Sermon Text: Matthew 8:28-34
Imagine that you have worked your entire life to grow your family business, up to the point that you have, with great labor, paid off all of your debts, put up a great amount of savings, built a business to the point that it is worth in excess of five hundred thousand dollars–over half a million dollars–and you still figure that you have many years to go, and that with additional work, you’re going to have several million dollars in this business and you’re going to be set for life.
And then, some very strange, crazy guy moves in down the street from you. And you don’t like him at all, and he doesn’t like you, and he’s mean to you, he’s rude, he’s profane, he threatens you, he threatens your family, and even threatens customers that are coming and trying to purchase things from you at your business, and so your business dives a little bit. And after putting up with this for a couple of years, one day you get this knock at the door.
And this good doctor says, “I have some wonderful news. You know that guy that lives down the street here? He’s sick. He has some serious problems, and I have access to the technology, the medical technology that is going to make him well. Now, it’s going to take some expensive surgery. It’s going to take some expensive medications, and some expensive therapy on top of that. But, for about half a million dollars, we can get this guy healed. We can take care of this guy. He will be in his right mind, and he will treat you right. And if you do this for him, he’s possibly going to be so grateful that he’ll even come to Christ; he may even become a Christian.”
How many people would respond well to such a request? How well would you respond to such a request? You see, it’d be one thing if he was only asking for ten percent of everything that you own, but even that would be tough, because we’re still talking fifty thousand dollars. It would be one thing if he was talking about somebody you cared about, somebody you loved. I mean, if it was your own child, well, sure. There are many people who would give every penny they had to save one of their own children. But this guy?
“This guy that spits all over himself, and cusses me out, and attacks my customers, and—I already despise the guy, and you want me to give up everything? Everything, down to the last penny? Where I have to start over from scratch just to keep my family alive? This family business, I’ve poured my life into it for over twenty years. This family business, this is my career, this is what I do. This is how my family eats. This is how we pay our bills. Doesn’t this guy have family who can help him out? Aren’t there some government programs that can help this guy out? Not me. Don’t ask me to sacrifice that, for him.”
It’s a question of priorities, isn’t it? But what does that have to do with our Gospel reading today? You see, in our modern economy, where a lot of people have jobs that you go to for a regular paycheck, I think it’s easy to miss the full impact of what we read today in the Gospel. There are these demon-possessed men that live in this area near this cemetery. And a ways from them, there are these guys who have this business, raising pigs. And Scripture tells us there are over two thousand of them. That’s a lot of money. These guys are pig farmers. That’s their business. And I’ve tried to figure out in today’s dollars, in America, what would it be worth to have a business where you own two thousand pigs. Well, if even a decent number of them are show pigs, we could literally have several million dollars worth of pigs here. But let’s say these are just run-of-the-mill pigs–pigs for barbecuing. Well, even if each pig, on average, was worth two hundred fifty dollars—some more, some less—but if each one is only worth two hundred fifty dollars, right there you have five hundred thousand dollars worth of pork. Half a million dollars.
That’s a pretty significant little family business that you have right there. If these guys wanted to eat, and they wanted to feed their wives and their children, that’s where they got their food. Kill one of the pigs. When they needed money for anything else, guess what they would do? They would sell one of the pigs. How would they work hard to grow their business? Well, they took care of their pigs every day. They fed their pigs. They guarded them from predators. They made sure that their babies were protected and well taken care of, so that the herd could grow even bigger. And probably they had a little bit more than this, because maybe when it got bigger than two thousand pigs, maybe they’d sell off a few pigs. Then they’d use the money for fence or feed, things like this. Shelter.
You see, it’s never so simple as just asking the question, “Do you want somebody to be healed? Do you want somebody to be taken care of?” Well, of course we do. We all do. How many times have you heard about some relative that had some major issues, and say, “Well, I really hope the Lord blesses them”? You see something bad happen on TV and you say, “Man, that’s horrible. Somebody–somebody–oughtta do something about that. But not this somebody. Do you realize how much it would cost me to help that–somebody else needs to pay for that. Surely they’ve got family. Surely there’s a government program that can help them, but I really do pray that they’re warm and filled and blessed.”
We want good things to happen, but we don’t want it if it’s going to cost us significantly. But there are many of us who would consider ourselves generous. We say, “Well, I give a few percent to charity and from time to time I help out my neighbor. I do this; I do that. I help them change out a tire; I donate a little bit of food.” But do you love your neighbor so much that you would literally sacrifice your entire family business, even if it were worth a half million dollars, and go back to square one, because in your mind, this human being is so important, this human being is created in the image of God? They’re so important that they’re worth more than all your money. They’re worth more than all your business. Would you sacrifice your career? Would you sacrifice everything you own to help another human being?
You see, Jesus could have left those demons in those guys in the cemetery. And then you’d just have a couple of guys, tormented, eventually dead, probably end up in hell. Jesus could have done that; he could have protected that family’s business. Those pigs wouldn’t have gotten killed. That half-million dollar investment would have still been intact. But these two men would have remained demon-possessed. They would have remained tormented. They would have remained sick.
And so, what is more important: your fellow man, or your business? Your fellow man or your bank account? Your neighbor, or your money? Now, of course, we all want to say “both/and”. “I want to take care of my neighbor and I want . . . .” But what if you’re made to make a choice? What if you’re forced to make a choice? Which one is more important? I think that’s the first thing God wants us to ask when we look at this passage: “Is it more important to us to protect our stuff, our talents, our investments, money, our things, or is it more important to us–even if it costs us dearly–to see that our brother and our sister are healed, that they’re in their right minds, that their needs are taken care of, and that they get to meet Christ with a clear head and a clear heart?”
The second thing I think we should notice when we look at this passage from the Gospels, is that sometimes evil cannot be neutralized; it can only be relocated. Now, this is a concept I’m not sure we think about that often, because we know that in our hearts, if it’s just up to me, if I’m being wicked, I could repent, and then my heart that was wicked is not wicked anymore. It’s like you have this dark closet, it’s jet black in there, and then you just open the door, and the light shines in. Well, where did all that darkness go? Well, it didn’t go anywhere. It’s just gone. The light has replaced the darkness, but evil does not always work that way.
You see, in this case, it wasn’t just these men being wicked, just these men needing to repent, but they were full of demons. They were demon-possessed. And by the way, I believe demon possession still happens today. This isn’t something that just happened thousands of years ago. This is not just a fairy tale. There really are angels, there really are demons. There really is a God. If you don’t believe in supernatural beings, then you’re in the wrong place.
These demons had to go somewhere. They were in these guys. And so, Jesus was not just doing one thing; He was doing two things. One thing that He was doing is releasing these guys from the hold of these demons. That’s the positive side. But the flip side of that, the second thing that Jesus was doing was unleashing a whole legion of demons out on the world. By healing these men, Jesus is unleashing Pandora’s box. And this family’s business that would not have been attacked, that would not have been in danger, is now decimated. These demons enter these pigs. The pigs commit suicide, violently running off this cliff and heading down to their deaths. And there’s financial ruin that hits this family. And maybe that makes just a little bit more sense of the sad last verse of this passage that we read today.
It says that the owners of that business, the owners of those pigs, went into town and told the people everything that Jesus had done. Told them about how He had freed those guys from demon possession. Told them about how all of their pigs had just gone off to their deaths. And then the people from the town came up and they begged Jesus to leave. Jesus saves two souls from demon possession, saves them from death, but causes a huge financial impact on the community, and they ask Jesus to get lost.
Remember the rich young ruler? He had carefully kept the commandments since he was young. He worshiped faithfully and religiously, and he came and talked to Christ, and asked what would be necessary for him to be perfect, for him to be fully in alignment with God’s will, and Jesus said, “In your case, you need to sell everything that you own–every penny, and give it all to the poor, and then you will have riches in heaven, and then come, follow Me.” And the moment Jesus stepped on his bank account, that rich young ruler turned his back on Christ, and departed in great sorrow, for he was very wealthy and owned many things. He loved Christ, but he loved his money more.
Now think about how this story in the Gospels might have gone down. What if Jesus had just healed these two guys, cast the demons out . . . and that’s it? Nothing bad happens to the pigs. If Jesus had just come into town and healed these two guys, do you think the people would have asked Jesus to leave?
Child in congregation: No.
Deacon Joseph: Probably not. The people were not angry that Jesus had healed these two men and had freed them from demon possession. These people were angry because they loved their pigs more than they loved men. They thought their careers and their businesses and their bank accounts were more important than their fellow man. And sometimes, we find that this relocation of evil—the demons jumping out of here and jumping over here—is exactly how it happens in our own lives.
Have you ever noticed that there may be three or four areas of your life that are basically at peace, as far as you can tell? But over here, this one section of your life, where you know that you have been under the devil’s thumb, you finally start to rebel against the devil so that you can honor God and obey God and you pray and you fast, and you work hard at cleaning up that area of your life and repenting, and the devil starts attacking you on these other areas that you weren’t even having a problem with? It’s like playing spiritual “Whack-A-Mole”. You knock one down, and another one just pops up, and you whack that one down and another one pops up. You ever experience this? Sometimes it seems like evil doesn’t go away; it just relocates. You put up a spiritual front here, and you repent, so the devil comes around the back and he attacks you from there. And so you put up a defense here and you repent, and the devil attacks you here.
What this teaches us is that this world that we live in right now is never going to be utopia. You can pray until you’re blue in the face, and not every person is going to repent. You can fast and evangelize, and build new churches until you’re blue in the face, and not every demon is going to go away. You’ll cast demons out of this fellow over here, and they’ll just step over here and start causing trouble. You’ll attack over here, and they’ll leave, and they’ll just go over here and they’ll start causing trouble. So why is the world this way? Why would God set things up this way? You see, if this world were meant to be heaven, then God failed miserably, because it never will be heaven, until the second coming of Christ, when all things will be made new, and we’ll have the new heaven and the new earth. Only then do we read in Scripture that all tears will be wiped away and there shall be no more sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away. But that doesn’t happen until after the second coming of Christ. But until then, this world is never meant to be heaven.
This world is, however, meant to be a test of your priorities. You see, if every person on earth had a billion dollars, a full refrigerator, and perfect health, we would never get to find out what true love and generosity look like, because there would be no need to sacrifice. There would be no need for compassion. There would be no need for generosity. Some of the people I have met who have the greatest spiritual poverty are those who have the most riches—the biggest bank accounts–the most successful in their businesses. Some of these people are the ones that I have difficulty finding out how to really evangelize them, because other than their spiritual needs, I can’t find any needs to meet. And often it’s through meeting people’s needs that you finally touch their hearts, and then they become interested in Christ.
God wants to test our priorities. He wants us to find out for ourselves what our priorities are. Because as long as you can do both—as long as you can build your family business, as long as you can build your bank account tall, and help everybody just as much as they need it, and there’s no strain put on you anywhere, you don’t know what your priorities are. But the moment a conflict comes up, the moment you have an opportunity to help somebody but helping that person would cost you, either time from your business, or money out of your pocket—once there is a tension there, and a choice that has to be made, you decide, “Do I love my fellow man more because he was created in the image of God, or do I love my pigs more? Because, literally, they bring home the bacon. Where is my allegiance? Where is my love?” Jesus said you cannot serve both God and money. You have to make a choice.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, God is one.
This sermon was preached on Sunday morning, February 3, 2013, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.