In the name of the Father, and the son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. Today is the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost and on this day we read about the Gadarene demoniac.
Why are we told this story? Why are we told any of the stories in the Scriptures? Of course, they are all for our salvation, and they all tell us something necessary.
In this story we see the power of God, and how by a word He can cast out demons. We see the ultimate powerlessness of the demons. We see how fearful they are of our savior, and we see how incredibly evil they are toward man and even unto beasts. We also see something that should make us fear, so that we do not become like these people – we see the brutishness, the swinishness of unbelievers. It is amazing how these people reacted to a great miracle in their midst. And there is another lesson here, a terrible lesson, a necessary lesson in free will. God created us so that we would know Him, but He has not forced us to follow His commandments. Some choose to follow His commandments, and some choose to ask Him to leave. He will indeed leave those who ask Him to leave …
So listen carefully to the words of this story, and see what God wants you to know. Listening carefully is not something that is easy to come by, especially in our society. We are not a very verbal society anymore. We value more the written word, and when we see and hear things, they are images that flash by the screen so rapidly or change so quickly on the radio. There is so much inundation of information upon us that we do not know how to listen to things that are holy – this is just more common information to us. Well, the most important information that you can get the entire week is what you hear in the liturgy today, and what you heard in the vigil last night. This is the time when you should pay more attention than any other time in your life, during the Divine Liturgy, and when the Holy Scriptures are being read, and when they are being discussed.
The story begins “And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes.” When we read the context, we can see this is right after the Lord had preached about the sower, then they got into a ship. When they crossed over, during that time, there was a storm, and the apostles were terrified even though He was in the ship with them There was another time when He came walking across the water in a storm; that was a difference occurrence. He is asleep in the ship, and the apostles, despite the fact that the God-man was with them, were terrified, and they said“Master, Master, we perish.” And He rebuked them because of their unbelief. How can you think you are perishing when Christ is right with you?
So they came over to the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gadarenes, and “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.” No clothes – the man had no shame, the man had no virtue. He was not clothed in virtue. We know that clothing can often signify virtue. Recall the wedding garment. One is given to everyone who enters the wedding feast, and it signifies baptism for us, and the life lived in Christ. And the man who did not have a wedding garment, who had cast it aside, was cast out with the unbelievers, because he acted like an unbeliever. Even if he appeared in the assembly of believers, by his actions he showed who he really was, and what he was like.
This demonized man had no virtue, he was not clothed in virtue, nor in the waters of baptism, which allow us to live in virtue. Also, having no clothes is a sign of having no reason. They are intelligent creatures, but they are not reasonable, or rational. Their hatred is as high as the mountains; they are filled to the brim with irrational hatred every moment of their existence.
This man dwelt in the tombs. Part of the reason, the fathers say, that demoniacs dwelt in the tombs is that the devil wanted to plant a fable in the heart if man that from the dead came demons, and that graveyards were noxious and evil places, and people were afraid of them. The devil does not really want you to know how the demons come about and how they perform their activities. He wants this to be steeped in folklore. He does not want you to know that if a man does not follow Christ, he opens himself up to the demons, so he plants these kinds of fables in the heart of man, and you can see them in every culture, in every tradition. This demonology often has a grain of truth in it, but generally it is quite false, because it does not get to the root of why demons besiege us.
Also, those who are without virtue, those who are without reason, those who do not follow Christ are already dead. They may as well be in a graveyard. The demons are the most dead of all creatures, and tombs symbolize evil places, fetid places, dark places full of wickedness. This indeed was an apt place for such a man to dwell, and of course, he could not be allowed to dwell in the city because of his uncontrollable actions, and people were afraid of him. So he was an outcast. He was outside the city, outside of salvation, outside of the church.
Our Lord rebuked him, and then he asked his name. He did not need to ask his name. Our Lord knows everything. He answered “Legion”, many, many demons. Men can sink very low.
Now, why did he have devils? This is a question that is very difficult to answer. Different people might have devils for different reasons. St. Mary Magdalene had seven devils. This was not because of unrighteousness. In her case, the devil, who thinks he is so intelligent, was fooled, and he thought that she was to be the bearer of Christ, so he inhabited her, against her will with demons, in order to make her fall into fornication (she never did, by the way). And she suffered grievously from these demons. Our Lord cast these demons out of her, and she followed him till the end of her days. She was part of the entourage that took care of all of the physical necessities of our Lord and His disciples throughout His ministry, and she was given the grace to become “equal to the apostles”.
This man may not have been demonized because of his unrighteousness either. We don’t know. It could have been because of the judgment that God was passing on that area. These people were not following the law. They kept swine, which was unlawful to do, because they were Jews, and they were more concerned with profit than following the law of God.
The fathers also think that this man was demonized as an example of how terrible the demons can be, and how great the mercy of God can be. Now, be careful how you judge. Don’t judge according to your own wisdom, according to the external circumstances, according only to what you read in the scriptures, without consulting the wisdom of the church. The Psalmist says”Thy judgments are a vast abyss.” We cannot understand why certain things happen to people, why some people are sick, why some are demonized, why some people die early, why the wicked wax old and fat. It is hard to understand these things, but God knows. We must only trust.
So this man may have been demonized because of the evil of the people, and not because of his own unrighteousness. As we can see later on, once he had the demons expelled from him, he had great love for our Savior, and great obedience.
So, when this man 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.
Of course, the man’s voice was being used by the demons. It is amazing how foolish the demons are. Can you see how they indeed have nothing in common with our Lord? Such impudence!, to say ‘what have I to do with you’, and such cowardice - ‘Don’t torment me’. And such knowledge! They KNOW! They know exactly what is going to happen to them. They are trying to forestall the inevitable. They know that they will be cast into the abyss. They know that they will be tormented, and they ARE NOT GOING TO CHANGE. That is where their fear comes in. In the midst of their impudence, in the midst of their braggadocio, they are terrified, because they see the God-man standing before them.
Some people are also like the demons. They KNOW Who He is, and they know something of the commandments of God, BUT THEY DON’T WANT TO CHANGE. Because of this, they are afraid. This is not the fear of God that brings forth wisdom, but the fear of a man who does wrong and does not want to change.
“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.”
Our Lord allowed this to happen as an example, to show how truly evil AND powerless the demons are. They cannot even control swine. They enraged and frightened the swine so much that they ended up in the abyss, where they had begged not to be anyway. Now, if you can see how truly evil the demons are from this example, set forth for our edification, then how can you want any part with them?
Am I saying this to Christians? Yes indeed! Because, we often have concourse with the demons, whenever we give ourselves over to our sins, whenever we give ourselves over to the nakedness of this man, the nakedness of virtue, and fulfill in ourselves our own desires and not the commandments of God. Then we are becoming like unto the demons. The word Devil, “Diabolos” means “Slanderer”. He is a liar. I tell my children that ‘whenever you lie, you are acting like a demon’. How can you want to act like such an evil creature, and such a smelly and fetid creature, dark and black?
We see that there were many demons - there were enough to inhabit a whole herd of swine. And we see the judgment against these people, because Christ, shall we say, ‘killed two birds with one stone’. He not only healed the man, but He also showed these people where they were erring, because they were keeping swine against the Jewish law. So, He took away their profit. He took away that which was causing them to sin. They should have considered this to be a favor, in that He saved them from their wretchedness, but what happened?
“When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country.” They fled! I can think of another occurrence where someone saw their sin, but she did not flee! She ran to the city and she said, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” I am referring to St. Photini, the Samaritan women at the well. Our Lord showed he that he knew of her sins. He knew that she had previously had five husbands, and that the man she was living with was not her husband, and He showed how much He knew. She reacted with love. She reacted by becoming apostle by proclaiming that the Messiah was among them!
But these swine herders – their profit had been removed from them. Their livelihood in the trafficking in illicit goods was removed from them, so they fled, and went to tell their superiors about this tragedy that had befallen their commerce. These people saw the power of God, and they were afraid! They were afraid because of their sins, and because of their stubbornness, because they DON’T WANT TO CHANGE. They saw that the God-man, Jesus Christ requires change in a man. This is a fundamental principle of Christianity. As you are enlightened with the knowledge of God, you must act in accordance with that knowledge!
“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.”
Now he had his clothing on, and his reason had returned to him and he was doing what any man should do when he sees what great things God has done for him – he sits at His feet, drinking in every word, adoring Him, with thanksgiving . He was beginning the Christian life. I tell you, this man could have fallen back into the abyss, where he had come from.
In another place in St. Luke’s gospel, our Lord describes what happens to an unrepentant man, even a man who has demons taken out of him: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”
So this man had to embark upon the life of virtue now. Now that he had removed from him this impediment that made it so difficult for his to believe and to act virtuously, he OWED Christ obedience, and he gave it freely, as we can see in the Gospel. He desired very greatly to follow Him, but our Lord, for reasons known only to Him, refused him, and asked him to be an apostle in that area by proclaiming what great things God had done for him, and indeed he did that.
What should have happened with these people? How should they have reacted? How did the Samaritans react when St. Photini told them about Christ? Like the Gadarenes, they came out to investigate, but the similarity ends there. It says,
“So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. And many more believed because of his own word.” And, in another place, there was one out of ten lepers who gave thanks to God: “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
That is what should have happened when these people saw that their sinful trade had been destroyed, and God had judged that they should not do such a thing, but He had not destroyed them. He had only destroyed that which was CAUSING their own destruction!
“They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed.”
So the swine herders went to their masters and they told them what happened. These men were very afraid then, and this was an evil, wicked kind of fear. This was the fear of a person who does not want to see the light, does not want to have his deeds exposed, does not want to have his life changed. They did not focus so much on the grace and the power of God, as on the fact that He was getting into their business. He was requiring of them something. He was intervening in their lives, and they wanted Him out. They wanted Him to LEAVE THEM ALONE!
“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:”
Tragic! Absolutely tragic! They had the God-man among them, and He had showed them what was wrong with their life, in a quite gentle way, and they wanted nothing of Him. They did not want Him around.
Evil hates the light. Evil does not want to be around the light, partly because it does not understand it. St. John talks about this: “In him”, that is, in Christ, “ was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” There are those who just don’t understand, and I tell you, most people who do not understand do not WANT to understand, because if you understand, you must go to the next step, and you must ACT IN ACCORDANCE WITH YOUR UNDERSTANDING! People don’t want to do that. Even people who call themselves Christians don’t want to do that. And all of us, to some extent, in some way, try to cover up knowledge, so we don’t have to act in accordance with that knowledge.
This is part of the reason why confession is so important. It is so easy to hide within ourselves our sins, but it is much more difficult when we are required to tell them to someone else, especially if that person questions, and asks, and even challenges. At least, if we have enough shame so that we will not tell lies then, God will show us what is truly wrong with us.
It also says about those who do and do not want to follow Christ,
“He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
That is exactly how these people acted. They wanted the light to go away, so they could hide. They thought they could hide. They thought if He would go away, they could continue their trade, they could get more swine, and they could go on with life as it was before. They should listen more carefully to what their Messiah has said: “Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”
There is no hiding from the knowledge of God. You can delay it for some period of time, but eventually, all things will be made known, all things will be made manifest. All sins will be made known, and those sins that have been unconfessed, those sins that have been hidden and hoarded will cause great pain, and will gnaw at us in the next life if we do not repent.
Now we come to the most terrible section of this reading. It is very short, and very bitter. ”And he went up into the ship, and returned back again.”
He offered them salvation, and they denied Him. So He said, “All right, I will leave’. And God will leave, and the Holy Spirit will leave from us, when we do not prepare a place for Him, and repent of our sins, so as to keep that place clean, and garnished. If you don’t want Him, He will leave.
But notice, how merciful He is, in still giving those Gadarene “swine” and chance for their salvation, because it says: “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 show 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.”
So he was giving these people another chance. This man might have gained some converts over time. Some of these people’s hardened hearts might have softened and they might have some to an understanding of what the Lord had done for them, and they might have become Christians.
God help us to learn from this example, to not act like swine, to not push God away when He shows us something that is wrong with us, whether it be when we are reading in the scriptures, or we are hearing in the services something that touches our heart, or where God most often tells us what is wrong with us.
This is through our relationships with others, and especially our relationship with our confessor. This is a tough relationship to have. You know, I have a confessor too. This is not an easy relationship to have, to bare yourself and to show what is wrong with you. We always want to show the good side of ourselves. It is also not easy to take instruction. When he tells me to do something, I don’t always like what he tells me, but if I don’t do it, then I will be acting upon my own wisdom, and I will fall, and I will probably, most likely perish. I will certainly perish if I disobey him constantly, but even the smallest disobedience can lead to a greater disobedience. and I can fall farther and farther, and the same principle applies to every Christian, even to a Patriarch. We must be obedient to what God is telling us, and God speaks through simple, sinful men.
God help us to truly follow Christ, and to not be like these Gadarene swine keepers, but when we see something wrong with us, we would cleave to Christ, and we would be healed. Amen.
Drops From the Living Water - Pp. 168-171
The One Thing Needful - Pp. 143-146
Old Believer Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (unpublished)
Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, Pp. 190-194