This Sunday is the sixth Sunday of the Evangelist Luke. The Biblical reading tells of the miracle of casting out demons from the man of the Gadarenes region (Luke 8: 27-39).
This miracle also appears in the Gospel of Matthew and Mark. Both Luke and Mark mention that there was one possessed man, while Matthew makes them two (Matthew 8:28). There is no contradiction between the account of St. Matthew and that of St. Mark and St. Luke who were satisfied with mentioning one man only who was the famous person and the more dangerous for whom the region was suffering. Saint John Chrysostom sees that “they mentioned one person who suffers more than the other, and that whoever heals one person also heals the other, as their goal is not to tell the story as historical event, but rather the declaration of the possibility of healing”.
This miracle appears after the miracle of Jesus calming the storm (Luke 8: 22-25) while He crossed the lake and “rebuked the wind and the raging of the water and they ceased, and there was a calm,” which showed His authority over the elements of nature and the disciples marvelled, saying: “Who can this be? For he commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him.”
After the Lord Jesus demonstrated His authority over nature, he now comes to manifest His authority over all creation, including Satan and unclean spirits.
After He crossed Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee) with His disciples, Jesus arrived “at the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee” and located within Decapolis region. Most of the inhabitants of this region were Gentiles (or pagans) and some of them worked as herdsmen of swine.
As soon as Jesus got off the boat, “a man from the city who had had demons for a long time” greeted him. The Evangelist Luke recounts the miserable conditions that this possessed man lived in, saying: “He had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs. He was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds.” Matthew the Evangelist adds, “No one was able to pass by that road,” (Matthew 8:28), which depicts this man’s loneliness and isolation. See what Satan can do to man, the crown of God’s creatures?
This possessed man had turned into an antisocial being unable to live among and socialise with humans. He was naked and lived among tombs, as the tombs were large and carved into the rocks like chambers in which many members of the same family were buried inside and were easy to reach for relatives of the deceased. This man was tied with chains and restraints, not unlike a predator or a monster, to limit his movement and prevent him from harming himself and others, and yet he was able to “cut the ties or chains”.
Under the influence of demons, he had turned into a docile instrument, and a perfect tool of Satan. St Luke says that the Satan “for many a time it had seized him,” and that “he was driven by the demon into the desert.” The wilderness depicted in the Old Testament was the dwelling place of Satan. Luke the Evangelist says that after the baptism of the Lord Jesus, He left the Jordan River and went to the wilderness, where He was tempted by the devil. (Luke 4:1)
This possessed man, when he saw Jesus, cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice: “What hast Thou to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech Thee, do not torment me.”
Satan used the man as a vessel and spoke through him, confessing that Jesus was the Son of God most high. It would seem that the devil, who at the temptation on the mountain had not recognised Christ, and would begin each temptation with: “If you are the Son of God…” had now, after so many miracles, acknowledged Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Yet, blinded by pride and hatred, he hesitated to believe that the Son of God had stooped to take upon Him our flesh, and thought it impossible that by His death upon the Cross the whole human race could be redeemed.
Satan knows that the incarnation of the Lord Jesus was the beginning of the end of Satan’s authority, but he did not expect that the degree of God’s love would lead the Jesus to death on the Cross for the sake of the salvation of mankind. That is why the Apostle Paul cries at the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, ” O Death, where is your sting, O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Cor 15:55).
Jesus asks for the name of Satan but not the name of the possessed man, “What is your name?” This is an indication of the authority and power of Christ. The strong is the one who asks the weak and the superior asks the subordinate his name and his rank. The demon replies with “Legion”, referring to the Roman division of six thousand men and indicating the large number of demons that has entered the man; “for many demons had entered him“. It is clear from this moment that the man did not suffer from mental illness but was truly possessed by Satan.
After Jesus showed compassion and tenderness towards this man of God’s creation, He commanded the unclean spirit to come out. But Satan pleaded with Him, begging him “not to command them to depart into the abyss,” but instead, “they begged Jesus to let them enter a large herd of swine that was feeding there on the hillside”. The demons asked Jesus to authorise them to enter a herd of swine and He gave them permission. This act does not at all reflect submission to their desire, on the contrary, Christ desired first to have mercy on the possessed man and to free him from the denomination of Satan, and secondly to show the crowds the extent of Satan’s evil, even with irrational animals, and the extent of the devastation and destruction they cause.
Immediately, the results of the demon’s entry into the pigs were manifested: “and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned”.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria writes: “We may also learn this from what befell the herd of swine. Wicked demons are cruel, mischievous, hurtful, and treacherous to those who are in their power. The fact clearly proves this, because they hurried the swine over a precipice and drowned them in the waters. Christ granted their request that we might learn from what happened that their disposition is ruthless, bestial, incapable of being softened, and solely intent on doing evil to those whom they can get into their power.”
This event caused fear and panic in the hearts of the herdsmen, and they fled and reported it in the city and in the country. “Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” Sitting at Jesus’ feet is an act and a signifier of discipleship, according to the Evangelist Luke (Mary, Martha’s sister, was sitting at His feet listening to His words in Luke 10:39). This man was no longer a slave of Satan and obedient to his orders, but rather a disciple of the Lord Jesus. He has regained his status and original beauty, as well as his mind, which is an image of God in man. St Antony the Great wrote in the Philoklia that: “When the intelligence is truly operative, we can properly be called human beings. When it is not operative, we differ from animals only in respect of our physical form and our speech. An intelligent man should realise that he is immortal and should hate all shameful desires, which are the cause of death in men”.
This incident caused terror in the hearts of the herdsmen, and they asked Jesus “to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear“. They did not make their request out of humility because they considered themselves unworthy of the presence of Christ, but out of distrust and fear of suffering another loss like that of the swine, lest His continuing amongst them might cause them further loss.
Before the Lord Jesus departed, the man from whom the demons had cast out asked to be with him, that is, to accompany him and to become among the disciples close to him. But Jesus had another journey willed for him; He wanted him to preach the great things of God. He was not told, “declare what I did to you”, but “all that God has done for you”. And in this we can see firstly a confession that Christ is God, and secondly, the Lord Jesus gives us an example of humility and teaches us to attribute all our accomplishments to God. And this is what this healed man did as “he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city all that Jesus had done for him.” He realised in the depth of his soul that Jesus Christ is God, the Saviour, who has an authority and power over all creations. Amen.