Sometimes following Christ takes us down a path that we did not expect to go. Our understanding of what is required to be a follower of Jesus may not always be the same as what He had in mind for us. It is therefore necessary that we allow ourselves to be led by Christ, so that the glory of God may be shown in us by our faithful and obedient discipleship.
Consider, for a moment, the demoniac in today’s Gospel lesson. After Jesus drove out the “legion” of demons that tormented him, the former demoniac wanted to become part of Jesus’ group of disciples. The reading tells us that he begged to go with Jesus, for this is what he saw as his work for Christ and the kingdom of God. The man understood the power of Him who was able to command demons and he obviously wanted to be a part of Christ’s powerful, healing ministry. The former demoniac felt that he understood what it meant to follow Christ, so just imagine his disappointment when he was told to return home and spread the Good News amongst his own neighbors and family. This may have seemed like a rather disappointing end to a very momentous day in his life, but as we all know—and too often forget—God’s plan for our life is always better than the plans we make for ourselves. Jesus determined that it would be better for this man to minister to people of his own city, because sometimes the greatest missionary work is not performed in faraway lands but much closer to home.
As we consider the Gospel record, we can see where this important evangelistic ministry of apostleship has been used to spread the Good News throughout the world. The Acts of the Apostles records how Philip obeyed the command of an angel of the Lord and found the Ethiopian eunuch by the side of the road in the desert between Jerusalem and Gaza. The eunuch, a treasury official of Queen Candace, asked Phillip to interpret certain prophecies from the book of Isaiah. Upon hearing Phillip’s interpretation of Isaiah’s writings, the official’s heart was convicted, he believed in Jesus Christ, and was baptized along the side of the road (Acts 8:26-38). But the story does not end there. St. Irenaeus of Lyons tells us that the Ethiopian eunuch became known as Simeon Bachos, and according to Holy Tradition, Simeon spread the Good News to the regions throughout Ethiopia. The obedience of Phillip and the time he took to witness his faith in Jesus Christ to a complete stranger won over the heart of someone who would become the apostle to the Ethiopians, spreading the Good News to Africa.
Another example, which hits a bit closer to home for our parish, is St. Photini, the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-32). She had a personal encounter with Jesus, who simply by His words and presence was able to change her life. But rather than leaving her home to follow Jesus’ group of disciples, she quickly spread the Good News to her neighbors, and by her actions many in her town came to know Jesus as “the Christ, the savior of the world” (John 4:42), and today St. Photini is known as the Apostle to the Samaritans. Her relics reside in our Holy Table and serve as a reminder to us of the importance of the ministry of apostleship even in our world today.
Let us keep in mind these examples as we take another look at the life of the former demoniac from today’s reading. In spite of his pleas, Jesus had another important ministry in mind for His new disciple. Jesus tells the man: “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” In other words, spread the Good News to the people of your own land. Thus the former demoniac became an Apostle to the Gaderenes! There is nothing better for building God’s kingdom then a good testimonial from someone who had been personally changed by his encounter with Christ. A man once processed by a legion of demons, naked and living in the tombs outside the city was now sane, clothed and sitting at the feet of Jesus! What a compelling witness that must have been, especially to those in his community who knew his former condition. We can all probably reflect back to sometime our lives and remember someone who, by their passionate belief, was able to help build up our own faith by their personal testimonial to God’s love and mercy through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Gospel tells us that the man obeyed Jesus; “…he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.” It should be noted here that the man was giving God the glory by proclaiming the great deeds that Jesus had done, recognizing that God the Father had worked this miracle through His Son, Jesus Christ.
We are each called to an apostolic ministry of our own as well. St. Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus commissioning His followers to “…make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18). The word apostle comes from the Greek word “apostolos” (apostolos), referring to an envoy, ambassador, or messenger who is commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent. As followers of Christ we are all in the truest sense apostles, with the commission from Jesus to spread the Good News to all nations. In our own little parish we have Apostles to Fenton, Apostles to Flint, and apostles to many other cities in our surrounding counties. It is therefore expected of each of us to be ready, willing and able to perform the job that is appointed to each of us and spread the Good News beginning in our home towns. We may not think so, but our personal witness of the mercy and love of God is a powerful message that needs to be heard in our time and place just like it needed to be heard back in the first century in the country of the Gadarenes.
As we learn from our Gospel message today, sometimes the ministry we are called to perform for God’s kingdom on earth may not be glamourous. We may never be called to raise the dead or exercise demons. We may never receive the notoriety of being a passionate saint for Christ. But we should never forget that all great kingdoms are built one small brick at a time. It is when each of these bricks is thoughtfully and carefully placed in just the right spot according to plan that the building begins to take shape. After enough bricks have been laid, the building is complete. It is the same for God’s kingdom on earth. Each of us supplies a single brick that will eventually be part of that great kingdom. And just as the brick does not tell the mason where it wants to go, so too should we be willing to be used as God sees fit, for after all, it is His kingdom that we are building, and not our own.