IN those days, Jesus arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee. As He stepped out on land, He met a man of the city who was possessed by demons for a long time, had worn no clothes, and did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before Him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!” For Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For many times it had seized the man, he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds. Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And the demons begged Jesus not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding, and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So He gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man, from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen everything told them how the man who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gadarenes asked Jesus to leave them, for they were seized with great fear. So He got into the boat and returned. The man, from whom the demons had gone, begged that he might be with Him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and tell what great things God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
What is interesting about this particular Gospel lesson are the different reactions to Jesus - from the possessed man, from the demons, from the shepherds, from the people of that land, and from the man again after he had been healed.
Reading the Gospel accounts, we see that only two groups recognize Jesus for Who He truly is - the Son of God and God Himself. The first group is the righteous people, and I mean people who have spent their life in faith and obedience to the One True God. Among them is Symeon, who was in the Temple when 40-day old Jesus was brought there. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and John himself. The second group - demons. Demons are spiritual beings who were able to see in the man from Galilee the Son of God.
As we can see from their reaction to seeing Christ, they first thing they say is, "What have You to do with us, Jesus, Son of the Most High?" It's not like Jesus got off the boast and started introducing Himself to everyone around. It means that the demons knew His earthly name (Jesus) and Who He is (Son of God). Not too many people were able to recognize divine power in Christ, even after He performed amazing miracles.
When Christ asks the demons what is name, they reply "Legion." A legion was a unit of Roman army, numbering 5,000-6,000. That is the amount of demons in one poor man. What did he do to let them all in? From this story it is plain and clear that the demons cannot possess anyone or anything on their own will. Therefore, the man had to let them in somehow. Was he practicing some sort of magic or sorcery? These things are nice and cute and romantic in our ignorant times, but they are demonic in its nature. Was he openly calling on the demons to possess him? It is scary to think what led to him being possessed by the whole legion of demons. One thing for sure, he suffered for a long time and a lot.
As soon as Jesus saw the possessed man, He commanded the demons to get out. Human being is a creation of God and it pains God to see us suffer. In the service of Baptism one of the prayer in part says, "For You, O Master, because of the tender compassion of Your mercy, could not endure to behold mankind oppressed by the devil, but You came and saved us." God couldn't take it anymore.
Notice that the demons, once they saw that they had to leave the man, could not simply depart of their own accord, they actually begged Jesus to be sent out. Notice also where they asked to be sent. They did not ask to go "home" to hell, they wanted to possess the pigs.
What does this all mean? Even the demons don't want to go to hell. The demons also can't even possess the dumb animals on their own. So again, what did the poor do to allow so many demons possess him, demons who could not even possess pigs. When the demons did possess the pigs, they all rushed off the cliff and drowned. So what would Jesus do what the demons asked Him? Most likely because He knew that they would have no control over the pigs. The demons can't control dumb animals, but they can control human beings, once possessed. Think about that.
We are told that when the shepherds saw all that had taken place, they ran to the town to tell the people there. We don't really know what their reaction was, perhaps it was similar to the rest of the people, "they were afraid." They saw the man who was possessed, now sitting clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. This was a proper response to seeing something extraordinary. But then they asked Jesus to leave them alone. They, sort of, recognized a great power in Jesus, but they did not want Him to remain with them. As scared as they were about the healing of the man, they were more upset to what happened to the source of their income - the pigs.
Just like with the demons, Jesus actually obeys their request. God has no desire to be where He is not wanted. In our Orthodox Christianity 101 class and during the General Confession last Saturday, we talked about prayer and sins, respectively. The point was that we should pray in words that make sense to us. Otherwise, why should God pay attention to our prayer, if we do not really care about it? Same thing with the confession, we confess those sins that we desire to be forgiven of. Otherwise, why should God forgive us anything if we are unwilling to confess it? Again, similarly, why should God remain where He is not wanted or welcomed?
So He left.
Both the demons and the people from the country were afraid at the sight of Jesus, both asked Him not to torment them, and He obeyed. See, God listens.
The only person who reacted to Jesus positively was the man who was healed. Seeing Jesus leaving, naturally, he wanted to go with Him. But Jesus gave him a commission, similar to the Great Commission - "Return to your home, and tell what great things God has done for you." Basically, Jesus commanded the man to proclaim the Gospel (Good News). The man, as sick as he was at the beginning of the story, has the only appropriate response to Christ. And he obeyed Jesus's commanded.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest