Homily for July 5th, 2017:
Jesus is in Gentile territory. We know that from the herd of pigs mentioned at the end of today’s gospel reading. Jews considered pigs unclean animals and did not raise them for food.
The “demoniacs” who encounter Jesus are possessed by demons. This has made them violent and dangerous. “They were so savage that no one could travel by that road,” the gospel says, adding that when they met Jesus “they were coming from the tombs.” The idea of cemeteries being dangerous and scary places lives on today in stories about people whistling in
the dark, to keep up their courage, as they walk by a cemetery. Here, as elsewhere in the gospels, the demons perceive something that ordinary people do not. They recognize who Jesus is: “Son of God.” Most of Jesus’ friends would discover his true identity only after the resurrection.
“Have you come to torment us before the appointed time?” they ask. This question reflects the belief in those days that demons were permitted to torment humans until “the end time,” when God would come to earth in blazing glory. Unlike humans, the demons recognize that with the coming of Jesus, God’s kingdom was already breaking in – which was bad news, of course, for the demons and all forces of evil.
Aware of Jesus’ power, the demons plead with him: “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine.” Jesus does so, and the animals, now controlled by demonic forces, rush headlong into the nearby sea and drown.
When the men who had been looking after the pigs carry the news of what has happened to the nearby town, the inhabitants come out en masse and beg Jesus to leave. But of course! The loss of the pigs was a heavy blow to the local economy. What fresh disasters might occur if Jesus were to stay?
The story takes us into a world very different from ours. Or is it? Still today there are dangerous people who do horrible things: mass shootings at schools, kidnappings, slaughter by crazed suicide bombers. Despite all precautions by the military, police, and electronic surveillance, there is only One who has power over today’s demonic powers. His name is Jesus Christ.