Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Gergesenes Demoniacs

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

We just heard St. Matthew’s account [Matthew 8:28-9:1] of the two demon-possessed men who were healed by Christ. Luke’s parallel account remembers only one man, but whether there were one or two is irrelevant; what is important is the content and meaning of these two stories and what they reveal to us today.

There are many who would say that such stories reveal nothing except the ignorance and superstition of the ancient peoples who allegedly misinterpreted certain mental or physical illnesses as demonic possession. But for those of us who are not so all-wise in our own eyes and who still believe in what the Holy Scriptures teach, there is much for us to learn here.

There are four groups of characters that I want to focus our attention on this morning. There are the demons, the two men possessed by them, the herd of swine, and finally the people of the city who came out to see what had happened and who begged Christ to leave from their country. A look at these four groups can provide some amazing insights into our present-day culture and the influences working both within and upon it.

Firstly, let us consider the demons. We know there were many present in these men because in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus asked the man his name, he replied, “My name is Legion”. A legion was a group of Roman soldiers numbering as many as 5000 or more. So this was quite a collection of evil beings that had taken up residence in these men. Demons do not take possessing of human beings arbitrarily. There has to be some form of invitation or a corrupted atmosphere that consents to evil and allows a personal attachment to it. When men and women give themselves over to a willful rebellion against God, when they engage in impure thoughts and actions, they attract a greater evil to themselves and risk enslavement to it. As St. Paul asks in Romans 6:16, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves to obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”

These are spiritual realities that cannot be ignored. People like to imagine that they are free to do whatever they desire, but that doesn’t mean they will be free of the deadly consequences which follow their choices and actions. No one ever sets out with the goal of becoming addicted to alcohol or pornography. No one ever makes the conscious decision to destroy their marriage or family life. No one ever welcomes the enslavement and death of the soul. But these things are brought about by the choices people make, and the lifestyles they pursue.

The two men in our story surely never set out to be possessed by a legion of demons, but neither were they innocent victims. We can be certain that they had given themselves over to habitual impurity of thought and deed, to an ongoing rebelliousness against God, and by such choices they became joined to the authors of these things, and controlled by them.

When the demons implored Christ not to cast them into the abyss, but to allow them to inhabit the swine, He granted them permission. And immediately the entire herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned themselves. What is the meaning of this? It is not that the demons killed the swine. The demons wanted to be in the swine to avoid the abyss. Rather what we see here is that when the swine encountered the foul demons, their immediate reaction was to kill themselves. It seems that the pigs chose death over living with evil. Isn’t that ironic? We tend to think of pigs as being disgusting creatures, but we men tolerate things they simply will not. We all too often willingly invite the filth of sin into our lives, but pigs would rather die than experience such a personal lowering of their dignity. That is really something to think about.

Speaking of the toleration of evil, I’ve always thought the most chilling part of this story is when the man answers Jesus that his name is Legion. In other words, by that point he had utterly lost his own human identity and now entirely identified himself with the evil he had joined himself to. I believe this kind of thing happens very commonly today.

For example, here in the state of California, our courts have ruled so-called “gay marriage” to be legal for the moment. People seem to have forgotten that homosexuality is not an identity, it is a condition. Same-sex attraction, certainly very real for some people, is yet one more expression of our fallen human condition that needs God’s healing. It is very wrong of our culture to reclassify homosexuality as no longer a sin to be repented of, but as a basic human identity worthy of full acceptance. People are being identified by their sin, rather than by their humanity. What is wrong is being called normal, and true normalcy is quickly being obscured and forgotten.

Our culture is allowing itself to be dominated by a political correctness that is becoming increasingly hostile toward truth. Our kids are being trained in the public schools and by the entertainment industry that being gay or lesbian is normal, even “cool,” and that people who speak against it are stupid, intolerant bigots who should be forced to shut up. The stage is set to oust the Christian message of redemption from the public discourse, and replace it with the message of complete tolerance of everything except traditional Christianity.

To put it another way, our culture is mirroring the people of the city who came out to witness that Christ had made a demon-possessed man whole, only to beg Him to leave their midst and go far away from them. In the state of California at least, the presence of Jesus Christ is becoming less and less welcome. He has long ago been asked to leave our public schools. His symbols have been taken down from our publicly-owned buildings and grounds. He is not often considered the topic of polite social conversations. Many churches have responded by ousting the true Jesus from their message and preaching a new gospel, not of God’s love leading us to repentance, but of God’s love making repentance unnecessary. Celebrate yourself and others, and don’t rain on anyone’s parade of self-worship by speaking of the disfiguring of humanity by sin or the loss of Christian truth. This is the message that our culture wants to hear, and any message that points to the stark spiritual realities of life is categorically rejected.

Isn’t it interesting that this ancient gospel story, supposedly based on superstition and ignorance, should offer so many parallels to our modern society and be so relevant to what is happening now? The truth of God, contained in these scriptures and in the teaching of the Church, is eternal and changeless, and saving. It is to this that we should turn for guidance, and reject the false teaching of the culture around us. We need to train ourselves and our kids in what is true, and be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 7/29/2008 1:24 AM , Blogger Sean said...

Great homily Dad, get better soon!

At 7/02/2011 7:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an awesome exposition of this text. I have often used this text for teaching in classes dealing with substance abuse. You have enlightened to be able to help others dealing with the Legions of drug addiction. Thanks, Father Reagan.

At 7/05/2016 11:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you say is quite right Father and thank you for voicing it. I can see and also 'feel' how people are becoming corrupted! It is quite scary to watch it happening. You can almost feel and see the 'evil' around you and you are seen as a 'crank' if you voice this openly! The respect for religion and the meaning behind scripture is quickly being eroded by the media and governments within the Western world via propaganda! Anyone who believes in the bible, God or Jesus Christ are now being openly ridiculed on mainstream TV through various programmes. In other parts of the World today, things are much worse, with many Christians being openly abused, tortured and killed because of their faith. From my 'limited' understanding so far of the scriptures, I feel that things are going to get much worse in the Western world. "As in the days of Noah..." is a phrase that has stuck in my head, after reading Revelations! I only hope and pray that I will have the willpower to withstand the coming abuse of Christians that will happen in our Western society. One of the biggest challenges coming for Christians in the Western world, I feel that will arise, will be when we become a cashless society and implants become mandatory! I don't feel that their is anything we can do to prevent what is happening. All we can do is strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ.


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