First Things first

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
First Things first
21st Sunday after Pentecost
1 November, 2009
Galatians 2:16-20 ; Luke 8:26-39

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul is talking about the fact that there is no salvation through the Law, as it were. Essentially, he is reminding us that the Law is not an end in itself. Anyone who develops such an attitude, thinking that the Law is an end in itself, is badly out of focus, and needs a thorough “tune-up”, one might say. The Law is an aid, a series of signposts.

Where the Lord is, there is always order. First things always come first. In the presence of the Lord, things come into the correct focus. Thus when it comes to the Law, “first things first” is precisely what is the summary of the Law : “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30). Loving God is what comes first. If we love God first and foremost in our lives, and if the Lord is the purpose of our lives, then, in this very context of love (which the Prophet Moses gave to us in the first place in his summary of the Law), the Law will be lived out as “second nature”. This is because the Law expresses how we are supposed to be living if we are people who do love God.

In the Gospel reading today, we are with our Lord in the territory of the Gadarenes, as He encounters a demoniac. This man is living in complete disorder. We hear that he has been taken over by a legion of demons. No-one can hold him. Even chains cannot hold him because his strength in this disorder is so great. When our Lord comes into his presence, He does not waste any time. We see that the demoniac is already throwing himself on the ground before the Lord, calling Him Who He is : “‘What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’” While the demoniac is doing this, our Lord has already begun to tell the demons to come out. In His mercy and compassion, our Saviour sets people free from such disorder and such slavery. Always He is doing this. Always He is setting people free. Over and over again we encounter the Lord doing this as we go with Him through the Gospel.

The Lord is setting this demoniac free. The Lord is compassionate. What would you do with these demons if you were in that place ? I am quite sure that because of the electronic games which many Canadians play these days, they would try to “zap” the demons with some sort of “super-duper ray-gun”. However, the Lord does not do anything of the sort. The demons beg to go into the herd of pigs, and our Lord says, as it were : “All right, go there, but get out of this man”. Even with evil spirits, the Lord is not interested in somehow extinguishing them, at least not yet. He is giving them some sort of opportunity (but I do not know what). In this case, He is not ready to cast them into oblivion.

The demons come out, and enter the herd of swine. It is very important for us to understand about this herd of swine. There is not supposed to be a herd of swine in any Jewish community. Even the Muslims do not have pigs. However, in this particular Jewish community there were many swine. I suppose that people were thinking that they could manage to do business with pigs in this remote place, and no-one would see. They were probably selling these animals to the occupying Roman army or the Greeks who were living there, and so forth. However, even if they were not eating the swine-flesh, it does not make any difference to the Lord. If the Lord said that there was to be no association with pigs, then no-one should even be raising them. The result of this permission is that when the pigs are occupied by this legion of demons, the demons cannot help themselves. They immediately act according to their fallen nature. They drive the pigs crazy, and they immediately drown themselves. We do not know anything more about the demons, but certainly the pig problem in the area is solved. The economy is thrown into a certain amount of chaos as a result. This is, of course, one reason why the whole multitude of the Gadarenes ask Him to depart from there.

The Gadarenes, themselves, do not catch the drift. They are more interested in their economy than in what had happened to this man in their midst. This man is begging the Lord and saying, in effect : “Please let me come with You. I want to be with You, Lord”. However, because of the Gadarenes, our Saviour says to him, as it were : “You stay here with your people, and be a living testimony of how God has worked in your life. Do not go away somewhere, but stay with your people. Give thanks to God, and remind them by your presence of how God has worked in your life”.

This is our responsibility as Orthodox Christians. We, ourselves, are set free from our various disorders by the love of God. No-one can fool me about the disorder in our lives, because I hear confessions (and I also have to go to confession). We all have some sort of disorder in our lives. Nevertheless, the Lord sets us free from them. He enables us to live a life that is life-giving, a life that has a sense of direction, despite our weaknesses, despite our confusion. More and more in the course of our lives, the Lord enables us to be who we truly are. The Lord sets us free from fear. The Lord sets us free from disorder. He enables us to be a living testimony to people around us (just as this demoniac is) about what are the fruits of living in love with Jesus Christ. In love with Jesus Christ, living in this love, we are not slaves of anything or anyone. We are not bound by metal shackles as was the demoniac who was breaking them himself. However, if we are bound by metaphysical shackles, it is the Lord who releases us from them. Indeed, our Saviour released the demoniac from much greater slavery and stronger chains than metal or metaphysical shackles. Those ones were demonic shackles.

In our communities, our places of work, wherever we are, we can be signs of the Lord’s love. We can be signs that the Lord cares for us. He cares for the people around us, too. The Lord loves us. He is enabling us to be free. Therefore, let us ask this same Lord to help us keep our focus of first things first. Let us love the Lord first above all and then those around us. Let us ask the Lord to help us to glorify Him in the whole of our lives, in everything that we do and say. In Him may we glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.