For two and sometimes three Sunday’s every year, either in Matthew, Mark, or like today in Luke, we are given to consider this story of the Gadarene demoniac(s). This is a fundamental reality check to compare what the Church has always taught regarding the huge cosmic battle being waged all around us for our very souls; and to compare this true unchanging reality against our present world view. Our paradigm of course changes with each generation and one of our most important tasks is to work to see how we are captured by our cultural and historical world view and to challenge it in light of the never changing light of the wisdom of Christ and the Church.
Christ and the Apostles arrive in the Gadarene region; immediately encountering a man completely out of his mind – possessed by many demons – enough to enter 2000 pigs – naked among the tomb stones and exceedingly fierce. What is going on here? How did this man end up in such terrible condition? We mustn’t judge; simply because we don’t have a clue as to what is really going on. There is always far more going on in any situation than we can know. God tells us to leave judgement to Him on the last day as only God sees and understands all things. Christ tells us, (John 12:47,48) “And if anyone hears my words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words has that which judges him – the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.”
We see a man in this condition, or perhaps someone living on the street in our culture, out of his mind and in desperate straights, and we may tend to think he must have done something very bad to deserve this fate. This very thought exposes our faulty thinking. God is not out to punish us. This concept of the “wrathful God” sitting in judgement and punishing us for our sins here on our earthly visit completely misses the mark. God is love. Period. Full stop. His only desire is to bring us into communion with Him that we may attain to that which He created us to be – true sons and daughters of God. Sin is “missing the mark” not seeking to be transformed into union with Christ. We all stumble and then get up and hopefully continue to try to seek God. God does not punish us for our stumbles, but like a father watching his young child learn to walk, lovingly supports our smallest effort to get up and try again.
The demons did everything they could to cause the Gadarene demoniac to destroy himself. They drove him 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 lives and especially in our Church. They whisper in our ear that we shouldn’t stick around to deal with it. It’s easier to just leave. He is like a wolf, trying to separate a suffering sheep from the flock so he can devour it in solitude. If we want to stay sane, we must recognise that we can be wounded – rather we will be wounded; but it is not optional to choose to stay wounded. We place ourselves in grave danger when we allow ourselves to be separated, when we nurse our woundings and grudges rehearse in our minds how badly we have been treated. We must ask God for the grace to forgive, and also to accept His forgiveness for our part, and for keeping resentment alive in our minds.
Today’s Gospel presents us with a reality that we would not usually like to dwell on. It is an uncomfortable reality that very starkly illuminates the seriousness of what is actually going on while we are having our brief visit to this planet. We have a very real enemy of mankind who hates us with a hatred that is fierce and ugly beyond what 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. His goal is to cause us to not even awaken to, let alone work towards the great calling and purpose that God created us for. His best strategy is to get us to not believe that he even exists. From there it is a short journey to getting us to believe that even God Himself isn’t real. As impossible as this task should be, just consider how anything created came into existence. How do you dismiss the vibrant and pulsating life force in everything around you, how does a tiny apple seed grow into a huge apple tree…? The evil one and his demon followers seem to have some success in influencing us prideful and deluded creatures. They are very experienced in the folly of humans will do anything they can to delude and separate us and to cause us to stray from the love of God and simple sanity. Satan’s goal is to destroy us; thereby proving to God we don’t deserve the great heritage and destiny which God has bestowed upon the human race. He is essentially a giant tattle-tale, completely devoted to his name, (Rev. 12:10) “accuser of the brethren.”
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 to be transformed into the image of Christ placed 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. This is what the Gospel story of the Demoniac is trying to teach us. What is reality and not a phantasy, of true lasting eternal substance – not just a fleeting illusion that will crumble and prove to have no lasting reality? It is of course, only that which leads us to Christ and the Kingdom of God, our home.
The demons have a very good grasp on what is real. While they do everything in their power to cloud this understanding for us, the race of Adam, 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 knowing true calling, and desperately trying to keep us from waking up to what is really going on and who we are created to become – Sons and Daughters of God!
Overall, the battle is not really a battle, it is already won. Christ is completely in charge. Christ tells us of the Church of Christ, (Matt. 6:18) “…the gates of Hell/Hades will not prevail against it.” Note that “gates” would be constructed to keep people out or lock them in. They are defensive rather than offensive structures. Therefore it is not so much that we need to fear and defend against these gates of Hell/Hades attacking us, but rather that these gates of the enemy will not withstand the Churches assault against them to free those held captive within them. “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death be death and upon those in the tombs (Hades) bestowing life!” The war is won! 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, and into the final judgement – not so much at some cataclysmic battle of Armageddon at the end of the ages, as upon our death. This almost always occurs much sooner than we had planned on! The demons do have some freedom to whisper lies, and attempt to fill our minds with phantasy before the time of the final judgement, while we and they are living here in this present age on the earth. Battling with these thoughts and rejecting their influence, allows 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. Their very efforts to destroy us drive us into the arms of our loving God. Remember that only 1/3 of the angles fell and became the demons; so they are outnumbered 2 to 1! We can call upon God and the help of our guardian angels for protection!
The evil one hates us and wants to destroy us, but he is restrained by God. Even when we, in our self-destructive delusion, cooperate with the evil one and buy into his twisted rebellion and anger, thereby giving him some acceptance of his influence, God places limits on what Satan can actually do to us. Many of us can personally testify to God’s protection, even before we had an understanding of His ways and love for us, and consciously chose to follow Him. Thank God for His ever-present love. In today’s Gospel lesson when the demons enter the pigs, they immediately rush headlong to their death. God permits this to happen to show in very graphic and real terms, what is the goal of the demons concerning us. Death and annihilation, hopefully with as much pain and suffering imaginable. No matter how wonderful the demonic masquerade, how convincingly they appear as “angels of light” their only purpose in the end is to hasten our death and to use us to delude and ultimately bring to destruction as many of our brothers and sisters as possible. Through God’s grace, the demoniac resisted this final destruction, even when he had this entire legion of demons affecting him. What a heroic struggle! All God requires from us is to choose to turn to Him. God can turn our darkest hour into the brightest; the one that starts us back on the wonderful journey to Him; our loving, gracious and forgiving Father.
The freed man begged to follow Christ, but Christ seeing the complete conversion and gratefulness of his heart, tells him to stay and tell the people of the region all that had been done for him, to be God’s witness to the reality and love of God and His Kingdom. Jesus knew that He – God incarnate, the Christ – would be rejected by the people, but He loved them and wanted to leave His presence with them through the freed Gadarene demoniac – His new Apostle! It was a very effective decision as in Mark’s version it says, “the man began to proclaim all that Jesus had done for him: and all marvelled.”
The transformed man’s response stands in stark and horrifying contrast to the response of the rest of the people of the region. The people of Gadarene beg Christ to leave them. He has disturbed their present comfort level and greatly shattered their paradigm. Here is the most terrifying line in the Gospel reading. “And He got into the boat and returned.” 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. After all He is everywhere present and fills all things. Hopefully we will wake up in the middle of the night and cry out in fear, “Lord have mercy!” 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 getting ahead in this world more than following God, even when God was right in their midst, healing the sickest among them. But He still loved them!
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. Earlier when first encountering Christ, the man was fearful. Before we make the decision, and keep making that decision to cling to Christ with all of our heart and mind and soul, it seems like a scary decision. Will we be giving up our present comfortable life? Even if our life is less than comfortable looking to others, we often fiercely hang on to it. The saying; “the devil we know is better than what we don’t know” seems to describe how we live much of our lives. The consequences of our poor choices to continue to affect us, so that we will somehow come to our senses and cry out to Christ 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 really about all of us, His wayward children in Matthew (23:37) “…how often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
We need to firmly get our minds and hearts to understand that the Kingdom of God is the ultimate reality, and is always present and accessible, here and now! Following Christ is a very light and joyful yoke, in huge contrast to the crushing and destructive yoke we take on when we choose to chart our own course. May God help us, to be willing to allow Him to show us true reality, and open our spiritual eyes and ears to His ever-present love and protection. Like the freed Gadarene demoniac, let us proclaim to all the world what wonderful things Christ has done for us! Glory to Jesus Christ!