Our Gospel reading this morning tells us that Jesus and His disciples sailed to the region of the Gadarenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, He was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time, this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at His feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times, it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss that is hell.
A large herd of pigs, St. Mark's account of this event states 2000, was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and He gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gadarenes asked Jesus to leave them because they were overcome with fear. So, He got into the boat and left.
The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with Jesus, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So, the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
We often hear tell in both the Old and New Testaments stories about demons and the devil. The problem of Satan and demons has been with us since the creation of Man when the deceiver made an offer that Eve and Adam could not refuse. Today's encounter with the demonic is but another battle in a long war.
Verse 33 says “When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. Some translations say they rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were choked. The original Greek text uses the same word in both places which can be translated as choked. The disciples and readers of the original Greek text would have got this connection. They would have seen, in the choking herd, a vivid illustration of how the world and the distractions of the world often separate us from our call to follow Christ.
This morning’s Gospel sets before us an image of what we can expect when we do not face our own personal demons. Our demons, unchallenged and left to run amok, can certainly destroy both body and soul in hell.
Think of some of the things that act like demons, that are placed in our lives such as alcohol, drugs, and behavioral addictions. These can kill both body and soul, wreaking havoc on the victim, as well as their families and friends.
In his Gospel, St. Luke tells us of other encounters between Jesus and the demonic. In Chapter 4, he tells us about how Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. He also tells us about an incident in the Synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus cast out a demon from a man. In Chapter 9, He heals a boy with an evil spirit. There is another incident in Chapter 11, where Jesus drove out a demon and a man was then able to talk. Luke then proceeds to explain that when an evil spirit returns to a person because it finds no other place to rest, it brings more evil spirits and the person is in worse shape than he was at the beginning.
So, we can see from St. Luke's writing and other Biblical passages that the demonic forces were quite active in the time of Jesus' earthly ministry. But what about their activity now? It is not hard to see the demonic in our world when we see some of the heinous crimes against humanity reported almost daily. The work of the devil is the only explanation that I can conceive of for a pilot purposefully crashing a plane loaded with passengers into a mountain or the Twin Towers in New York. The devil is the only explanation I can conceive of for a person to go into an elementary school and systematically kill small children. The devil is the only explanation I can think of that would drive men to randomly slaughter innocent people in a nightclub in Orlando or at a concert in Las Vegas. There are so many other examples, hundreds, if not thousands of them, over the course of history, and too many in our own lifetime to recount.
Our young people today, these young children and young adults in our congregation this morning, are growing up with evil as a daily companion. They see its ugly face in drug, alcohol, and sex addictions; they see it in bullying, in racism, in sex abuse; they see it in violence, hatred, and prejudice. No matter where they look, they can see the devil at work, and the bitter and poisonous fruit he produces among us.
British author, professor, theologian, and intellectual, C.S. Lewis, now deceased, offers this sage advice regarding demons: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Screwtape Letters, which chronicles the advice of Screwtape, a senior assistant to Satan, to his young protegee Wormwood as to how he might tempt his “patient” - actually victim - into serious sin and ultimate rejection of Christ. One of the truths that I was reminded of in the book is Satan works in subtle ways. He does not need to turn us all into fiendish criminals to send us to hell. He does not need to have us naked, chained and living in the tombs.
In Lewis’ book, Screwtape writes to Wormwood: "You will say that these are very small sins, and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from God - who he calls the enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to keep the man away from the Light. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
And this is exactly how Satan works; this is how he rolls (our younger members will understand the term). Evil is not always overt, or clearly identifiable. Evil is often masked by subtlety. It often appears quietly, very often not even perceptible to the human eye or ear. When we rely on our own falsely perceived goodness, rather than on the goodness and light of Christ, that is when we get into real trouble, and our lives get chaotic and unmanageable.
The Church has always taught that every person should follow his or her conscience. But there is a caveat to that teaching. Human conscience must be properly formed. It must be guided so that its development coincides with the will of God. We, as flawed and sinful human beings, though we are intelligent and endowed with reason, are nevertheless incapable on our own of forming a conscience that brings us back to our original state of holiness, purity, and innocence; the state in which God first created us.
Jesus Christ has given us, in His Body, the Church, the ability to form our individual consciences properly and in the manner which helps to restore what was lost by our first parents. When conscience is formed without any relation to God and His divine truth, what results is the confusion, problems, and chaos we see today in the world and in our own communities and yes, even, sadly, in the Church.
When each one of us lives by the dictates of his or her own conscience, and not by a conscience formed by the Gospel, the life of Christ, and the divine laws of God, then we have no one else to blame but ourselves for all the evil and problems in the world and in our lives. By our own unwillingness to listen to and obey God, we have opened the door to Satan and allowed him to work uninhibited in our lives and society.
When we defiantly celebrate our sins, we welcome the devil into our lives. When we live “high on the hog” and fail to adequately support the work of Christ in the local Church with our time, talents, and financial offerings we weaken the Body of Christ and empower the evil one. When we pray like the Pharisees, we condemn ourselves to a life apart from God, from His mercy and compassion.
Listen carefully to this passage of Scripture: “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all that I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner’” (Luke 18:11-13). Now, which of these two men went home justified before God?
You see, beloved, the Pharisee did not have a proper understanding; his conscience was faulty because his reasoning was faulty. His knowledge of the truth was inadequate and lacking. Had he opened his heart, not just his mind, to the spirit of Scripture, he would not have thought to prayer as he did. So too is it for us. We think we know what it right but the fact of the matter is, we do not always get it right.
If we honestly examine ourselves and confirm what we know to be true from the Word of God that has been set in our hearts, then we know that the devil and his demons want us. They know our strengths and weaknesses. They know us better than we know ourselves. They want us. They want to reason with us; they want to share their enlightened points of view with us. They tell us about all the good things we deserve. Their voices of reason tell us that Biblical truths are outdated; that the Church needs to update her teachings. They tell us that only some Scripture is the inspired Word of God. Truthfully, they want to grab us by the neck and drop our spiritually dead soul at Satan's feet.
God is love, and Satan is hate. The relationship between God and Satan is like that of oil and vinegar; they do not mix. No matter how hard one tries to get them together, they ultimately separate.
One would think that it is not possible for a person to listen to both God and Satan at the same time, or to serve them both at the same time. You would not think such a thing would be possible, but it is. People listen to both God and Satan every day and do the work of both at the same time. Hence, the sad and unfortunate state of our world, our society, the communities in which we live, and in the Church as well.
Jesus told us that we cannot serve both God and mammon. What He meant in that instance is that we cannot serve both God and the lust of wealth, which is greed. Greed is a creation of the devil. It is a tool he uses to draw souls away from God and make slaves of them. In saying that people cannot serve both God and mammon, Jesus was also telling us that one cannot serve both God and the devil since greed comes from the devil. Remember the evil demon Screwtape's advice to Wormwood. “You can separate your patient from God with little things. The wickedness does not need to be spectacular.”
Jesus gave us the best advice when He taught us to pray. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to protect us from the evil one. We ask God that His will be done. We ask to be free of temptation; that we may not be put to its test. We are to forgive freely so that we may be forgiven. We are to ask that His Kingdom come. We are to ask that His name be hallowed. We are to ask for our daily needs.
The prayer that God answers “yes” to all the time is the one which is in His will. If we pray for His will to be done, we ultimately align ourselves with His will. And His will is that we deny self, take up our cross daily and follow Christ. (Luke 9:23) Jesus wants committed followers, not fans sitting on the sidelines. The Pharisee who prayed in the Temple is one of the sideline fans. But the tax collector is the one who ultimately found favor with God. He was the one who knew his sinfulness and acknowledged his own demons by saying: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This is the prayer of the tax collector is one we know well and is one we should recite every day: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer of the heart, which we call the Jesus Prayer, is powerful. It not only reminds us of our true state and our need for forgiveness, but it keeps Satan away from us; for Satan hates and despises the name of God. When we ask God into our lives and invoke the name of Jesus, Satan and his demons scream and cringe in terror and indescribable pain.
Saint Paul, who himself had a messenger from Satan to harass him, tells us to put on the full armor of God. Paul writes: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:10-20).
Like a general encouraging his troops, St. Paul tells us that the victory is certain because Christ has already won the war. Through our Baptisms, we are clothed with Christ. The demons can drown in our Baptismal water. Christ has promised us living water to further drown our demons. We rely on the strength of Christ. Demonic forces are lined up against the Church and followers of Christ. This is spiritual war and it must be fought with spiritual weapons, not worldly weapons.