The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:26-39)
Today we hear the familiar story of our Lord Jesus Christ visiting the demon possessed man who lived in the country of the Gadarenes. This was an area that was not really Jewish. Most of the people who lived in this region were not practicing Jews. We know this because we are told that there are herds of swine. Swine, pork, is a forbidden food for actual practicing Jews just as it is for Muslims. In fact pigs are considered unclean and no good Jew would want to be defiled by contact with pigs.
I am telling you all of this because it is important to understanding this passage. Jesus Christ is the Jewish messiah. The long awaited holy one of Israel. Yet the Evangelist Luke takes the time to tell us that Jesus went out of His way to visit the Gadarenes, a place that is generally not inhabited by Jews. St. Luke is showing the reader that Christ will be the savior not only of the Jews, but also of the gentiles (the non-Jews). Christ is the savior not only of the clean, but of the unclean. St. Luke is reminding us that Christ is the anointed one for all people. His ministry will extend to all people in due time, although at this present time in the gospels it is focused mostly on Jews.
We are told that as Jesus entered that region He took notice of a man who was possessed by demons. He wore no clothes and he lived among the tombs. He was like a beast. He was also like a dead man. He dwelt in the place that was comfortable for his soul, because his soul was near to death. But that legion of demons could not predict what would happen next and they could not withstand it. What was it that the demons could not withstand? The demons could not withstand the presence of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps this is a good place to begin thinking about how one becomes possessed or strongly influenced by demons and the demonic. The demonic cannot stand the presence of Jesus Christ. So a Christian who actively lives as a Christian will repel them without even thinking about it. If a man, woman or child lives an active life of prayer, always calling upon the name of Christ. If they actively study the Scriptures and especially the gospels. If they read the lives of the friends of Christ, the saints. If they actively worship in the body of Christ, the Church. If they actively receive the sacraments of Christ, especially the Eucharist, then their very being is infused with Christ and repels the demonic. A Christian who is struggling to grow in Christ will become like a spiritual fire to the demons.
Likewise, the opposite is true. If one begins to skip the divine liturgy and deprives themselves of holy communion. If one neglects to pray and read but instead focuses their curiosity on things that are godless or strange. If one chooses to live on a path that is contrary to the commandments and teaching of Christ, then all of these choices build a foundation that invites the demons to influence us, to dwell within us, to become our friends….although in truth they have no friends, only those who serve them like slaves.
In addition, there are some specific practices that one should take care to avoid in order to keep oneself free from demonic influence and oppression. Among these is tarot card reading. It is not a fun and entertaining game. It is harmful both to try to read others fortunes but also to allow someone to read your fortune or read your cards. When a Christian accepts these practices, they are inviting and welcoming foreign spirits to be a part of our lives. And they gladly accept the invitation. In addition one should stay away from ouji boards. They are not a game. I would also be negligent if I didn’t mention drug use. Some drugs don’t merely give a physical high. Some drugs likely open us up to greater demonic influence. St. Paul says “be sober-minded”.
There are a couple of other practices that Christians should avoid in order to protect themselves from demonic influence. One is meditation. Christians don’t meditate, at least not in the eastern religious sense. We don’t empty our minds. An empty mind is easily filled and confused. We fill our minds and hearts with Christ and the things of God. It may surprise you to know that in some of the recent studies about meditation it was observed that those who meditated actually became more depressed, anxious and even had a greater increase in psychosis. Meditation is not prayer. It is quite the opposite.
Finally since the season is upon us let me also mention witchcraft. There is a commonly repeated sentiment that not all witchcraft is bad. Some say that there is white magic. To be kind, I can only say that this is utter stupidity. According to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church this is a downright lie. We cannot manipulate the world around us through the use of spiritual forces. Often when someone starts on this path they find that in the beginning things go well for them. But over time a darkness takes hold and they can’t shake it at all. The demons lure us in and then once they have access to us, they enslave us. Christians have access to the truly good spiritual force, the Holy Spirit and this belongs to God and is given only by God’s grace.
Jesus Christ became a man out of His extreme love for mankind, for His creation. He became a man to liberate us from sin, from the demonic and from death itself. If you are free in Christ, then you are truly free. We are forgiven in Christ. We are brought back to life in Christ. So even the one who finds himself living among the dead, like this demon possesses man, still has a chance through the grace of God. This man was saved by God’s love. Our Lord showed mercy on Him and as He breathed into dust in order to give man life at the beginning, He came to this man to give him life.
Likewise the Holy Spirit will breathe new life into the one who repents and struggles to be in the presence of Christ and to be filled with Christ’s presence in His life. Whoever follows this path will never go away empty handed but will be given amazing treasures. AMEN.