Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

The Gospel of Saint Matthew presents a fairly graphic account of the real effects of demons around us. It would be a false interpretation of this Gospel to consider Jesus’ action, or the story itself, as purely symbolic. Indeed, if demons were merely myth, Jesus would have had the moral obligation to stand clearly against such ideas. Instead, Jesus gives us a teaching on what the demons are capable of doing and what they are permitted to do. Swine represent what is filthy in the animal world. Demons seek out what is filthy, and so if they are obliged to leave one place, they seek out another place of filth. Spiritually, filth corresponds to vice, and vice is the place where the evil spirits like to take up residence. These two men, possessed of demons, live in the place of death: the tombs. Vice, like virtue, is a stable disposition – in other words, it is habitual and more difficult to change. The demons like to re-enforce and strengthen our vices so that we may be convinced they are impossible to overcome after we have made valiant attempts. Jesus shows us that it is possible to overcome these spirits by simply casting them out. Jesus even teaches us to cast out the demons in His name.

Demons do not commit our sins for us, however, they merely make it harder for us to stop or resist sin. Look at how easily the demons drive the swine to their death, and how they lead the demoniacs to dwell in the tombs. Demons like us to be in a state of death – that state is composed of sin, vice and of passion unrestrained by reason. We can command these evil spirits to leave in the name of Jesus, and they will go – but we have to also actively choose to remove from our lives whatever reeks of sin and vice. It is the sweet odor of God’s grace that draws us away from what sullies our heart, and the Holy Spirit Himself who moves us subtly to communion if we humbly show Him our festering wounds of sin and cooperate with Him to remove the cause of our infection.


For when a man rules his own self—and that counts for more than to govern others—his heart is in the hand of God, and God turns it where he wills. No wonder if he turns it to the good, perfect goodness is his. And so let us be in the hand of God that we may seek the good, that incorruptible and immutable good of which the prophet Amos says, “Seek good and not evil, that you may live, and so the Lord God almighty will be with you, as you have said, ‘We have hated evil and loved good.’ ” And so, where the good God is, there are the good things that David desired to see and believed that he would see, even as he says, “I believe I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” They indeed are the good things that endure always, that cannot be destroyed by change of time or of age.1


This brings us to a conclusion on another matter of great importance. The observances regarding sacrifices, sabbaths, new moons, and all such things prescribed by the Jewish way of life of that day—they are not essential. Even when they were observed they could make no great contribution to virtue; nor when neglected could they make the excellent person worthless or degrade in any way the sanctity of his soul. People of old, while still on earth, manifested by their piety a way of life that rivals the way the angels live. Yet they followed none of these observances, they slew no beasts in sacrifice, they kept no fast, they made no display of fasting. They were so pleasing to God that they surpassed this fallen human nature of ours and, by the lives they lived, drew the whole world to a knowledge of God.2


The “other side” must first be understood according to its plain sense. Yet according to an allegorical interpretation, the demoniacs who met the Lord in the country of the Gerasenes, that is, the country of the Gentiles, might be understood to have the appearance of the descendants of Ham and Japheth, Noah’s two sons, as distinguished from the Jewish people, who take their origin from Shem the firstborn son of Noah. Or they might be understood as all of those held captive by the devil in the error of idolatry. They are burdened by the chains of their offenses and the fetters of their sins. They were not living in the town, that is, in the covenant community where the law and the divine precepts were in force. Rather, they dwell in the tombs, worshiping idols and venerating the memories of potentates or images of the dead.3


For [the demons] said, “Did you come here to torment us before the time?” You see, they could not deny that they had sinned, but they demanded that they not suffer their punishment before the time. Because [Jesus] had caught them in the act of perpetrating those horrors so incurable and lawless and deforming and punishing his creature in every way, and because their crimes were so excessive they supposed that [Jesus] would not delay in punishing them, they besought and entreated him. They who had not even endured bands of iron came bound. And they who ran about the mountains went forth into the plain. And they who hindered all others from passing stood still at the sight of [Jesus] blocking the way.4


The swine to which the demons fled symbolize the unfaithful and unclean people who, feeding at some distance by the sea, were living according to the sins of the world. Thus the swine showed themselves to be a ready residence for the demons. Living nearby this worldly sea they are steeped in error and inordinate desire. This made it easy for them to be overcome by the demons.5


“He said to them, ‘Go!’ ” The foul-smelling animals are delivered up, not at the will of the demons but to show how savage the demons can become against humans. They ardently seek to destroy and dispossess all that is, acts, moves and lives. They seek the death of people. The ancient enmity of deep-rooted wrath and malice is in store for the human race. Demons do not give up easily unless they are forcibly overcome. They are doing the harm they are ordered to do. Therefore the foul-smelling animals are delivered up that it may be made clear to the demons that they have permission to enter the swine but not to enter humans. It is by our vices that we empower them to do harm. Similarly, by our power of faith we tread on the necks of demons. They become subject to us under Christ who is triumphant.6


  1. FLIGHT FROM THE WORLD 6.35. Ferreiro, A. (2003). Introduction to the Twelve Prophets. In A. Ferreiro (Ed.), The Twelve Prophets (p. 100). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. DISCOURSES AGAINST JUDAIZING CHRISTIANS 4.6. Ferreiro, A. (2003). Introduction to the Twelve Prophets. In A. Ferreiro (Ed.), The Twelve Prophets (p. 102). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 43.4. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 170). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 28.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 171). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 43.5. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 171). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. SERMONS 16.8. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 171–172). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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