us who don’t want that deal. I remember when I was first ordained chatting with one of the neighbors who lived in the house behind the church, and she was chewing my ear off about all of her problems, and why doesn’t God ever listen to her prayers. And as it turned out she wasn’t practicing any religion at all with any regularity, and had lived with a succession of men, both in and out of marriage. And here’s she’s wondering why God has not come to her rescue. She wants the benefits of a relationship with Christ, but she doesn’t want the relationship itself; because any relationship—particularly one with God—is a two way street. It’s like a man who finds a nice girl who loves him, but he only wants what he can get from her, and he’s not interested in any kind of commitment to her. So he strings her along and takes what he wants without giving her the kind of security and protection that that kind of relationship implies, until he’s used her to the point that she just loses patience.
Well, our Lord Jesus Christ is very patient; but he is not a milquetoast. He certainly is willing to forgive us when we go astray, particularly in the Holy Mystery of Penance; but even the forgiveness we receive in confession implies an effort to change. If we’re continually praying to God for this or that, but aren't making any effort to live a life that conforms to his plan as found in the Gospel and the teachings of the Church and of the Fathers, then what’s in it for him? How long can we reasonably expect God to go on watching over us, protecting us, comforting us, simply because we’ve asked him to, but continue to reject him in the living of our lives? And when our lives are over, and a decision must be made regarding the final disposition of our souls, what will we have to show in return for all we have received from God? Will we not say something like, “Well, I knew what Christ wanted, but it was too much for me to handle; I did the best I could.” Will we really have done our best? Or will we have simply convinced ourselves that what we were willing to do was our best, when, in fact, we never really knew what our best was because we never really tried?
The Gadarenes had to be impressed by our Lord casting out demons and helping this man whom no one else could help. But they understood the implications of his presence among them; and, while they were happy for the man who was now free, they weren’t willing to give anything in return; so they asked him to leave. Which he did. God forbid that any of us, who have received so much from our Lord, would ask him to leave.
Father Michael Venditti
* Due to the "Lucan Jump," the Gospel read today is that for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. Cf. the note appended to the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
** The mosaic shown with this post depicts the expulsion of Legion into the heard of Gadarene Swine, and is found in the 6th Century Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. The Adriatic coast is dotted with Byzantine Churches dating from pre-schismatic times. Note the disciple dressed in the toga of a Roman senator; yet, the nimbus surrounding our Lord's head, containing his typical identifying initials in Greek, as well as the shape of the eyes in all three figures, clearly show this to be an image from the Constantinopolitan tradition.
*** Luke 8:37.
† “St. Matthew,” The Navarre Bible, p. 89.