‘Send Us Into the Swine’: Christ Frees Man From the Torment of Demons
‘The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying, Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ (Luke 8:38-39)
A gale had settled abruptly, and rather inexplicably to most, over the Sea of Galilee during the night. The boat drove steadily east. The shore of Gadara, a Gentile region, was sighted by the men aboard. The hill with the steep bank, towering over the sea, could be seen in the distance.
A large herd of pigs, of around 2,000, was feeding on that particular hill in the early morning hours. Swineherds kept watch over them. They could see those other hills, with the rock-hewn tombs carved into them, from where they stood.
It was among those tombs that the demoniac lived. He was naked. Scars, crusted scabs, bruises and fresh cuts ran up and down his arms and torso like a mangy web.
The villagers of Gergesa kept away from those tombs. Mothers warned their children never to explore there. They were frightened to look upon the twisted faces, or into the dark eyes, of the fierce men known to roam there. The foul odor coming from those men was alone enough to prevent anyone from passing by that way.
The demoniac had once lived among the villagers, as a normal person. One day he began speaking, and acting, rather oddly. He would have nightmares on some nights, or hear strange noises, waking his neighbors with his screams. Terrible visions, typically of hideously disfigured figures lurking around, haunted him. He somehow knew the darkest secrets of many of his neighbors, though no one had told him, and that was what frightened many of them most of all. He eventually turned violent. After fits of rage, he claimed he was unable to remember what had happened.
Some men of the village agreed to restrain him. They cornered him, held him down with their collective strength, and bound him with chains and shackles. But he could never be kept under guard for very long. In a crazed fury he wrenched the chains apart, broke the shackles into pieces, and ran out into the wild.
Go out into the wild, the voices told him, like the animal you are!
He returned to Gergesa a little while later, having nowhere else to go. They put him under guard again. Again, he broke his restraints and escaped out into the wild. This happened several times. A few of the village men had even been injured. Finally, he escaped, never to return.
The villagers, who were pagans, were relieved that he was gone. On occasion they still heard terrible howls, coming from the direction of the tombs, reminding them all that he remained out there.
He spent his days and nights howling out and injuring himself with the rocks he found on the hillside. He was alone, with only himself left to hurt. The physical pain could even be a welcome distraction from those dark thoughts, and hellish visions, which constantly tormented him.
Another demoniac lived among those tombs. They never exchanged a word when they crossed paths, nor did they attack one another. The demons, riding each of those men around as though they were horses, understood both of the hosts to be the property of the same master.
There were other demoniacs scattered and prowling throughout the world. Some spoke with vile language. Others growled and snarled, or were mute. Some vomited at their neighbors. Some would even contort their bodies to crawl about like spiders, snakes or some other animal. A living nightmare was what they shared in common.
Many had dabbled in sorcery or divinations or witchcraft, thus imitating the fallen angels by attempting to wrestle control away from God. Some were the victims of curses, including generational curses. Others had been prone to carnality, or other sins, thus having opened doors to allow forces of darkness to invade. None of the known religions, as of yet, was adequate to shut such doors.
Their living nightmares, to expire at death, were but overtures to the nightmare which lasts an eternity.
The herd of pigs continued feeding on the nearby hillside. Roman soldiers were known to pay nicely for fatted swine. Many of those pigs were to be set aside as sacrifices to the gods, rather than sold. The swineherds lazily watched on, making sure that none wandered too near to the tombs.
The demoniac wandered, through his habitat of death and decay, in a trance-like state, until he’d reached the edge of the hills. He licked his lips as he saw the pigs in the near distance. The Sea of Galilee was before him. He saw that a boat was near the shore, driving toward him.
Go back into the tombs!
The thoughts of a man had remained within, amidst the tormenting voices that dominated, and would until his breath expired. He wondered why it was that the voices had urged him to flee. He remained defiantly still.
Do as I tell you!
Dark thoughts and hellish visions pummeled him like a gang of bandits. He felt as though his head would burst. He clenched his teeth as he watched the boat crash onto the shore.
He groaned in agony as he watched a Man, along with several companions, step out of the boat and onto the sands. He didn’t understand why the voices feared this particular Man so very greatly. A sliver of hope, that in such a Man deliverance may be found, entered into his mind amid all of the racket. It had been so long since he’d felt any thrill of hope!
He ran onto the shore, toward this Man, oblivious to the other figure of a running man in his peripheral.
One of those with him is a thief!
Jesus remained still on the shore, as a soldier standing his guard, though his disciples were startled. “Come out of the man,” he firmly commanded, with his stern eyes fixed upon the demoniac, “you unclean spirit!”
The possessed man suddenly felt the sensation of having crashed into a wall. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” he shouted in a guttural voice at the top of his lungs. The words came from his mouth as though his body was merely a puppet. “I adjure you by God,” he begged, bowing down, “do not torment me!”
The swineherds, having heard the commotion, began to watch.
“What do you want with us, Son of God?” another voice shouted. The second demoniac who’d been living in the tombs was kneeling on the shore. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
“What is your name?” Jesus asked the demoniac. He spoke briefly, and to the point, having nothing else to say to the fallen angels. His stern eyes were piercing.
The demoniac felt within himself the pangs of resistance, briefly, yet very intensely. “My name is Legion,” he confessed, “for we are many.”
To give away their name was defeat, and in this case a swift one, submission to an authority. The memories of Lucifer’s wicked appeal, of the war and defeat at the hands of that army led by St. Michael, of falling from Heaven like lightning, came flooding in. The shame of having forfeited a place in Heaven caused the demoniac to turn away his face. To remain on Earth, in a host, in any host at all, was preferable to returning to the abyss.
The swineherds kept on watching while the demoniacs begged and pleaded, even pointing toward their direction.
“Send us into the swine,” the demoniac pleaded, “that we may enter into them.”
“If you drive us out,” the second demoniac pleaded, “send us into the herd of pigs.”
Finally, Jesus nodded. “Go!”
One of the pigs suddenly squealed, then others, followed by the rest.
The swineherds, feeling their heads begin to throb, covered their ears. They watched the pigs shift, like a swarm of locusts, toward the hill’s steep bank. They dodged around so as not to get trampled, and made futile gestures to corral the herd, each running around in panicked circles. They saw one pig rush from the edge, followed by others, and then the rest, looking like an avalanche splashing into the sea.
They ran to the edge of the cliff and saw the squirming feet of pigs go stiff and sink into the water. Their faces were flush. Their wide eyes met, tacitly agreeing that each had seen what they’d seen, and that now a drowned herd was to be answered for. They ran toward Gergesa, like crying children hoping to ease the trouble they were in by telling their mothers first.
The restored man was on the shore, breathing heavily, as though he’d just woken from a nightmare. He looked up and saw Jesus standing over him. The Savior’s eyes were much gentler. He looked around in confusion, seeing what state the other restored man was in. He embarrassingly realized that he was naked and filthy. He saw a hand being offered, and took it.
Jesus stood the restored man up. He told his disciples to get a cloak right away.
The nightmare was finally over.
Some hours passed. The swineherds, in the meanwhile, shouted out all that had happened to the people in Gergesa, and to everyone they’d met along the way. Their ramblings sounded to most like sensational excuses. Such theatrics were, at the very least, a break from routine. The curiosity of the villagers had been piqued.
The villagers reached the shore. They found men there who all were strangers to them, except for one. They saw their old neighbor, clothed and washed, seated at the feet of Jesus. He spoke coherently, with words, rather than just growling and snarling. His eyes were no longer dark with malice.
“You see!” the swineherds pleaded.
The villagers saw the boat that had crossed the Sea of Galilee. They realized that those strangers were probably Jews, known to have alien customs and beliefs.
For anyone, most especially strangers, to be the cause of such economic loss was punishable. To destroy what was meant to be sacrificed to the gods was more so. But this Man, having shown power enough to tame the untamable, having shown no regard whatsoever to their gods in doing so, could likewise defy that which they’d been taught to believe throughout their entire lives. The villagers were terrified of him, more than they were terrified of any demoniac.
They begged Jesus to leave, and right away.
Jesus turned around, followed by his disciples. They wouldn’t stay where they weren’t welcome.
The restored man watched the figure of Jesus shrink away, just a little bit, with each step toward the boat. He felt sadness for seeing them go. Within himself he felt a yearning, to be like the Man who’d rescued him from a nightmare, to be like those who’d comforted him in the hours immediately after, rather than to return to any life among villagers who turned such men away. He stood and ran after Jesus. He begged to go along with them.
“Go home to your friends,” Jesus finally said, having been begged for the third time since his arrival on that shore, “and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
The restored man stood there on the shore as he watched them step into the boat. He continued watching until he was alone on the shore, until the boat disappeared from his sight into the sea.
He didn’t forget the instructions he’d been given. He spent the following years traveling throughout the Hellenized cities of the Decapolis, proclaiming all that Jesus had done for him, bringing much wonder to those willing to listen to him. Many Gentiles had been prepared to believe in the Good News because of his testimony.
Plenty of us enjoy being immersed in tales of the macabre during Halloween. But unlike popular tales about vampires, werewolves, or zombies, the historic events recorded in the Gospels really did happen. This very narrative is based on a real event (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39) with a few details added at the author’s discretion.
Pray always for the bishops and priests who continue to serve as exorcists in our own day, for those afflicted by evil, and for those who unwittingly make themselves vulnerable to such affliction (the occult is not by any means fun and games). And remember also that All Hallows’ Eve is but a prelude to All Saints’ Day, on which we celebrate for the saints whose names we know, and those whose names we never learned, but nevertheless followed the instructions of Our Lord.