Wednesday, July 4, 2012
1) Opening prayer
you call your children
to walk in the light of Christ.
Free us from darkness
and keep us in the radiance of your truth.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 8,28-34
When Jesus reached the territory of the Gadarenes on the other side, two demoniacs came towards him out of the tombs -- they were so dangerously violent that nobody could use that path. Suddenly they shouted, 'What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the time?'
Now some distance away there was a large herd of pigs feeding, and the devils pleaded with Jesus, 'If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.'
And he said to them, 'Go then,' and they came out and made for the pigs; and at that the whole herd charged down the cliff into the lake and perished in the water. The herdsmen ran off and made for the city, where they told the whole story, including what had happened to the demoniacs. Suddenly the whole city set out to meet Jesus; and as soon as they saw him they implored him to leave their neighbourhood.
• Today’s Gospel stresses the power of Jesus over the devil. In our text, the devil or the power of evil is associated to three things: 1) To the cemetery, the place of the dead. To death which kills life! 2) To the pig, that was considered an impure animal. The impurity which separates from God! 3) With the sea, which was considered like the symbol of chaos before creation? The chaos which destroys nature. The Gospel of Mark, from which Matthew takes his information, associates the power of evil to a fourth element which is the word Legion, (Mc 5, 9), the name of the army of the Roman Empire. The Empire oppressed and exploited the people. Thus, it is understood that the victory of Jesus over the Devil had an enormous importance for the life of the communities of the years 70’s, the time when Matthew wrote his Gospel. The communities lived oppressed and marginalized, because of the official ideology of the Roman Empire and of the Pharisees which was renewed. The same significance and the same importance continue to be valid today.
• Matthew 8, 28: The force of evil oppresses, ill-treats and alienates persons. This first verse describes the situation of the people before the coming of Jesus. In describing the behaviour of the two possessed persons, the Evangelist associates the force of evil to the cemetery and to death. It is a mortal power, without a goal, without direction, without control and a destructing power, which causes everyone to fear. It deprives the persons from their conscience, from self control and autonomy.
• Matthew 8, 29: Before the simple presence of Jesus the force of evil breaks up and disintegrates. Here is described the first contact between Jesus and the two possessed men. We see that there is total disproportion. The power, that at first seemed to be so strong, melts and disintegrates before Jesus. They shouted: “What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come to torture us before the time?” they become aware that they are loosing their power.
• Matthew 8, 30-32: The power of evil is impure and has no autonomy, nor consistency. The Devil does not have power over his movements. It only obtains the power to enter into the pigs with the permission of Jesus! Once they enter into the pigs, the whole herd charged down the cliff into the sea and perished in the water. According to the opinion of the people, the pig was a symbol of impurity which prevented the human being to relate with God and of feeling accepted by him. The sea was the symbol of the existing chaos before creation and which according to the belief of that time, continued to threatened life. This episode of the pigs which threw themselves into the sea is strange and difficult to understand. But the message is very clear: before Jesus, the power of evil has no autonomy, no consistency. Anyone who believes in Jesus has already conquered the power of evil and should not fear!
• Matthew 8, 33-34: The reaction of the people of that place. The herdsmen of the pigs went to the city and told the story to the people, and they all set out to go and meet Jesus. Mark says that they saw the “possessed” man sitting down, dressed and with perfect judgment” (Mk 5, 15). But they remained without the pigs. This is why they asked Jesus to leave from their neighbourhood. For them the pigs were more important than the person who recovered his senses.
• The expulsion of the demons. At the time of Jesus, the words Devil or Satan were used to indicate the power of evil which drew persons away from the right path. For example, when Peter tried to deviate Jesus, he was Satan for Jesus (Mk 8, 33). Other times, those same words were used to indicate the political power of the Roman Empire which oppressed and exploited people. For example, in the Apocalypse, the Roman Empire is identified with “Devil or Satan” (Ap 12, 9). While other times, people used the same words to indicate the evils and the illnesses. It was spoken about devil, dumb spirit, deaf spirit, impure or unclean spirit, etc. There was great fear! In the time of Matthew, in the second half of the first century, the fear of demons increased. Some religions, from the East diffused worship toward the spirits. They taught that some of our mistaken gestures could irritate the spirits, and these, in order to revenge, could prevent us from having access to God and deprived us from divine benefits. For this reason, through rites and writings, intense prayer and complicated ceremonies, people sought to calm down these spirits or demons, in such a way that they would not cause harm to life. These religions, instead of liberating people, nourished fear and anguish. Now, one of the objectives of the Good News of Jesus was to help people to liberate themselves from this fear. The coming of the Kingdom of God meant the coming of a stronger power. Jesus is “the strongest man” who can conquer Satan, the power of evil, snatching away from its hands, humanity imprisoned by fear (cf. Mk 3, 27). For this reason the Gospels insist very much on the victory of Jesus over the power of evil, over the devil, over Satan, over sin and over death. It was in order to encourage the communities to overcome this fear of the devil! And today, who can say: “I am completely free?” Nobody! Then, if I am not totally free, there is some part in me which is possessed by other powers. How can these forces be cast away? The message of today’s Gospel continues to be valid for us.
4) Personal questions
• What oppresses and ill-treats people today? Why is it that today in certain places so much is spoken about casting out the devil? Is it good to insist so much on the devil? What do you think?
• Who can say that he/she is completely free or liberated? Nobody! And then, we are all somewhat possessed by other forces which occupy some space within us. What can we do to expel this power from within us and from society?
5) Concluding Prayer
Yahweh is tenderness and pity,
slow to anger, full of faithful love.
Yahweh is generous to all,
his tenderness embraces all his creatures. (Ps 145,8-9)