This exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac is one of the longest and most vivid New Testament miracles. Here St. Mark gives us a glimpse into the power of evil but at the same time we see that the forces of evil even when they are Legion are not match for the power of Jesus.
And with that power Jesus changes lives – even beyond his own people, for in going into the territory of the Gerasenes he ventures into pagan territory. We have just finished our first ever Synod here in the Diocese of Orlando and its theme was “Starting Afresh from Christ”. Here, in the man who was possessed, we see someone who in encountering Christ really does start afresh.
It curious though how many – in hearing this Scripture – are troubled that Jesus would send the devils into those poor swine. And in doing so he would seemingly deprive the swineherds of their livelihood. We can imagine the swineherds’ lawyers sharpening their pencils and preparing their lawsuits against Jesus. But we think like that because in our society we value “private property” so much and so we can easily think that Jesus wronged the swineherds in causing the lost of their property. But of course that is to miss the point.
In sending the demons into the swine, who end up destroying them, Jesus gives us an object lesson: if we welcome the demonic in our lives, if we allow ourselves to make easy compromises with evil, we suffer the same effect in our lives. But Jesus does not injustice to the swineherds. After all, he is the Lord and Master of the universe. All that is was created through his Word and therefore ultimately belongs to him. And isn’t that what we acknowledge when we speak about “stewardship”: that what we have is God’s anyway. Of course, those swineherds had to give more than lip service; and, they didn’t like it at all. In what could be one of the most poignant and tragic verses of the gospel, these people who witnessed a man delivered of his suffering (they saw him sitting there clothed and in his right mind), these people who saw this beg Jesus to leave them alone.
And of course, if we become too attached to our personal pursuits of power, pleasure or glory, we risk doing the same.
But back to the man who was cured – the man who starts afresh from Christ, he emerges from the tombs, freed from the chains and shackles that bound him. Can we not see ourselves in him? From just as his encounter with Christ’s amazing grace changed him, hasn’t that amazing grace also changed us and our lives? What would we be without our Catholic faith? As we move forward to the implementation of our Synod, you will notice a new slogan, from my pastoral letter at the conclusion of the Synod: “Witnesses to Hope, Alive in Christ”. Doesn’t this describe the now cured demoniac who Jesus commissions to “announce all that the Lord in his pity has done for you”. And shouldn’t this describe us in our response to all God has done for us, that we too be “Witnesses to hope, Alive in Christ”.
San Pedro Retreat Center
January 29, 2007