The Gospel lesson of the Demoniac and the pigs is a true shining explanation of reality; of what is really going on all around us. There is a battle being waged for our souls. Christ and the Apostles arrive in the Gadarene region; immediately encountering two men possessed by many demons and exceedingly fierce. How did these men end up in such terrible condition? Only God sees and understands all things. There is always far more going on in any situation than we can know, and our knowledge and long term vision is very limited. This is why God tells us to leave judgement to Him.
The demons did everything they could to cause these tormented Gadarene men to destroy themselves. They drove them from human companions – this is always what the evil one is trying to get us to do. Isolate ourselves. A common saying of the Fathers is: “We enter heaven together with our brothers and sisters, we enter hell alone.” The evil one will always try to help us to be hurt and offended about someone or something in our Church, in our families, at work and at school…They whisper in our ear that we shouldn’t stick around to deal with it. It’s easier to just leave. After all we don’t deserve to be treated this way. But these very woundings are what bring us closer to God and to greater wholeness when we allow Him in. The devil is like a wolf, trying to separate a suffering sheep from the flock so he can devour him in solitude. We place ourselves in grave danger when we allow ourselves to be separated, and should constantly be asking God for the grace to forgive, and to accept forgiveness. We will be wounded; but it is not optional to stay wounded. Doubtless the demons did everything in their power to try to destroy these men, yet they managed to resist, and then when they encountered Christ, they immediately responded, clinging to Him with gratefulness and being freed from the demons. We can never judge anyone, we just don’t see the whole picture.
Today’s Gospel presents us with a reality that we would rather not dwell upon. It is an uncomfortable reality. There is a very real enemy of mankind who hates us with a hatred that is fierce and ugly beyond anything we can even imagine. He is furious that God would create such helpless and pathetic creatures as us, and place the very stamp of His divinity within us. What was God thinking! Satan wants to show God what a mistake He made. Satan’s goal is to cause us to not even realize, let alone work towards the great calling and purpose that we have been created for. Through deception and lies, he and his demons are committed to doing anything they can to cause us to reject the love of God in rebellion; to separate us from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thereby proving to God we don’t deserve the great heritage God has bestowed upon us.
Of course Satan is correct in this assessment – we don’t deserve the unbelievable love and care God has given to us, His creatures, and we can do nothing to earn it. It is a gift from God and only the love and grace of God make this possible. We can only gratefully accept His unwavering love. By cooperating with God, choosing to seek Him and being transformed, growing into the Image of Christ within us, we fulfill our destiny. The Church calls this “Theosis,” but we really can’t even begin the journey without a clear understanding of reality and our ultimate destination. This is what this Gospel story of the Demoniacs, and really all of the Gospel lessons are trying to teach us. What is real and of lasting eternal substance – not just a fleeting distraction that will crumble and prove to have no lasting value? It is of course, only that which leads us home to Christ and the eternal Kingdom of God.
These days, many in our culture would like to dismiss demonic activity as just mental disturbances, figments of an old superstitious mindset. CS Lewis was a fairly modern man; the dean of Oxford College in England, better known today as the author of the Narnia series of books and many other writings. I recommend reading his very instructive book on the strategy of demons called “The Screwtape Letters.” He writes in the voice of a senior demon Screwtape to his understudy demon Wormwood, advising him on the best way to tempt and secure the soul of his human subject. He tells Wormwood, “Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and skeptics.”(CH. 7, sent. 3)
The demons have a very good grasp on what is real. While they do everything in their power to cloud this understanding for us, they themselves are under no illusions, and know that they are completely subject to Christ and His Church, and that their time is short and coming to an end. In today’s gospel the demons cry; “What have we to do with You Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come to torment us before the time?” No, the Demons do not struggle with reality; they only try to distort it for us, hoping to keep us from life in Christ and desperately trying to keep us blind and asleep.
Overall, the resuilt of the battle is not in question, it is already won. Christ is completely in charge. However each of us individually are engaged in a battle while here on earth – for our very souls. This present age, before the final judgement, is given to us to determine our eternal future. The final judgement will most certainly end time, but we will enter into eternity – where time as we know it does not exist – not so much at some cataclysmic battle of Armagedon at the end of the ages, as upon our death. This almost always occurs much sooner than we had planned on. Although ultimately defeated, the demons do have some freedom to whisper lies, and attempt to fill our minds with phantasy. Battling with these thoughts and rejecting their influence, lets us to grow in maturity as children of God. As we exercise our free will, and choose God’s path – our conscience begins to awaken. We become more aware of the fierce battle for our very souls that is going on all around us.
During our beautiful Vespers services, there are some prayers that are aimed at helping us along in protecting us and strengthening us in this battle with the demons. “Clothe us in the armour of light. Deliver us from everything which comes with darkness. Grant sleep, which You have given us for the repose of our weakness, free from every phantasy of the devil.”… “Let not our hearts incline to evil words or thoughts, but save us from all those who pursue our souls”… “Protect us this evening and throughout the coming night from all our enemies, from every assault of the powers of hell, from vain and useless thoughts, and from evil memories.”
Did you catch that: “from vain and useless thoughts and from evil memories.” I don’t know about you, but that probably describes half the thoughts that go rumbling through my head. If the majority of the thoughts and memories that I catch myself thinking and dwelling on, were subject to the purifying fire of God (1 Cor. 3:15), I’m afraid they would end up in the ash pile, not the gold side. Speculation about others motives judging them; impure sexual images; memories that I have not asked God in to heal, and still cause me to feel hurt and offended, or make me wish for revenge, or fill me with guilt; labelling myself or others in a negative way; ugly but catchy old tunes; mind reading – feeling I know what others are thinking without them telling me; future telling – knowing how things are bound to turn out – and it’s usually bad; and the other demon approved garbage flowing through my mind in a stream of consciousness that is not focused upon God, would fall into the “vain and useless thoughts and evil memories” category.
As soon as we catch our minds spinning off, the Jesus prayer is the quickest and simplest way to recover. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner.” Once the demons start to see that when they whisper some of their poisonous little suggestions to us, it actually causes us to wake up, pay attention, and reject the garbage in our minds by praying the Jesus Prayer, they become much more reluctant to play with us. They find it quite discouraging and counter-productive, if their efforts cause us to turn to Christ.
Have you ever really listened to the exorcism prayers at the start of every baptism service? This is how the Church deals with the enemy in the battle for our souls. “…most crafty, impure, vile, loathsome and alien spirit, by the might of Jesus Christ who has all power both in heaven and on earth…Depart. Acknowledge the vainness of your might, which has not power even over swine…Breath and spit upon him”.
The evil one hates us and wants to destroy us but he is restrained by God. Thank God for His ever present love. Through God’s grace, the demoniacs resisted this demonic attack, even when they had an entire legion of demons affecting them. All God requires from us is to willingly choose to turn to Him in His love. In the Gospel lesson when the demons enter the pigs, they immediately rush headlong to their death. Even animals can not bear the stench of the demons. God permits this to happen to show in very graphic and real terms, what is the end result of life with the demons.
The people of Gadarene beg Christ to leave them. Here is the most terrifying line in the Gospel reading. “So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city.” Christ will patiently stand and wait to be invited into our lives, but will obey our wish to have Him leave, should we choose to send Him away. It is always our decision. Thank God He never goes far. He is everywhere present and fills all things. Christ knew that the people of the region were not ready to receive the good news that the Kingdom of God was at hand. They had clearly shown that they valued commerce and the status quo more than following God, even when God was working wonders and healing the sick among them. Christ leaves for them His new servants, the former demoniacs as His representatives.
In Mark’s gospel, it says that the demoniac, once healed and sitting at the feet of Jesus and in his right mind, begged that he might stay with Jesus. This was the surest indication that he was now in his right mind. We understand true reality when we want to always stay with Jesus. God allows the consequences of our poor choices to affect us, so that we will come to our senses and cry out to Him to save us. He will not impose His will upon us, even though it breaks His heart to see the mess we choose to live with, rather than simply choosing true life in Christ. He laments about Jerusalem, and about all of us, His wayward children in Matthew and Luke: “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
May God help us, to see true reality and take comfort. Like the freed Gadarene demoniac’s, let us proclaim to all the world what great things Christ has done for us!