“Satan is the enemy of goodness and nothing good comes from him at all; and simultaneously, we realise his limited authority over creation. For the Lord with the greatness of His love, His goodness and divine providence for His creation preserves His people and gives us the weapons of divine virtues… especially those who turn to Him.“
The Fifth Sunday of the Evangelist Matthew
The fifth Sunday of Mathew recounts the casting out of demons from two people in the “country of the Gergesenes”. The Gospel reading is from Mathew 8: 28-34.
The passage begins with Jesus arriving to an area called the Country of the Gergesenes, located Southeast of Lake Tiberias in Galilee. The inhabitants here raised pigs; animals, according to Moses-law, which were considered “impure”.
The bible says that when Jesus arrived, He was greeted by “two demoniacs coming out of the graves” and adds that “no one could have crossed that road”.
And here we must pause on certain points:
- Firstly; the original Greek text makes it clear that the two people were demon-possessed and not crazy, i.e. they were possessed and controlled by evil spirits. That is to say that the devil had power over them and consequently their lives, making it difficult to live among others or to have a natural social life. The only option was to live in graves, an environment that was considered impure as it was inhabited by evil spirits.
- Secondly; these two demon-possessed people went towards Jesus, proclaiming;
“What have we to do with You, Jesus, You son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” Here we see Satan admitting that Christ is the Son of God.
Saint John Chrysostom says: “Because there were those who thought Christ to be a man, the demon came to proclaim His divinity.”
The proclamation of the demons, also shows us that Satan realised that his end was in eternal torment, as the book of Revelation states: “Satan and his angels will be thrown into the lake of fire,” (Matthew 25:41), and “Satan was laid in the lake of fire and Sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet will be tormented day and night forever” (Revelation 20:10, 14:10).
Therefore, Satan did not expect God’s love and mercy through sending His only Son to earth to be Incarnated for our salvation, so he said to Him, “Have You come here to torment us before the time?”. The possessed was referring to was the “End of Times”, the second coming, the final Judgement, and the end of the enemy’s authority over humanity. The Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, and His call to, “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”, was the beginning of the end of Satan’s kingdom and the beginning of the countdown to the demise of his power.
The demon-possessed then proceeded to suggest to Christ; “Let us go to the flock of pigs,” proving that Satan is a real entity that exists, not merely a devotional invention, symbolic or personification of evil, but a real being.
Satan is a fallen angel who was called the Morning Star (Isaiah 14:12) who fell from his rank because of his pride and disobedience to God and was transformed from the angel of light into an angel of evil and darkness. The greatest deception of Satan is to deceive us through the illusion of his non-existence, in order to justify our sins and passions as a natural inclination of the soul and a fulfilling of desire.
Christ’s authority over demons and evil spirits meant that “permission” was needed from God to come out of their hosts, the two demon-possessed men, and to enter the flock of pigs. The Lord Jesus responded with one word: “Go.”
The other truth we see in this Gospel passage is that “there is no good coming from Satan. When Satan entered into the herd of pigs, the whole herd jumped off the cliff to the sea and died in the water.”
Christ granted the demons their request in order to show how great their bitterness is towards men, and that if they had the power, and were not prevented as they are by God, they would do worse things to us than they did to the swine.
St. John Chrysostom said: “Christ granted the demons their request in order to show that they would have done more grievous hurt to the men, had they not even in their calamities been aided by Divine providence, for they hate men more than irrational animals, this is the highest characteristic of providence, that it is extended to each man according to his need. We learn that He cares not only for the whole together but for each one in particular.”
Saint Peter of Damascus says; “Satan cannot fight God directly, so he fights man who is in the ‘image of God’ and the demon does so, believing that in this way, it is taking revenge against the Lord.”
The demons did not spare the pigs, who are irrational animals. How much more would they do to man who is “in the image of God”? For sure they seek the destruction of man and his loss of eternal life.
The demons themselves confessed Christ as the “Son of God,” yet the inhabitants of the country of the Gergesenes asked Him to turn away from their borders. Perhaps they saw in His presence a loss of livelihood and work after the loss of the herd of pigs who jumped into the waters of the lake and drowned and died. They were afraid of repeating this loss, and choosing between the Son of God and living with the impure pigs, they chose the pigs and asked the Saviour Christ to exit from their lives.
What they failed to see was that the Lord Jesus showed great mercy to these two possessed men when He allowed the demons that were torturing them to come out of them and enter into pigs, irrational animals, showing us that humans have a value and a place that is far more important and greater than that of animals, “the fact that man is in the image of God and the crown of all creatures.”
Today’s Gospel reading shows us the great and destructive power of demons. Satan is the enemy of goodness and nothing good comes from him at all; and simultaneously, we realise his limited authority over creation. For the Lord with the greatness of His love, His goodness and divine providence for His creation preserves His people and gives us the weapons of divine virtues, especially those who turn to Him. He gives us the weapons of divine virtues, i.e. fasting, prayer, living the Church Sacraments, and protecting ourselves with the sign of the Holy Cross, and we bless our homes with Holy and sacred icons.
Satan knows full well that his reign is diminishing and that it is only a matter of time before the end of his kingdom and authority, as the Apostle Peter says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).
+ Metropolitan Basilios