In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
How familiar is this story to us. Yet every time we read it we
rediscover something in it which touches our heart, or gives a new light
to our mind. And to-day I would like to attract your attention to three
features of this passage.
The first is the attitude of the devils, of the powers of evil, to their
victims. The powers of evil have no other intention or desire than to
take possession of a living creature and to make it both a sufferer and
one that will fulfil their will. The Fathers of the Church teach us that
the devils can have no direct action in this world; all they can do is
enslave human beings and through them work the evil within them. So this
is what these powers of evil had intended: to enslave these men and to
make them instruments of destruction, but at the same time to make them
suffer for it.
When Christ commanded them to leave their victims they cried, shall I
say, for a place of refuge, a place where they could dwell and work
destruction. And Christ allowed them to in-dwell the pigs. Pigs, in the
eyes of Jews, were a symbol of impurity; the request to be lodged in
their bodies was a sign for all who could understand - and every Jew
could - that they were as impure as the impurest of the animals. But
what happened next was a demonstration to people of what happens when we
allow ourselves to be possessed of evil, when we allow passions to have
power over us - hatred, lust, jealousy, and all the passions of body and
soul. Being possessed by them we are doomed to destruction, as this herd
ended in death.
We should remember this because we do not always realise how much we are
in the grip, in the power of those things which rule our life: likes and
dislikes, hatreds, resentments and so on. We are not only possessed, but
we are also working evil through our subjection to the power of evil.
And the warning is clear: if we only allow evil to take possession of us
completely, it will mean death; not physical death, but a total, tragic
alienation from all that is life: from God, from love, from beauty, from
meaning. We cannot fall out of existence but we can be possessed of an
existence which is a ghostly one, an existence without life, without
content - a shell that is empty, and yet a torment.
And in contrast to this we see the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God
become Man. He is the Creator, He is the Lord, He is the Saviour of the
whole world; and He forgets everything, as it were, the whole of
creation to pay attention to nothing but these two men who are in need
of salvation, indeed He is prepared to leave ninety-nine righteous,
whole people who do not need Him at that moment alone in order to give
all His attention, all His life, indeed all His power to save these two
men. In the face of all the need of the world He can see every
individual need and respond to it with all His love, all His compassion,
all His understanding and all His divine power to save and to heal.
There is a third group of people whom we see in action in this Gospel
story; it is the inhabitants of the country. They had known of the
desperate condition of these two men; they were told of what Christ did
for them; they were told who their master was, who was their tormentor;
should they not have come to give glory to God and thank Him for
delivering the two men from the power of evil? NO! All they saw in the
act of Christ was that they were deprived of their herd of swine. What
mattered to them the wholeness and the life and the salvation of these
two men? They were deprived of what was important to them, what mattered
to them more than a human life, and they asked Christ to leave their
borders, to go because they did not want to risk another miracle that
would be costly to them. What a tragic - not monstrous, but just tragic
contrast between the attitude of God and the attitude of these people.
Let us give thought and ask ourselves, where do we stand? Of course, the
first movement we shall have is to say, 'On God's side' - it is not
true. When there is a tragic need, and the cost of helping would be
perhaps not a disaster but a pain or loss to us, what would we choose?
Let us reflect on this: are we really on the side of Christ Who can
forget the whole world because His Heart is pierced, transfixed with
compassion, or - do we allow our heart to be moved one moment, and then
recalculate the cost and turn away from the need?
Let us reflect - because every one of these stories, every parable,
every image, every act of God is challenging us: Where do you stand? Who
are you? The person possessed, to whatever extent? A disciple of Christ
ready to forget everything for the sake of a desperate need? Or rather
one of those who say to Christ: Go, go away - you are disturbing our
peace, the harmony of our life and our security?
Let us reflect deeply; but not only reflect, take a decision and act.