Homily Text for June 19, 2016

It is not my practice to preach from a manuscript, but I almost always write one. We have been posting the audio from the homilies in this email and they are on the website, but I thought some might wish to see the text. This is not exactly what was preached, but it is close. Grammarians, please note I don't write these for publication and I have not edited them. I can promise spelling and grammatical errors, missing words, and the like!

I hope at some point today you take a moment to read my article in the announcement sheet. My hope in writing these each week is to introduce the readings to prime your spiritual pump before Sunday, so that you are already thinking just a little about what we will hear and sometimes I like to introduce something that won’t be covered in the homily. We don’t have a lot of time to really get into the power of the readings during the homily, so we have to take advantage of every avenue so that the Word of God  will become the Word on fire for us.

There are two images in your bulletin and in your announcement sheet that I’d like you to focus on. In the announcement sheet is a fragment of a tile from the first century. It’s the military emblem of the Legio X Fretensis, a Roman Legion. Founded by the heir of Julius Caesar, Octavian about 40 years before the birth of our Lord, it was a company of around 5,000 Roman soldiers who played a major role in the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD which resulted in the destruction of the Temple, the Temple which no longer stands and all we have left is the outer Western Wall. That’s the wall you always see in pictures and in video as a place of prayer – the Wailing Wall. That’s all that’s left.

If you look closely at the tile, you can see the symbol of the Legio X Fretensis – a pig. The fact that the symbol for the Roman Legion in Judea at the time of Jesus was a pig is a biblical game changer.

Because when we read the Gospel today from Luke, and this story is essentially identical in Matthew and Mark, theological light bulbs start to go off.

On the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is just a big lake, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man who is possessed by demons, many demons.  This man runs around naked, he lives in tombs, the townspeople try to keep him contained by shackles and chains, but he continually breaks them and is driven into the wild.

When the demon sees Jesus, the man falls down and confesses Jesus as the Son of God. By the way, Fr. Thomas Hopko, a brilliant Orthodox theologian who has now passed, once said that this is what Hell is like. The torment of Hell is to be in the presence of holiness, and to be tormented by it.

Fr. Hopko also makes this astute observation: when we are living a lie, when we are actively in sin, we can’t stand to be around those who are doing what is good and true and holy. He’s absolutely right. When we have been lax in coming to church, we can’t stand those goody two shoes that never miss. They just irritate us. When we aren’t putting the effort in our marriage, we can’t stand seeing pictures on Facebook of those who are. And the list goes on.

Back to the story…when Jesus asks the demon his name he says, Legion. Legion means many, but specifically it means many soldiers. Soldiers of evil. The evil in this man was a like a Roman army. Organized and efficient and lethal. The point is made – this is not an image of a disturbed man – this is spiritual war.

The image is extended when the demons, the soldiers, want to be sent into the pigs. On the cover of your bulletin is an icon of this scene. Parts may be difficult to make out, but you can see Jesus and you can see two men in chains and shackles living in tombs. But at the bottom right, do you see dark little interpretations of demons, riding on the backs of the pigs?

Remember the symbol from the Legio X Fretensis? The Legion isn’t just in the man, the legions are everywhere. What was in the man and what is represented by the pigs are one and the same.

And here, I think, is the truly important and more frightening part of this story.
When the pigs ran off the cliff and drowned, the swine herders went and told all the townspeople what had happened. And when they came and saw the Jesus and the man who had previously been possessed by evil sitting up and in his right mind, they were afraid and upset and asked Jesus to leave.

In other words – they preferred the pigs. They preferred the status quo. They preferred the legions around them.

I think there is a subtle and brilliant dichotomy of evil presented in this story. One is of the dramatic manifestation of evil – the Hollywood version, with chains and shackles and nakedness in tombs. It’s given to us to shock us and force us to pay attention. This is what evil is and this is what evil does.

And then we are given the image of the pastoral, non-offensive swing, minding their own business and grazing at the grass. Except they share the same name – Legion.

Evil prefers to be subtle and non-offensive and discreet. Sometimes it is manifested dramatically like the Nazi regime or ISIS. But Hitler’s Nazi Germany and the Islamic State did not happen overnight. And they did not come into being in a dramatic fashion. It was subtle and slow and strategic.

The Church has always taught that evil is as real as the Gerasene demoniac. But our faith also teaches us that Gerasene demoniac is not our primary concern. It’s not the Legion that was in the man; it’s the Legion that grazes all around us.

It’s that grazing Legion that the townspeople didn’t mind. They profited from it, they enjoyed it. That Legion didn’t have to take over people and send them to the tombs. They didn’t have to because the people willingly went.

And as we seriously start to examine the evil that we currently face, the kind of evil that is dramatic, let us not ignore the subtle, slow, and strategic evil that grazes right under us. History has shown us that the subtle, slow, and strategic is far more dangerous. For they are one and the same. To fight one, we must fight both.

If we are outraged over dramatic loss of life, then let us not also be content and turn a blind eye to a culture of death, where every human life is not valued and protected.

If we are outraged over dramatic tools of destruction, then let us not also be content and turn a blind eye to the mundane tools of destruction that pull families a part and destroy lives and futures.
If we are determined to fight the Legion, then let us not open the gates to the swine.

About every other month, I come in the sacristy, usually on a Sunday morning, wearing a purple stole, and I use the traditional prayers to bless Holy Water. There are four prayers, two for the salt that is added and two for the water. Every now and then someone is in the sacristy with me and I ask them to say Amen when appropriate. I usually warn the person before I begin the prayers about the amount of demonic references.

The devotions surrounding Holy Water remind us of our own baptism, which reminds us that we are alive in Christ. There’s power in the water.

Remember how the pigs died in this story. They drowned in the water.

It washes us clean and it drowns the demons.

There may be legions around us. But we have Jesus in us.

Fr. Steve Rice