In Luke 8:26-39, we read the Gospel lesson of the man possessed by a legion of demons. This lesson has its parallel in Matthew 8:28-9:1 (which is read on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost – in 2013 that fell on June 28). In Luke’s version (and in Mark 5:1-20), Jesus and the apostles are among the Gerasenes (in some ancient versions it is referred to as Gergesenes – see the comment of St Nikolai Velimirovich below) while in Matthew’s version, the land is said to be of the Gadarenes. The spelling of the name is of no particular consequence for the story – this happens in a non-Jewish territory. The details of the story are similar, though in the Matthew version there are two demoniacs instead of one which Luke and Mark report. Some ancients thought that perhaps Matthew is telling another miracle different from Luke and Mark. Here is St. Luke’s version:
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As Jesus stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
St. Nikolai Velimirovich takes up the issue of the local people’s reaction to Jesus when they see the demoniac in his right mind and the herd of pigs drowned. One might conclude that the people were ungrateful or even hateful toward God, but St. Nikolai warns us not to be too quick to judge them, for we often behave like they did.
“Let us not be in a hurry to condemn these Gergesenes’ love for their swine before we consider the society of our day, and count up all our swine loving fellow-townsfolk, who would, just like the Gergesenes, have more concern for their pigs than the lives of their neighbors. Just think how few there are today, even among those who cross themselves and confess Christ with their tongues, who would not quickly make up their minds to kill two men if this would give them two thousand pigs. Or think if there are many among you who would sacrifice two thousand pigs to save the lives of two madmen. Let those who condemn the Gergesenes before first condemning themselves be filled with deep shame. Were the Gergesenes to rise up today from their graves, and begin to count, they would arrive at a vast number of the like-minded in Christian Europe! They at least begged Christ to leave them, while the peoples of Europe drive Him out. And why? In order to be left alone with their pigs and their masters, the demons.” (Homilies Vol 2, pg. 50)