In today’s Gospel, we read Mark’s version of the healing of the man possessed by many demons and it is a story that should give anyone struggling with the “inner demons” of sin and temptation great hope – hope that even when it seems an impossible task, God can break into our life’s story and cleanse us.
Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea, to the territory of the Gerasenes. When he got out of the boat, at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him. The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain.
Demons love the tombs. They thrive on the decay and the stench of death. They run amok in a culture of death.
It is here that the man in our story dwelled because that is where he felt comfortable with his demons. How many of us “dwell among the tombs” of our own sin and death?
My mind flashes to those old scary movies that portrayed famous monsters living in the dank darkness, in the shadows of our lives. Vampires … afraid of the light of day, unable to survive the sun. Werewolves who were at their strongest in the middle of a dark night and a full moon.
Perhaps we choose to dwell in such places because we do not feel worthy to step into the light. Perhaps our inner demons possess us more than we believe.
In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.
Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and prostrated himself before him, crying out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” (He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”)
The demons inside our main character have no problem recognizing Jesus as the Son of God. So many failed to do the same both then … and now.
They not only recognized who He was, but they also knew instantly the power He possessed to overcome and destroy them.
Many today have no problem saying, “Yeah, I believe in Jesus.” But how many also recognize the power He has to fight our battles, answer our prayers and cleanse us of the demons that reside in our hearts? That’s a bigger thing to chew on.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t mess around. He drives the demons out of the man and into a herd of swine.
Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside. And they pleaded with him, “Send us into the swine. Let us enter them.” And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine. The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea, where they were drowned.
Once again God uses water to cleanse the world of evil, like He did in the days of Noah and the exodus of Moses who led our people through the Red Sea and then watched the Egyptian armies drown when the sea covered them.
Water is God’s chosen agent of cleansing.
This is why we baptize with water. It’s why we make the sign of the cross after dipping our fingers in holy water. It’s why the Church’s exorcists use holy water when they do battle with today’s demons.
You want to rid yourself of your inner demons? Seek the waters of baptism and forgiveness.
Unfortunately, today’s Gospel ends on a somewhat sad note.
The swineherds ran away and reported the incident in the town and throughout the countryside. And people came out to see what had happened. As they approached Jesus, they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion, sitting there clothed and in his right mind. And they were seized with fear.
Those who witnessed the incident explained to them what had happened to the possessed man and to the swine. Then they began to beg him to leave their district.
They begged Jesus to leave. Thanks, but no thanks.
Why? Were they upset that their valuable swine had been driven off a cliff? More concern about money than the life of one man? Simply afraid of a positive change?
I’d guess there are times when many of us feel that way. Content to deal with our inner demons rather than seek to have them washed away in the holy waters. As long as we don’t rock the boat, maybe they won’t really hurt us, right? Lord, make me holy, but not just yet.
It’s understandable. Our demons can trick us into rationalizing our thoughts and behavior. They can convince us that there is no hope to survive. They can drag us down into their world of death and despair.
Into the tombs, where they dwell.
Today’s Gospel, however, speaks not of despair, but of hope. These demons, this Legion, was so powerful. There were so many. Not only the one victim, but the entire town lived in fear.
And then along comes Christ, like a sunbeam blasting through a window and slaying the vampire.
He will come to you, too. He promised. Just ask.