Today’s Gospel ends with a tragic request. The whole town of the Gadarenes come out to see what Jesus has done and they beg him to leave. From a worldly perspective, it is wasteful to have an entire herd of swine drown. We could speculate that Jesus could have found a less wasteful way of getting rid of the demons that were possessing those two men. Jesus is not obliged to do what the demons tell him to do after all. Certainly, liberating these two men from the influence of evil spirits was not only good for them, it would also have been good for the townspeople who were unable to travel by the road because of how savage the possessed men were.
The Old Testament story about Abraham sending away his son Ishmael has a similar note of tragedy. Did he and his mother Hagar really need to be sent away – it seems harsh to Abraham and to us. God Himself has to intervene to tell Abraham that it’s the right thing to do. The story here is not just to be understood literally, it is also an allegory – according to St. Paul – and further explained by the Fathers of the Church. The son of the promise is Isaac – he is freeborn, the son of the slave woman Ishmael is a slave. Isaac represents the fruit of a loving relationship with the Father, Ishmael represents the fruit of a fearful relationship with the Father. “The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son does.” It is better for Isaac – the freeborn son of virtue – not to play with Ishmael – the slave-born of carnal and horizontal perspectives.
Perhaps that is how we can relate this to the Gospel. The pigs need to be gotten rid of as well. Pigs are unclean animals, and if the demons asked to go into the pigs, it must be because they already have some kind of affinity with them. Perhaps the fact that the town had become inaccessible by the open road was something that the townsfolk actually wanted. What did they have to hide? The people who lived in the town were more bothered by Jesus than they were by the demons. They lived in fear of God made worse by the vices of greed and uncleanness. By exposing this, Jesus would have them receive the liberty of the children of God – liberation from vice and demonic influence. However, this example demonstrates how dangerous it is to live with vice – we will not necessarily want to be rid of it when our savior comes. Lord, help us to be ready to leave behind our sinful ways when you come to visit us – that we may experience the true freedom as your sons and daughters.
Let us see what Abraham does meanwhile after Sarah is displeased. He casts out the bondwoman and her son, but nevertheless he gives him a bottle of water. For his mother does not have a well of living water, nor could the boy draw water from a well. Isaac has wells for which he also suffers strife against the Philistines, but Ishmael drinks water from a bottle. This bottle, as it is a bottle, fails, and therefore he is thirsty and does not find a well.
But you, who are a son “of promise as Isaac,” “drink water from your own fountains, and let not the waters flow forth from your wells, but let your waters run in your streets.” But one “who is born according to the flesh” drinks water from a bottle, and the water itself fails him, and he lacks in many things. The bottle of the law is the letter, from which carnal people drink and thence receives understanding. This letter frequently fails them. It cannot extricate itself, for the historical understanding is defective in many things. But the church drinks from the evangelic and apostolic fountains that never fail but “run in its streets,” because they always abound and flow in the breadth of spiritual interpretation. The church drinks also “from wells” when it draws and examines certain deeper things from the law.
On account of this mystery also, I think, our Lord and Savior said to the Samaritan woman, when, as if he were speaking with Hagar herself he said, “Whoever shall drink of this water shall thirst again; but he who shall drink of the water which I give him shall not thirst forever.” But she says to the Savior, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” After this the Lord says to her, “There shall come to be in him who believes in me a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting.”1
After this, when already he had been abandoned as dead and had wept, the angel of the Lord is present with him “and opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well of living water.”
How can these words be related to history? For when do we find that Hagar has closed eyes and they are later opened? Is not the spiritual and mystical meaning in these words clearer than light, that that people which is “according to the flesh” is abandoned and lies in hunger and thirst, suffering “not a famine of bread nor a thirst for water, but a thirst for the word of God,” until the eyes of the synagogue are opened? This is what the apostle says is a “mystery”: that “blindness in part has happened in Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles should come in, and then all Israel should be saved.” That therefore is the blindness in Hagar, who gave birth “according to the flesh,” who remains blind until “the veil of the letter be removed” by the angel of God and she sees the “living water.” For now the Jews lie around the well, but their eyes are closed, and they cannot drink from the well of the law and the prophets.
But let us also beware, for frequently we also lie around the well “of living water,” that is, around the divine Scriptures, and err in them. We hold the books and we read them, but we do not touch upon the spiritual sense. And therefore there is need for tears and incessant prayer that the Lord may open our eyes, because even the eyes of those blind men who were sitting in Jericho would not have been opened unless they had cried out to the Lord. And what am I saying? That our eyes, which are already opened, might be opened? For Jesus came to open the eyes of the blind. Our eyes therefore are opened, and the veil of the letter of the law is removed. But I fear that we ourselves may close them again in a deeper sleep while we are not watchful in the spiritual meaning. Nor are we disturbed so that we dispel sleep from our eyes and contemplate things which are spiritual, that we might not err with the carnal people set around the water itself.2