Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep. — Psalm 36
The demons get their wish. They are allowed to enter the swine. It is to their downfall, however, that their request is being granted. They cannot control the swine. The swine go mad just as the man had been but, in pig-madness, they destroy themselves and it seems the demons not only did not know it would be so, they also seem to be unable to control the pigs so as to prevent it. They are powerless to resist Jesus, they are not wise enough to know that they are requesting their own doom by asking to enter the pigs, and they cannot even control swine. They are fairly powerless all things being told.
So, how did the man whose name we never learn come to his state? How did the villagers come to be the way they are: afraid of the power that drives out demons? Somehow the demons, the man, and the village seem to have come to a workable solution to the presence of the demons. Now that arrangement is null and void and the demons have been unmasked as powerless and, frankly, not all that wise, not to mention they have been sent back to the abyss — by pigs no less.
An immediate question arises: Is not asking Jesus to, please, depart an automatic invitation for new demons to come and take the place of the old? (Lk 11:24ff) Think about it: Once the region of the Gerasene is free of the legion of ill spirits but still is programmed to just live with them, will not similar sprits arise and take hold? Gerasene is powerless over them, that has been shown by their incapacity of controlling the possessed man. Jesus has power over the spirits, better yet, the spirits are afraid of him and their own fate should he drive them out. So, again, is not the plea to Jesus to depart an automatic invitation to live the same plight over again?
Once the demons are gone better allegiances need to be made. To make those allegiances requires that life change significantly. It would be a true conversion on a large scale since everyone would have to be on board. That in turn would require that Gerasene deal with the details of life that had been handed over to Legion and, more importantly, deal with their complicity. Down that road lies hard work working through the guilt.
Turkey is mad at Germany right now. Ambassadors have been asked to leave and threats are being made against legislators and journalists. Why? Germany, while there is still a generation alive that remembers the horrors of accommodation to evil of the past, has chosen to recognize the plight of the Armenians in WWI as genocide. Not as an accusation against Turkey but as an acknowledgment that Germany knew it was going on and did nothing. Turkey wants to live in the assurance that they have done no wrong — ever. They are now busy plotting to make sure no more will be said about it. They have had 100 years of peace with evil. Why disturb it now? They have had 100 years of silence about it and it worked for them. At least it worked for those who did not insist on researching or writing about the massacre. They were acceptable losses necessary to maintain national pride and esteem — and the claims of the ever revolving door of dictators to a greater national destiny.
Many, many more examples are possible here. In our time, after the now largest mass shooting dividing lines that our own country have made peace with are also becoming apparent. The shooting had 3 of the 4 most divisive political issues of our time as constituting ingredients: Guns, Islam, and gay people, a sexual minority. Guns, religion, and sex. I leave it to the reader to explore the demons and the compromises.
In the middle of all this mess sits a lonely figure. He has come to his senses. He will no longer live in the places of death, his time dwelling in the tombs is at an end. He knows he must somehow keep in touch with Jesus. He begs to follow him. Yet, it is God’s deep and unfathomable judgement that it is better that he remain among his own disheveled society. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he does. (8:39) He is a living reminder, a witness to the compromises with depravity and to God’s great power over them.
In the middle of the mess sits a lonely witness. Is that witness clear of what it is that has been done, what demons have been dispatched and who did the dispatching? More importantly does the witness understand the difference between what Jesus Christ has freed the witness from and what are merely thoughts and struggles of the mind still very much subject to the world?
Yes, that witness is the church. As Pope Benedict said already in the 60’s, the church will not be a witness if it merely decides to be the world with incense and organ music. It must truly be a place that has seen the compromises through the lens of the scripture and the Holy Spirit and refuses to live them. The solution to the ever evolving compromises and therefore depravity of life in the world drove the original Benedict into hermitage and monasteries where he became the rebuilder of monastic life and through that, the rebuilder of the faith. Ratzinger chose his papal name well.
St Benedict’s call came when his servant handed him the sieve that she used to clean grain to make bread. She had broken it by accident. Prayer repaired it, by the way. But, more important, he realized that the bread that becomes the vehicle of the most high is purified by a simple sieve. The “host” of the message of God is purified by a simple sieve as well: the church. It cannot be broken, it must be whole. Pray, for it is the way to be in union with the Holy Spirit and that is what brings the whole.
A lone un-named figure wanders the world on the mission: “Tell what God has done for you.” That is a simple task that keeps us away from compromise — I pray.