Sunday, November 5, 2023
23rd Sunday After Pentecost
Ephesians 2:4-10; Luke 8:26-39
During Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, Gentiles came to Him from various cities and regions such as Tyre and Sidon along the seacoast (Lk 6:17); and from Syria, the Decapolis, and beyond the Jordan (Mt 4:24-25; Mk 3:8). They came to listen to Him speak, to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled by unclean spirits were cured by Him.
In today’s Gospel, for the first time, Jesus Himself goes out to the Gentiles. Together with His disciples, by boat, they cross to the other side of the sea of Galilee, the eastern side, to a region known as The Decapolis, which was inhabited by Gentiles. The Greek word Decapolis literally means ten (deca) cities (polis). It was the region of ten Gentile cities, and Gerasa was one of them.
Having stepped out on the land, Jesus meets a man “from the city,” who has been possessed for a long time. He wears no clothes, nor does he live in a house, but in the tombs among the dead, which for the Jews, was an unclean place (Num 19:16). The man was guarded and restrained with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and the demons would drive him out into the wilderness.
So, how did this man become possessed? How did he open himself to possession by evil spirits?
The Scriptures indicate a possible answer – He lived “in the tombs” (Lk 8:27).
In the Book of Isaiah, God speaks out against an abominable practice of sitting or sleeping in tombs, so as to consult the dead and receive messages from them through dreams or visions. Thus says, the Lord,
“I spread out My hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices … who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine flesh, and broth of abominable things in their vessels” (Is 65:2-4).
This man most likely came to the tombs to sit or sleep there, so as to consult the dead and receive messages from them. It was not the dead that he came into contact with, but evil spirits impersonating the dead. In the process, he opened himself up to their influence first, then oppression, followed by obsession, and finally, possession.
This is a serious warning to all of us, especially to parents and teachers, to safeguard children from Ouija boards, games and mediums that call out the dead in one way or another. These are often presented as being harmless, but they are in essence, extremely dangerous and harmful, enticing souls into conversation not with the dead, but with evil spirits. Thus unknowingly, an innocent child or an adult open themselves up to the influence of evil spirits, their oppression, obsession, and possibly, even possession. Any participation in such games or activities need to be confessed in the Mystery of Repentance (Confession) as soon as possible, in order to close any foothold on influence than may have been established for the evil one.
When the possessed man saw Jesus, he fell down before Him; and the demons in him recognized the identity of Jesus. With the unity of one voice, they say, “What have I to do with You, Jesus Son of the Most-High?”
Jesus then asks for the demon’s name. The reply is a Latin military word, “Legion,” a term used of an army unit of 6,000 Roman soldiers. The name indicates that the man is possessed not by one demon, but by army of several thousand demons.
The demons then try to negotiate with Jesus, not to be sent to the abyss, the bottomless pit in the netherworld, their future place of confinement. They know that their time of influence upon earth is limited. For thousands of years, Satan and his demons succeeded in deceiving the nations into the practice of worshipping idols, which in essence, is the worship of demons. Now, the Son of God has come to free the human race from this deception and the dominion of Satan. By His Death and Resurrection, Jesus will conquer Satan and his evil spirits and render them powerless. They will be bound and cast into the abyss, the bottomless pit in the nether regions, to be confined there, and to await the Final Judgment. This binding of Satan and his followers will make it possible for the Gentiles to come to know the truth, to receive the Gospel, and to worship the one true God.
While in exile on the island of Patmos, the apostle and evangelist John received a vision of God, in which he saw this very moment – the biding and confinement of Satan and his evil spirits. In the Book of Revelation, he writes the following:
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years [the number 1,000 symbolizes a great length of time]; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the till the thousand years were finished” (Rev 20:1-3).
So, the demons who have possessed this man, they know what is going to happen to them soon. They know that their time is short. And so, they plead, ‘Don’t cast us into the abyss ahead of time. For the short time that is left, allow us to enter the herd of swine.’ For Jews, swine were an unclean animal, and the herding of swine and the eating of their flesh was forbidden by the Law (see Deut. 14:8).
The spiritual warfare that is taking place here is intense. The superior power of Jesus is made clear. His mere word is enough to conquer an entire army of Satan’s forces.
And so, Jesus permits the demons to enter into the herd of swine for a time, which will be very short. And as they enter the herd, the swine go into a frenzy. They stampede and run violently over the steep cliff and fall into the sea below and drown.
So, why did Jesus allow the demons to enter into and destroy a whole herd of swine?
For several reasons:
- The demons are invisible. The herd makes their great numbers visible to those who are witnessing the event.
- It reveals the great intensity of the spiritual battle taking place.
- It reveals the great power of Jesus’ word and command over the spiritual world.
- The destruction of the herd reveals the ultimate purpose of Satan and his demons – to cause death and destruction to the human race and to God’s creation.
- The destruction of the herd reveals the great and infinite value of every human soul.
- The source of sin for Jews, the eating of swine flesh, is eliminated.
- The falling of the swine into the sea is a sign that, as the swine perish, the army of demons are cast into the bottomless pit ahead of time. It also serves as a sign pointing to what is to happen soon – the binding and casting of Satan and all his evil spirits into the bottomless pit, by the power of Christ’s Death and Resurrection.
Jesus has come to bring liberty to those who are held captive by the devil, by Satan’s lies and deceit, so that they may turn from darkness to the light of truth.
When the people came out to see what happened, they were seized with fear; and in their fear, they asked Jesus to leave. So, Jesus will get into the boat with His disciples, and they will return to Jewish territory.
In the whole crowd of Gentiles, there is one person, only one Gentile, who responds positively to Jesus. That person is the man who was cured, from whom the demons had come out. He is completely restored. He is no longer naked, but clothed. He is no longer possessed, but in his right mind. He is no longer retrained, but sitting free at the feet of Jesus, as a disciple. This man has been saved.
The man wants to follow Jesus as a disciple, but Jesus sends him home to his family and community. Jesus tells him to tell others what God has done for him. Instead, he goes and tells everyone what Jesus had done for him – for Jesus performs the works of God.
Even though Jesus and his disciples leave, the good news is still proclaimed in the Decapolis. The man who had been cured, actually becomes the first apostle, the first disciple to be sent out on a mission to proclaim the good news among the Gentiles. It is not until after this event, that Jesus will send His Twelve disciples on a mission among the Jews. And so, the Gospel is proclaimed to the Jews and the Gentiles at the same time.
In conclusion, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a lot to consider and contemplate in the Gospel reading we heard today. The man that was cured had not knowledge of Jesus’ teaching. He did not hear the Sermon on the Mount, nor did he hear Jesus’ teachings through parables. Yet, he became a very effective missionary disciple. Why? Because he simply shared with others what Jesus did for him. The Gospel today encourages us to take some time to personally reflect upon this question: What has Jesus done for me? And if we can list it, “What Jesus had done for me,” and if we can share it, “What Jesus has done for me,” that we too, can be effective missionary disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ in the world today.
Father Peter Babej