Luke 8:26-39: At that time, Jesus and His disciples arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.) And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked. When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed. Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again. Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.
In The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel for the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, we encounter the demoniac dwelling in the tombs, benighted and chained by the powers of darkness that controlled him, spiritually-dead and spiritually-decaying whilst still in the world – hardly alive in the miserable, possessed existence that he led, robbed of freedom, dignity, and personhood in his nakedness and enslavement.
The tenth century monk, Blessed Notker the Stammerer, famously wrote “Media vita in morte sumus… In the midst of life, we are in death…,” and although this refers to us all in our common human mortality, in the case of the possessed man of the Gospel we see this truth in a very graphic and specific way, as he dwelt among the tombs as a possessed and living corpse.
In many ways, his situation, through the demonic hold upon him, was only a concentration and magnification of the existence of all of the Gadarenes who rushed to the scene when they heard of the miracle of his deliverance and healing – not to rejoice, nor to celebrate and fall down at the feet of the Saviour and glorify Him, but rather to ensure His departure, as His mere presence threatened and challenged the way of life that they did not want changed, as they failed to even appreciate their own spiritual captivity.
The demons who possessed the tomb-dwelling man recognised Christ, asking, “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not”, yet the Gadarenes were insensate to the Saviour, despite the obvious wonder that He had wrought.
They were in fearful awe seeing the former demoniac “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind”, but as soon as they learned the details and the loss of their pigs they wanted the Miracle-Worker gone and far away from them, and like the demons their attitude was “what have we to do with you?” Awe changed to fear for themselves and their way of life as they beheld the challenging power of Jesus.
Their profane attachments to the world, summed up in their reaction to the loss of their pigs (an unclean, impure, and forbidden animal in Jewish society) were more important to them than Christ’s power and message.
They wanted no participation in the miracle; no share in true freedom; no part in Christ’s promise; preferring their worldly attachments, uncleanness and impurity symbolised by the herd of swine – and all because they did not want to change, fearing all that Christ represented as He stood before them.
How little the world has changed, as we look around and find ourselves surrounded by Gadarenes who do not wish to hear the voice of the Saviour in His Gospel and in His Church, and the challenges that His message brings to lifestyles, choices, attachments, ideologies, -isms and worldly passions that have become a way of life.
Modern day Gadarenes believe themselves free, though they are as shackled and as much in bonds as the man dwelling in the tombs. They do not want change; they do not want challenge; they fear both. They are too attached to life as it is, even though it is like the pigswill that failed to fill the Prodigal Son, no matter how much he ate.
Society lives out the maxim we read in the sayings of St Anthony the Great, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us’.”
There are those who see our Faith as a madness and tyranny that enslaves us, unlike them in the ‘sanity’ and ‘freedom’ of their living-death, passionate attachments and spiritual-slavery.
But our challenge is to be a contrast to this, and to ALWAYS be like the healed and exorcised man, as “he went his way, and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done unto him.”
The dangerous truth is that we so often vacillate between behaving as the healed man and the Gadarenes, with their attachment to the swine. We cannot have it both ways,
He could so easily have slipped back into being no different to them despite his new found freedom. The release from the demonic power that possessed him was only a beginning and the starting point of his new-life in which he begged the Lord to receive him as a disciple, to live alongside Him and follow Him from place to place. But, such was the Lord’s will that the man’s discipleship was to be in his own country, proclaiming the great things that God had done for him.
The liberation of this man who had dwelt in the tombs can be seen as a token and foreshadowing of the resurrection, just as our exorcism, baptism and clothing in our baptismal robe are the beginning of our life in the Risen Saviour and the resurrection in the age to come. But, like the new beginning after the driving out of the man’s demons, the new birth of our baptism is no guarantee of continued and sustained new life in Christ unless we are willing to follow, obey and embrace the freedom we have been granted and the salvific promise made to us.
We cannot vacillate between freedom and slavery, neither can we embrace and accept change that we like and which suits us, whilst rejecting the need for change, involving the rejection of things and behaviours to which we are attached and with which we are comfortable, despite their harmfulness and destructive power in our lives.
No… we cannot swing between being like the healed man and the Gadarenes. We have a choice, between freedom and the swine-attachments, between liberated personhood in Christ or the dissolution of self, and loss of personhood in spiritual slavery.
When Jesus encountered the paralysed man at the Pool of Bethesda, He asked “Do you want to be made well?”
It is not enough for each of us to simply answer “Yes”. We must be willing to do everything to preserve our freedom and growing wholeness in Christ, by following Him and rejecting all that can make us sick again, and possibly even worse than we were at the starting point of our first encounter with the Saviour.
Having being led through the waters of baptism from slavery and the tyranny of the spiritual-pharaoh to the promised land and freedom of life in Christ, let us not look back and long for the fleshpots of Egypt.
Serving the Lord with gladness, we must reject all that comes between us and life in Christ, even if we initially miss what is harmful, despite the fact that it may have brought gratification and pleasure in our past lives. What is harmful is so often like this.
We cannot have freedom and slavery; we cannot cling to the swine, whilst being called to obedience and sacrifice.
Our life has to be simple and spiritually focussed, not divided and contradicting itself. This can often seem like a challenge, but there is no other way for us to live in Christ as we long for the resurrection and the life of the age to come.
Let us rejoice in the spiritual freedom of our present life, even if it a struggle and challenge, going our way proclaiming the great things that God had done for us.