My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
A saving spiritual fountain flows round about us, my friends; the fresh water of the fountains of the Gospel again streams forth for us this day. Just as we wish to eat when we are hungry and to drink when we are thirsty, so should we possess the desire to hear the word of God, from which we derive great profit and receive great rewards.
Let us open our hearts and receive within them the life-giving and saving water of the proclamation of the Holy Scriptures. Let us water our hearts, that they may produce and bear the fruit of truth and righteousness, which we ought to gather into heavenly storehouses, that we may be nourished by eternal food and avoid everlasting famine.
Just as earthly fruits and various foods strengthen and invigorate our bodies, so also do spiritual words nourish our souls and fill them with gladness and good deeds. But while physical food can perish and go bad, spiritual food contains unperishable joy and gains us incorruption, eternal life, and inexhaustible bliss. And so, let us listen to the words of the Gospel which the universal herald, apostle and Evangelist Matthew proclaims to us today:
At that time: when Jesus was come into the country of the Gerasens, there met Him two that were possessed with devils, coming out of the sepulchres, exceeding fierce, so that none could pass by that way.
Our Lord, of His own will came to the possessed, because, as the Gospel tells us, they were so exceedingly fierce and terrible that no one would have dared to bring them to Him. They dwelt in the sepulchres, the tombs, and no one could pass by on the road where they dwelt. The fathers tell us that in living among the graveyard, the demons wished to inculcate the belief that the souls of the dead themselves become demons; therefore, they dwelt in the tombs, desiring to give support to their deception, fraud and falsehood. Saint John Chrysostom tells us: It is not and cannot be true; let no one even think such a thing. The soul which has left the body no longer wanders in this world; rather, the souls of the just are in the hands of God. As it is written, The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them.
This demonic desire of deception remains with us to this day, though because of the modern pagan sensibilities, it is turned slightly more toward the humanistic, in that the devils will masquerade as the souls of those who have gone to their rest, appearing to communicate from “beyond.” This is, of course, to say nothing of the phenomenon of false heavenly apparitions and visions, of which there have been a great many, and which continue to cause confusion and delusion to this day.
“And behold they cried out, saying: What have we to do with Thee, Jesus Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?”
The demons, although unwillingly, proclaim the invincible power of the Saviour and Son of God. For them to say, What have we to do with Thee?, was a sign of their rage and shamelessness; while to say, Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?, was a mark of their fear and suffering. The demons fight, yet they fear; they attack, yet they also tremble.
Without their desiring it, we see that the demons proclaim Christ to be One Who has power; they quake at His coming, and they fall down in obeisance, saying, Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time? They could not say, We have not sinned, for their very sin is what had transformed them into demons when cast from the heavenly regions; rather, they fall down and beg that they not be tormented before their time, that they might not receive the just punishment due for their sins.
The demons feared that Christ would not wait for the time appointed for their final punishment, but would torment them ahead of time, being unwilling to endure the intensification of their malice against man. But this is not so; for God is just and His word, even to the demons, is steadfast and true.
“And there was, not far from them, an herd of many swine feeding. And the devils besought Him, saying: If Thou cast us out hence, send us into the herd of swine. And He said to them: Go. But they going out went into the swine.”
The demons ask the Lord if they might go into the herd of swine – both to escape the presence of our blessed Lord, a desire which obtains in devils and in those who serve them, even in our day – but also, as Saint John Chrysostom tells us, that, by drowning the swine, they could so upset the owner of the swine as well as those who lived in that country that they would not accept Christ, seeing Him as someone who caused only material and financial loss.
Even knowing this, our Lord permits them and orders them by simply saying: Go.
Let us not forget that if it were in their power, if they were not restrained by God, the devils would do far worse things to us than they did to those swine. Wee see, though that our Lord preserves the possessed men in today’s Gospel from being harmed or even killed.
Though our Lord freed the possessed men from the evil demons who beset them, our Lord also wished the men – and us – to know how great and how malicious was the evil and torment that they were delivered from. Further, we are to understand that the demons do not even have power over swine unless God so permits.
How great, my friends, is God’s mercy toward us; there is nothing that He leaves unplanned or neglected. He eternally looks upon all things and all places; He is present everywhere, and eager to bestow salvation. There is no one whom His providence and His grace can not reach; He eagerly offers to extend His good care to everyone, for He is the Lover of mankind, as we say so often in the prayers of the Church.
“And behold the whole herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea: and they perished in the waters. And they that kept them fled: and coming into the city, told every thing, and concerning them that had been possessed by the devils. And behold the whole city went out to meet Jesus, and when they saw Him, they besought Him that He would depart from their coasts.”
The swineherds’ flight and their story were meant to be the occasion of the Gerasens’ salvation, but they neither understood nor believed. Their wicked ways might indeed have been temporarily restrained, yet it was concern about their material loss that made them go to Christ and beseech Him. If they had not suffered such a loss, they would not have met Him or besought Him. In His providence for the human race our Lord Jesus Christ often deals with us in such a way.
Through the loss of our own material possessions and through other tribulations our good Lord and Master often leads us to Himself, unwilling though we may be. Nothing else is so able to turn men to God as sorrows and trials. Afflictions and losses come to men from God like a sharp, piercing prod, rousing the careless from their sloth and apathy. Therefore does the holy Prophet Isaias says, O Lord, in tribulation we remembered Thee; and indeed Lord Himself says that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
The Gerasens, however, were not converted in this way; for without genuine and unfeigned co-operation with grace it is impossible to change a long-standing custom in a short time.
Upset and worried that worse things would yet befall them materially, they besought our blessed Lord to leave their borders. Since their swine had perished, they feared that they might also suffer some other harm. And so for fear of temporal loss, they lost eternal blessings. The swine-herds and those who were delivered from the demons remained to tell and proclaim the miracles which had been done.
But let us also learn that our Lord does not abide where He is entreated to leave. He does not impose his saving presence upon anyone. And so it is that at the entreaty of the Gerasens, we read in the Gospel of our Lord:
“And entering into a boat, He passed over the water and came into His own city.”
Here, His own city refers to Capharnaum, where our Lord was wont to dwell. He was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, but Capharnaum had our Lord as a regular resident. “His own city” is also a phrase which refers to His Church, in which our Lord continues to dwell to this very day, and from which He invites you to come and follow Him.
Thus, my friends, since by today’s Gospel we see what and how many evils those subject to, or even possessed by, demons suffer, let us not be possessed in turn by their passions; let us not suffer worse things than the possessed by deliberately and senselessly choosing evil.
Once the soul has been stripped bare by sin it is seriously harmed. If it is not converted, it completely abandons God and plunges headlong into the abyss of perdition. The sinner does not stone himself, but he is stoned by sins, which are far more cruel than stones. Let us follow the Lord’s commandments, my friends. Let us adorn ourselves with good morals, and strive to clothe ourselves with every virtue. Let us ﬂee fleshly lusts and godless deeds. Let us flee attachment to, and love of, this deceitful world. Let us firmly and resolutely oppose the tricks and attacks of our enemy, the author of evil.
Let us do good while we still have time; now is the time for action; the future is for recompense. Let us walk honestly, as in the day and in the light, that we may be children of the light and of the day.
When the bonds of this world have been loosed, and the burden of the flesh is set aside, may we too pass over to that blessed and divine light, in Christ Jesus our Lord.