Christ is calling. He speaks to us in the everyday, in our routines, through those we meet, and in the silence of our hearts. Even still, many today wish Our Lord was a bit more obvious. If only He told me what he wants, I would do it, we find ourselves saying. But He is calling; we need to pay attention, to listen, to see what He has planned for us.
There are innumerable examples in Scripture of people called by God to go on mission for Him. Perhaps, however, it might be best to look at a surprising New Testament example: the story of the Gerasene demoniac (Mt. 8:28-34; Mk. 5:1-20; Lk. 8:26-39).
The story at first seems similar to other exorcisms performed by Jesus. Christ and His Apostles travel through the region of the Gerasenes (Geradenes in Matthew’s account), and a possessed man meets them (two men in Matthew).
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” shouts the demoniac.
Here Luke and Mark note disturbing details in the man’s behavior. The possessed man roams naked among the graves, for he has no home (Luke 8:27). Even though he had been bound with chains, he broke free and terrorized the countryside, “crying out and bruising himself with stones (Mk. 5:5).
He is a monster, and in that sense is a fitting comparison to us and our addiction to sin.
Like the demoniac, we are left homeless by our sins, unfit for Heaven yet misplaced here on earth. We abuse ourselves with our sins; we see we have done wrong, and pound our ego, convincing ourselves that we are worthless. What could be more destructive to ourselves than our sins? The demoniac is like a wild animal, naked and roaming, a sub-rational creature; his nature is twisted and unrecognizable. So are we when we sin, for by sinning we go against our nature, emptying our hearts of God’s fullness of life. Chains cannot hold the demoniac; he refuses to submit to the rightful authority. Likewise, we refuse, in our addiction to sin, to submit to the love of God.
So stands the possessed man, a mirror of ourselves.
Enter, then, the Divine Physician, gazing with divine love.
We often think of Hell as a place of torment; really it is a place of love. Medieval writers believed that the fires of Hell are the same fires that purge sins in Purgatory and burn within the loving hearts of those in Heaven. In other words, the torment of those in Hell is being loved by God. It is this love, radiating from the face of Christ, which causes the demoniac to cry out, “I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” (Mk. 5:7).
Why such a strong reaction? Because Christ had already ordered the demon out once. He had already begun his divine doctoring. We must take courage at this, for as Christ healed the man of his demonic affliction, so also He heals us. He does not hesitate, He does not wait. He acts.
The demons, so used to being in control of the man, using his body for all sorts of abuses, find themselves helpless in the presence of their Creator. They are terrified. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). They beg Jesus to send them into the herd of swine.
“And he let them” (Mk. 5:13; Lk. 8:32 NAB translation). Jesus gave the demons permission to do what they wanted. It seems so passive, so un-Godlike. Yet, in a real sense, it is perfectly in line with God’s permissive will. Demons cannot do anything without the permission of God. Even in Scripture (see the story of Job, for example), angels and demons alike are bound by God. No mere human force can control them (again, think of how the demoniac would break through the chains the people of the town used to bind him). Only God’s Word controls the demons. Thus, the demons possessing the Gerasene are bound by Christ’s will.
Why? Because Jesus is God. And the demons know it.
So the demons, who call themselves Legion (soldiers working as one), enter a herd of pigs and dive into the sea. The city where this occurred was not immediately adjacent to the sea, as far as we can tell. The image, then, is of a herd of pigs, tormented by demonic control, running for miles before hurling themselves into the abyss.
The swineherds reported the incident in the town, and the townsfolk came to confront Jesus. They had seen the formerly possessed man, and they were terrified. Why? This was not a town of Jews, but Gentiles (hence the pigs). Their hearts were not prepared for the awesome power of Christ, and thus they “begged him to leave their neighborhood” (Mt. 8:34).
And so He does. Like with the demons, Jesus granted them their wish. How startling this is for us! God will give us what we want; if we wish to be away from Him at our final moment, if we have pushed Him away and find ourselves unable to be with Him for all eternity, He will give us what we want. He loves us. At the same time, if our deepest desire is to be with Him for eternity, then He will likewise, with all His love, fulfill that deepest desire.
Matthew’s account of this exorcism ends here, with Jesus leaving the people. Mark’s and Luke’s accounts, however, add a crucial detail. The formerly possessed man, now “clothed and in his right mind” (Lk. 8:35), runs after Jesus and asks to be His disciple. We can sympathize with the man. It is tempting to want to stay with Jesus forever. Many of us have a place where we were converted, whether we were raised non-Catholic or had a spiritual conversion as a mature Catholic. We might return there for a spiritual recharge, but we cannot stay there. We are sent. We must go.
So also Christ sent the man: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mk. 5:19). It was God’s mercy that worked this great miracle, and it is the mercy of God that will be the base of this new man’s ministry.
As the Year of Mercy draws to its close, these words of Jesus might be seen as our mission. If we, like the demoniac, find ourselves in the valiant fight against sin, and if we find in Christ the healing mercy of love, then we too must “go home” to our families, our friends, our places of work, wherever, and be proclaimers of the Good News.
If Christ called the Gentile demoniac, be assured He is calling you too!