The Gadarene Demoniac

At that time, when Jesus came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their   neighborhood.  And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.   (Matthew 8:28-9:1)

A totally modern commentary on the exorcism of the legion of demons says:

“Jesus asked the man his name, and he replied, ‘Legion,’ the same word for a division of Roman soldiers. Scholars note that a legion consisted of around two thousand troops, and there would have been several legions around the Decapolis. It’s interesting that in the story, the demons beg to stay in the area. Nearby was a ‘band’ of pigs, band being the same word used for a group of military cadets (and no, we aren’t suggesting it’s okay to call police officers ‘pigs’). The demons asked to be sent among the pigs, another symbol of uncleanliness. (Jews did not touch pigs.) Jesus invited the Legion to enter the pigs. And the pigs, specifically numbered at two thousand, ‘charged’ into the sea to their deaths. And none of the listeners could have missed the subversive poetry, remembering the legion of Pharaoh’s army that charged into the sea, where they were swallowed up and drowned (Exodus 14).

[Footnote:  The pig was also the mascot of Rome’s Tenth Fretensis Legion stationed in Antioch (Carter, Matthew and Empire, 71) It’s interesting to note the places where Jesus drove demons out of people: often in the temple and in the militarized zones. The words ‘come out’ that usually accompany an exorcism are the same words with which Jesus exorcized the temple, calling the money changers to ‘come out’ because they had made a market of God’s temple and marginalized visiting Gentiles.” (Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President, pg.115)

Learning from Legion

A hymn of St. Ephrem based on Luke 8:26-39, the Gadarene Demoniac

In a fascinating poem, St. Ephrem sees Christ showing mercy to the demon, even granting the demon’s request, which emboldens Emphrem to be a man of prayer: if Christ compassionately listens tot he request of a demon to enter into swine, then I should know that Christ will hear my prayer to be permitted into Paradise despite my sins.

Look too at Legion:

  When in anguish he begged,

our Lord permitted and allowed him

  to enter into the herd;

respite did he ask for, without deception,

  in his anguish,

and our Lord in His kindness

  granted his request.

His compassion for demons

  is a rebuke to that People,

showing how much anguish His love suffers

  in desiring that men and women should live.

 

Encouraged by the words

  I had heard,

I knelt down and wept there,

  and spoke before the Lord:

“Legion received his request from You

without any tears;

  permit me, with my tears,

to make my request,

  grant me to enter, instead of that herd,

the Garden,

  so that in Paradise I may sing

of its Planter’s compassion.

(St Ephraim the Syrian Hymns on Paradise pgs 163-164)

Expelling the Demons in our Lives

Sermon notes for 5th Sunday after Pentecost:    (Matthew 8:28-9:1)

[8:28] When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. [29] Suddenly they shouted, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” [30] Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. [31] The demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” [32] And he said to them, “Go!” So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. [33] The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. [34] Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.  [9:1] And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town.

We can note the contrasts from the beginning and end of the Gospel Lesson:

At the beginning, there is a road that no one could pass through because of these two demon possessed and violent men –  even though apparently knowing about the threat of these men, Jesus goes that way anyhow.   By the end of the lesson, it is the demons who are seeking to get away from that place, and then the locals send Jesus away.      In the beginning of the lesson everyone is afraid of the power of the demons, by the end of the lesson everyone is afraid of the power of Christ which overcomes demons.

Suddenly they shouted:  Anyone who has been around the mentally unbalanced knows how terrifying it is when they begin to shout as they become a very loud menace.   If you haven’t had that experience, just think about how loud one mall but crying child can be in church, or in a store.

The demons which have terrorized everyone who tried to pass that way, are terrified at the appearance of Christ  (“Have you come to torment us before the time?”)

Christ is clearly not afraid of the power these demons or the threat of the demon possessed.  The demons want to leave, but they know they have no power or no permission to do anything when confronted by Christ the Lord.  So the demons have to ask permission to leave.   Demons have no influence over us, except that which we let them have.   In the Baptismal service in the opening exorcism, we say of Satan that he has no power even over the swine.  Evil is not as powerful let alone more powerful than God.  And we certainly know that the demons begging to enter the swine represents a specially Jewish mockery of the demons, for swine are an unclean and unacceptable animal for Jews.  And even these dirty swine are spooked by the demons and jump to their death – even swine want nothing to do with demons.

Jesus was not afraid to go where others were afraid to travel.  He was not afraid to confront other people’s demons.  And for us Christians there is great hope for healing in this if we are tempted by evil thoughts, evil memories, evil imaginations, and we have become afraid to confront these demons in our lives:  things we did in the past and have suppressed their memories, things that happened to us in the past and still haunt us, temptations and sins that we have been afraid to confront. 

Christ is willing to confront and exorcize all such demons and to forgive all our sins and to grant healing to our souls, hearts, and minds.   Christ is not afraid of the haunts of demons.  And we are to submit every aspect of our lives to the Lordship of Christ:  to invite him into the deepest and darkest recessions of our souls, minds or hearts, to drive out every evil and unclean thought.

This expelling of the demons we cannot do alone.  And surely we know the stories in the Gospels where the disciples failed to expel demons when requested to do so.  Christ said prayer and fasting were needed to uproot such demons.  But we also know we are not required to face these demons alone, and shouldn’t.  We are to walk this path with Christ, and He is present with us in His Body, the Church.  We have in the Churchall manners of support:  our fellow Christians, our godparents, monks,  the priest, and the Saints to walk those difficult paths and to go to those places in our hearts and minds and souls where we are afraid to go.  We have confession as a weapon against such demonic influences.  We have Holy Communion and the reading of the Word of God to bring the light of Christ into the dark places of our lives.

May Christ our true God expel and exorcise any kind of demon from your lives – every spirit of darkness, evil thought and memory, any demonic temptation or fantasy.    May all demonic powers be crushed beneath the sign of the cross.