“And therefore the Word of God, God, the Son of God, who in the beginning was with God and through whom all things were made and without whom was not anything made, became man to liberate man from eternal death.”
- Pope St Leo the Great
When he reached the country of the Gadarenes on the other side, two demoniacs came towards him out of the tombs – creatures so fierce that no one could pass that way. They stood there shouting, ‘What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the time?’ Now some distance away there was a large herd of pigs feeding, and the devils pleaded with Jesus, ‘If you cast us out, send us into the herd of pigs’. And he said to them, ‘Go then’, and they came out and made for the pigs; and at that the whole herd charged down the cliff into the lake and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off and made for the town, where they told the whole story, including what had happened to the demoniacs. At this the whole town set out to meet Jesus; and as soon as they saw him they implored him to leave the neighbourhood.
Christ the Lord
St. Matthew’s presentation of Christ’s credentials continues. He has shown his mastery over sickness of every kind and over the powerful forces of the natural world, so antagonistic to mankind after original sin. Now Jesus unfurls his lordship over the very source of evil in the world, the devil and his minions.
The demons recognize Jesus as the Messiah and even try to reproach him for interfering with their evil conquests. Their comment about “before the time” refers to the final judgment, when history’s ongoing battle between good and evil will come to its definitive end. But their hideous and violent outbursts, so fearsome that no one even dared to travel that road, failed to daunt Jesus in the least. His mere presence tortures them. They grovel before him and beg for a smattering of clemency. He grants it, and at the same time, with merely a word, he releases these two men from their seemingly hopeless slavery.
This show of spiritual force sends shock waves through the entire town. The whole population recognizes the superior power of Jesus, but they don’t know what to make of it. Gadara was a Gentile town; its inhabitants didn’t have the benefit of the Jewish faith. They only realize that this man’s continued presence will disrupt their usual routine, even more than the demons’ presence did. They fear the disruption and ask Jesus to leave them in peace. Knowing that they are not ready for his message, Jesus complies.
Nothing escapes the lordship of Christ, not sickness, not storms, not demons. But he won’t force his way into anyone’s life – he is the Lord, but he is not a tyrant.
Christ the Teacher
One of the major players in the Gospels is the devil. In this encounter, Jesus teaches us two things about the devil.
First, he shows unambiguously that the devil and his fellow demons really do exist. Every few decades, it becomes fashionable to reinterpret Christ’s exorcisms as merely his condescension to the superstitions of the time, in spite of the Church’s clear doctrine to the contrary. Those reinterpreters get flustered by this passage. If Jesus had simply sent the demons right back to hell, it would allow such theorists to speculate that maybe these two supposedly possessed men were just insane, and Jesus simply cured their psyches. (And while healing of their troubled psyches was indeed significant, that alone doesn’t explain how they could recognize Christ as the Son of God, but we’ll ignore that for now). But Christ sends the demons into a herd of pigs, and the demons drive the pigs over the cliff into the sea. And so, it’s much more difficult to interpret this frightening event as a mere psychological malfunction. No, the devil indeed exists.
The second lesson teaches us what the devil wants: destruction. He wants to destroy our happiness, our health, our prosperity (he threw the poor pig farmers into the red, let alone the damage he did to the two possessed men), and most of all our relationship with God. This is the single motivation behind every temptation, no matter how tempting. This seems like an obvious lesson, and yet, every time we give into temptation, we seem to forget it.
Christ the Friend
Without Christ, we would all still be floundering in ignorance and helplessness in the face of evil. He has come to bring us light and strength, to lead us back to full spiritual, intellectual, and moral health – and eventually, to have our very bodies share in the glory of his Resurrection. All of his words, miracles, and deeds were performed for us – for our benefit, for our salvation, and for our health in body, mind, and spirit. Jesus looks into our eyes today, just as he looked into the faces of these two demoniacs two thousand years ago; he wants to set us free. Will we let him?
The Demoniacs: Lord, we will never forget that first moment after you freed us from the power of those demons. It was too good to be true. Thank you, Lord, for setting us free. You gave us a new life, a new chance to live. Now we can see clearly that every day is a gift. Every day we can choose to live in your presence, to glorify you by loving you and loving our neighbor, by bringing the good news of your salvation to everyone around us. We were helpless before. Evil had put our minds in chains. You know what it was like, because you know all things. Still, so many of our brothers and sisters are in chains – they are looking for freedom and happiness in all the wrong places, striving for success by sin and selfishness, and getting tangled up in frustration and depression. Are you not the same Lord today that you were that day when you freed us? Come, Lord, make us channels of your saving grace, never let us forget what you did for us, never let us take this life, this new chance, this day, for granted.
Christ in My Life
Sometimes I am like the inhabitants of Gadara: I don’t want you to disrupt my usual routines. But in my heart I know that anything you ask of me, through my conscience, through the Church’s teachings, through circumstances – anything you ask flows directly from your infinite wisdom. Flood my life with your wisdom and your truth; cleanse my selfishness; make me shine with true virtue. Come, Lord Jesus…
When you made me your disciple, you shared your mission with me. You want to work through me to help set free people who are trapped in sin and error. Help me to keep this as a priority! I think of how much you have done for me – and you want to do that and more for everyone I encounter, especially the ones suffering most. Lord, make me a channel of your peace…
Thank you, Lord, for all your gifts to me – life, faith, hope, knowledge, forgiveness, and those special graces only you and I know about. You know I trust in you. I really do, though I am weak and careless. Lord Jesus, with you all things are possible…
Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC
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