“Whatever is received is received in the measure of the receiver”
Sunday 23 June 2019
I think it is a good starting place with Jesus’ healing miracles to try to get some sense of what the person who was the recipient of Jesus’ intervention might have felt. In today’s Gospel reading we meet this wretched man, a gentile we should note, living in the territory known as the Decapolis on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, who we are told had demons.
The description of his living circumstances provides us with a picture of an individual in a very sorry state. He lived naked, was homeless and so resided in the tombs – a situation that would have been as eerie for the people of his time as it probably is to us today. His behaviour was so frightening that he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles. We are told further that at times he would break these bonds and be driven out into the wilds, where ever they may be.
All in all, it is a picture of a particularly sad existence of one who was a complete outsider and for whom there was absolutely no hope of what we might call a normal existence.
What we don’t want to miss in this situation is the subsequent issues that this individual presents for his community. Basically, he is a problem. No doubt, given the living arrangements of the day, he has family nearby in the community. He would have represented a serious problem, and possibly an embarrassment for them. Additionally, the behaviour of this man was such that the broader community had to take precautions to protect itself. We have the evidence of the security arrangements mentioned. No doubt, children in the community were warned about staying well away from him and his domain.
If we are then going to consider what the recipient of Jesus’ healing might have felt, we need to consider not just the demon-possessed individual, but the broader community as well. They too benefit from what Jesus does.
But here is a curious thing. When Jesus drives the demons out of the possessed man, with the result that he could sit calmly at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind, the response of the man is to beg Jesus that he might be with him. This gentile former demoniac responds to what Jesus has done for him by wanting to become a disciple. The phrase “sitting at the feet of Jesus” could not have more overtones of discipleship. In fact, Jesus has other plans for him and sent him to witness to how much God had done for him in his own home – the one he has no doubt been banned from for some time. His response though is wholehearted and grateful.
But what about the broader community. When Jesus healed them by removing the problem of having to deal with a dangerous demon-possessed man, what was their response. The Gospel tells us: “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear”.
For them, there was the not inconsequential problem of the lost pork!
The healing of the demon-possessed man had come at a price. That price we are told was a large herd of swine. In Mark’s account of this event, he suggested that there were two thousand swine in the herd. Matthew and Luke both had Mark’s account before them and both chose to remove the reference to two thousand and satisfy themselves with the description of a large herd. They probably rightly considered that the level of agribusiness implicit in a herd of two thousand did not exist in those times.
Whatever about the size of the herd, it is clear that there was an economic price to pay for the healing of this demon-possessed man. And so, though there were two parties who benefitted greatly from Jesus’ healing action, one responded by wanting to become a disciple and follow Jesus while the other party asked him to leave the district.
There was a saying amongst the Scholastic theologians of the middle ages which went: “Whatever is received is received in the measure of the receiver”. I will say that again: “Whatever is received is received in the measure of the recipient.”
What they were referring to is the fact that God’s grace is always generous and overflowing – more than we can ask for or imagine. How bountiful God’s grace seems to us is limited by our own ability to receive it as it is given.
The demon possessed man, whose life was a living hell, was completely open to receive the fulness of God’s grace through the healing power of Jesus. The community’s ability to receive God’s grace was inhibited by their concern for economics. Rather than focusing in the great thing that Jesus was doing in God’s name, they were instead focused on what the cost was to them. Dare I say it, there is no room for cost-benefit analysis in the realm of God’s grace.
If it is true then, as this event in the life of Jesus adequately demonstrates, that “Whatever is received is received in the measure of the recipient” then there are clear repercussions for us in our Christian lives. We are the ones who impose the limits on the reception of God’s grace. God loves each and every one of us lavishly. The degree to which we enter into this relationship of extravagant love is determined by us. We are the ones who put obstacles in the way of us experiencing God’s love to the full.
The traditional approach in Christian spirituality has been that we attempt to grow in personal holiness, that is closeness to God, in order to better receive the grace that God pours into our hearts. The reverse is true as well. It is our hardness of heart that prevents us from greater levels of intimacy with God and God’s love for us.
Having said that, Aelred of Rievaux, a 12th century English monk, wrote: “Who can soften hardness of heart? Only the grace of God. Human effort is not worth much here, as daily experience teaches us.” So ironically, we find ourselves in the position of not fully appreciating God’s grace towards us because of hardness of heart, but this can only be remedied by the grace of God!
Perhaps what we need to keep in mind is that growing in love and openness to God is a lifelong pursuit of attempting to grow in understanding of how great God’s grace is towards us. We cannot by an exercise of the will alleviate our hardness of heart, but we can persevere in faithful prayer, reflection on the scriptures, worship of God, and see what God’s grace can do. We can also be mindful of any aspects of our lives which positively build walls around us to prevent us from receiving with elation God’s grace being poured into our being.
Let us pray
Oh Lord, I am weak. You know this.
In fear I seek the way to you.
Do not despise me.
Do not forsake me when I fall.
Draw near even to me,
Although I am of no account,
Because I thirst after you.
Come Lord, and dwell in me,
And work yourself in me all that you have commanded.
Make me yours for ever and ever,
In love unshakeable.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
(Archimandrite Sophrony 1896-1993)
Father Allan Paulsen