“God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” (Luke 18:11)
These words from the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee are an example of the pride that we should all avoid. But how often do we say similar words? We thank God that we’re not like those awful politicians (the ones we don’t like more so than the ones we do). We thank God that we’re not like those people at work that do things we don’t approve of. We thank God that we’re not like those terrible, crazy drivers we encounter on the road. Or, we thank God that we’re not like those people in other religions, in Catholic or Protestant denominations. We thank God that we’re not like those people in our own church who don’t practice what they preach, or who are too extremist, or not extremist enough for our tastes. We thank God that we’re not like family members, or friends whom we might not confront to their faces but whom we talk about when their backs are turned.
This pride is everywhere in our lives, and we have to do minimal self-examination to see it in ourselves. Rather than repenting of it, however, we treat it as a benign tumor which we could cut out from ourselves, but which we feel we can live with -- so long as it doesn’t cause us any discomfort. When it inevitably does cause discomfort, we treat the discomfort instead of removing the disease.
In this morning’s gospel, we see the danger in this kind of pride, especially when we don’t deal with it. We heard about our Lord’s encounter with two demoniacs in the country of the Gergesenes. Saint Matthew tells us that they lived in the tombs, were very fierce, and that they kept people from passing by. In the other gospels we get additional details about one of these two demoniacs, presumably the more notable of the two. Saint Mark tells us that the one man had been bound with chains and would break free of them, that he couldn’t be tamed, that he cried out and cut himself with stones. Saint Luke tells us that he was naked and lived in the tombs having no house in which to live. Some of the Fathers give us an allegorical interpretation of these descriptions. By the nakedness of the demoniacs we can understand that they are a type of those who lack baptismal garments, either by never having been baptized, or by having lost the garment given to them through their own sinfulness. By their homelessness we are to understand that they are a type of those who do not have the church as their home. They are bound with chains and fetters and living among the tombs as those bound by and dead through the bonds of sin.
In contrast to the demoniacs we see another group of people -- the townspeople who were terrorized by the demoniacs, who couldn’t travel freely on account of the demoniacs. The townspeople looked with disdain and judgment upon those afflicted by demons, and banished them far from the city. Yet even at this distance, they still wished to be delivered from them for the sake of their own freedom, not out of love or concern for those possessed.
Yet the townspeople weren’t blameless in their lives. Contrary to the law of Moses, they were swineherds who made their living raising pigs. We can understand by this that they represent those living filthy and unclean lives. Unlike the demoniacs, they weren’t bound and chained, they were clothed, they had homes. That is to say they are a type of those in the Church, those who have been baptized and freed from their sins, and yet choose to live a life of self-willed uncleanness.
The demons, encountering our Lord, and knowing that He would not allow them to remain with the demoniacs, sought to be released into the herd of pigs that was feeding nearby. The two men who had terrorized the townspeople, and had been banished to the tombs by them, were freed from their captivity. The herd of pigs raced down the hill and into the sea. In doing so, even the pigs were freed of the demons who had possessed them.
But the townspeople weren’t freed from their sin and uncleanness. Even though the source of their filth -- the pigs -- were gone, they were not clean, because they clung to this life of filth and uncleanness. This great miracle that Christ performed was an act of deliverance for the demoniacs, but the unclean townspeople saw it as a deprivation. Though they were delivered of that which kept them unclean, they saw it as an attack on their livelihood and were upset by it. They begged Jesus to depart from them and leave them alone. And so, they were no longer tormented by the demoniacs, but they rejected Christ who drives away the demons and cleanses us of our filth. Blessed Theophylact, in his interpretation of this passage, says “where there is swinish life, it is not Christ who dwells there, but demons.”
When we look around us and see those tormented by demons, and those who in turn torment us, whether those people are inside the church, or outside the church, we should avoid judgment and should look first at our own spiritual state. The Lord commands us to remove the log in our own eye first so that we can help our brother with the splinter in his eye. If we are living in filth and uncleanness, if we are leading a swinish life, it doesn’t matter how often we come to Church, how many prayers we say, it is not Christ who lives with us, but the demons. He always awaits our repentance, but we have begged Him to leave by our sins.
The problem that we face is not outside of ourselves. Our Lord ate with tax collectors and sinners and was not made filthy by His association with them. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the son is saved in the midst of the pig sty and while desiring to eat the pig’s food. He was saved because he saw the filth all around him and came to himself. He was saved because he remembered his father’s house and preferred to be a servant to his father than a slave to swinish life.
We must look at ourselves. We must see not just the filth that surrounds us but also the filth within us, so that like the prodigal we might remember a life far better than one lived among the swine, life in the Kingdom of our Father. As long as we lament the demoniacs who should rather be pitied, as long as we cling to a swinish life, one of filth and uncleanness, we will not repent of our sins, and we will drive Christ from our midst because He dares to unsettle the life of sin that we prefer to life with Him.
In our baptism, we are exorcised of our demons, we have rushed down into the water and are washed of our filth and uncleanness. We must not continue clinging to that filth, judging ourselves blameless compared to others, but must continuously repent; we must choose always to be servants of our Father rather than slaves to our sins. Our Lord said to the elders and chief priest of the Jewish people, “Truly I say to you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” In the miracle we read about in this morning’s gospel, we see that even demoniacs will be delivered before those who choose filth over Christ.