Metropolitan Antony of Sourozh
In one of the Gospels, before the passage which was read today about the healing of two possessed in the country of Gergesene, there is a short story about Christ crossing the sea of Galilee together with His disciples. In the course of their journey a storm broke out. And as the Gospel puts it, Christ was peacefully asleep with His head on a pillow. And the apostles cried out, not in a prayer, but in indignation: Do You not care that we are perishing? Christ awoke, and He stood up, and looked at them sadly, and said: ‘O men of little faith!’ Then He turned to the storm and commanded it to be still.
Isn’t that what happens so often to us? We feel that we are in danger, we are in need, we turn to God, we claim His attention, we want things to be the way we choose – and there is silence; God seems to be asleep; and we suspect that He does not care, that He is like Christ, sleeping peacefully with His head on a cushion, while we, His creatures, cry, wail in our agony…
Isn’t there anything that we can learn? Yes, we are not on the sea, we are not in a boat, there is not even a physical storm; there are storms around us and within us; and we turn to God because we want Him to solve our problem. And Christ had said long before that if you have faith as much as a grain of mustard – you could move mountains… Is it that we have no faith, not even as a grain of mustard? Is it that we have no faith, and therefore have neither courage nor understanding – no courage to face the storm, and no understanding to see in it the ways of God? Yes, the Lord said to Isaiah: ‘My ways are not your ways, as My thoughts are not your thoughts! My ways are so much higher than yours, as My thoughts are higher than yours…’ Haven’t we learned anything from the Gospel, from our life within this strange community which we call the Church, in which God and man stand together? Do we not realise that in the power of Christ Who sustains us we can face the storm, we don’t need a miracle, we need only our faith? This is the first image.
And then comes another image in today’s reading. Christ comes to the land of the possessed; there, He is neither idle, nor passive, nor absent: He acts, He heals the possessed men; and what happens, what is the response of the people? They are in terror because they have seen the power of God manifested in such a way that fills them with fear, not with awe. And they ask Christ to be gone: Leave our realm, go away!.. The fact that Christ has acted, that He has healed, that He has saved the men, matters nothing; what matters, is that they have to pay the cost for it: their pigs.
Isn’t it again something which we happen to do? We ask God to come into our lives; and suddenly we discover that God is not coming in the way in which we want Him to be! He is not coming into our lives simply to order things according to our view; He transforms the dead orderliness of our life into a chaos, but a chaos which is pregnant with possibilities – but we don’t want this! We want what we had: an orderly life, without problems, without anything great happening, also without anything tragic happening.
Last weak we read the story of the centurion to whom Christ said, ‘I will come to your house and heal the servant’. And he said, ‘No, Lord, there is no need for you to come, I trust you, it’s enough for you to say a word – and everything will be right’. Christ need not come; and in our lives, how often has He said the word: the whole Gospel is Christ’s word addressed to us; the whole Gospel is made of words that can give us life eternal. You remember the passage when Christ has spoken incomprehensible words to those who surrounded Him, and many of His disciples left; and He turned to the twelve, and said, ‘Are you also going to leave Me?’ – and Peter said, ‘No – where should we go? You have the words of life eternal’. Christ has never spoken of life eternal, never given descriptions of it; the words of life eternal were words that awoke eternal life within those who heard, who had ears, good will to hear. ‘Say a word – and my servant will be healed’, Christ is speaking: why isn’t that we, His servants, are not healed? Because we don’t want to listen.
Earlier, on another occasion, someone else had said to Christ, ‘Leave me – I am unworthy’. Having seen the miraculous catching of fish on the sea of Galilee, Peter said, ‘Leave my boat, I am not worthy, I am a sinner. Have we ever spoken such words? Have we ever felt that we are unworthy of Christ’s coming, dwelling under our roof, being our familiar, being with us, doing for us all we need? Indeed being for us like a servant who will do things because we need them done.
Is that the way we respond to the Gospel? Let us think of Peter, his awe because he had seen the act of God; and let us think of these people who have also seen the act of God. Both said, ‘Go, oh Lord!’ – but how differently! Who are we: Peter, or the Gadarines?
And again: when we are in agony, in need – have we got faith to say, ‘In the power of Christ that sustains me I can face my own agony, or the storm’, or do we turn to God and say, ‘You – save me! I am not ready to endure this agony’.
Let us reflect on it all; because every word of God is salvation for us if we listen to it, if we respond to it. Let us listen – beyond what I have said, read the passages, think of them, find in them what I have not seen. But then, let us all, according to our understanding, and beyond our strengths, in the spirit and strength of Christ live according to His words. Amen.