“There met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way.” (Matthew 8:28) St. Mark adds to this description of the demon-possessed men and says that one of them “had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken to pieces, neither could anyone tame him.”(Luke 5:4) St. Luke completes this horrific picture by saying that the demon-possessed man did not wear any clothes. (Luke 8:27)
“The demon-possessed are those whose spirit is possessed by the devil, as well as their bodies, their senses and their consciousness. Their whole personality is in tune with the devil and made into a tool of evil. The demons play with these people, they break them and force them into deserts and cliffs, manifesting through them their demonic evil.” (Father Justin Popovic). We must keep in mind at all times that the two demon-possessed men from today’s reading were so vicious that “no one could pass that way.” (Matthew 8:28)
And when Christ passed that way, they shouted, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29)
We have to pause before the fact that even the demons acknowledge Christ as God. And what about those among us who deny God and thus place themselves lower even than the demons?
And secondly, the devil insists on time, on his right to dispose of time. Falling at the feet of Jesus he asks, “Have you come here to torment us before time?” This means that there will be a time, the right time, when all evil will be vanquished and when the evil shall receive their lot. When will that time come?
This is the time, brothers and sisters, that is in the power of the Father (Acts 1:7) It is the time which sectarians scare us with, assuring us that they know the secrets of time and when it will end, while the Lord is clear on that matter: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (Matthew 24:36) That is why He wants us to be watchful so that when this day comes we will be ready. (Matthew 24:42)
It looks as though God gave the devil certain rights, as though there is some kind of agreement between them. The demons beg Christ to allow them to enter the swine. This means that they cannot do anything until He permits it. Even they have a place in God’s plan.
In the Holy Scripture the devil is called the “prince of this world,” (John 14:30) “the prince of the power of the air,” (Ephesians 2:2) “the lord of the darkness of this world” (Ephesians 6:12). It is even said of him that he is the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
The most important lesson in today’s gospel reading is that God has not given unlimited power to the devil. God puts His own rights above those of the devil. St. Mark describes in his gospel how the devil, “when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshipped Him.” (Mark 5:6)
It is very painful to see the earth poisoned with unfairness and unjustness. We sometimes become afraid before the devastating power of the devil. Some of us, “who have not known the depths of Satan,” (Revelation 2:24) we falter and fall into the claws of the evil one. But it has been made clear to us in a timely fashion that “the devil walks abut like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) But we are not powerless. On the contrary, we have been called to do battle with the devil to resist him and he will flee from us (James 4:7)
“But the end of all things is at hand.” (1 Peter 4:7) We are aware of this because of many signs that have taken place. Says St. Paul to his disciple Timothy: “But know this, that on the last days perilous time swill come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
For us, faith is something traditional, something that is there, but does not bind us with responsibilities. However, the time is coming and is already at hand when we Christians will be faced with the crucial question: are we with God or are we against Him? We are already facing dilemmas in the face of which we ought to be far more determined. The time is coming when Christians, just like their predecessors of long ago, will be persecuted and tormented. St. John the Theologian opens the door to the mysteries of heaven just a crack, so that we might see ourselves in these mysteries. “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, o Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Revelation 6:9-11)
Until the time comes, the time when the devil knows that he will suffer, we must know that we are going to suffer, Knowing this, it will be easier for us to accept this reality which we feel we are hardly a part of any more. “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” (Revelation 12:12) But let us not be afraid and falter. Christ our Lord sees our future in our past. The prince of this world has already been condemned (John 16:11) “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.” (Romans 16:20)
In his vision of the end of the world, St. John reveals the details of the coming of that time when the power of the devil will finally be crushed. “Then I saw and angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, s that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.” (Revelation 20:1-3) We must always bear in mind, brothers and sisters, what St. Peter the apostle said: “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8) “And when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth. Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:7-10)
This, brothers and sisters, is the torment before the time of which the devil spoke. Therefore, no matter how hopeless things might seem, let us not be of little faith. Let us believe in God and His justice which awaits us all in the end.
May the good and merciful Lord give us all strength and may He add faith so that we may resist the attacks of the evil and that our names may be written in God’s book of Life. Amen.