Sermon on Matt 8:28-9:1
Two demons meet Jesus and cry out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God?” (Matt 8:29) Now, a demon is an angel that strives to separate itself and others totally from the light, utterly devoid of kindness, grace, truth, and love. In other words, they seek to have nothing whatsoever to do with God or God’s son. And this is the basis of their question. Their malice and the grace of God have nothing in common (Remig.). As Paul observes, there can be no fellowship of light with darkness (2 Cor 6:14).
John teaches us that “God is light and that in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Whereas the sole project of these demonic creatures is to snuff out all the light, if such were possible.
Now, this relationship between the darkness and the light, between good and evil, between presence and absence, between life and death is not a balanced or symmetrical relationship. You can find that idea in other religions, but not in Christianity.
You have probably at some point seen a yin yang. This is a Taoist symbol. A circle divided by an S-shaped line, half black and half white, with a small circle of black in the white and the small circle of white in the black. I’m oversimplifying, but this is meant to show that everything is in balance and that seemingly opposing forces – like darkness and light, life and death, and so on – are actually dependent on each other. This is not the Christian perspective.
Remember, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” There is no dark circle in the light of God. If we were to draw a similar symbol as Christians, we would put no dark circle in the light segment. However, the opposite is not true. There is indeed a bright circle in the dark segment. That is to say, there is goodness and light in everything that exist. But there is not evil and darkness in everything. There is no evil or darkness in God. Our perspective is asymmetrical. We recognize a dualism between good and evil, but ours is a modified, imbalanced dualism, with the scale tipping very much in favor of the good.
According to Abbot Tryphon, some Gnostics taught “that the entirety of being is made up of two realms which have forever existed together: the kingdom of light, and the kingdom of darkness.” Now someone might say, “Oh, that sounds like heaven and hell.” But this is to misunderstand that relationship totally. We reject this teaching and any notion of equivalence between light and darkness, between life and death, or between God and the evil one.
We do believe there is a devil and that he is indeed a powerful creature. The gospel today tells us of demons and of some of the destructive power that they can wield over human lives. But notice that I call them “creatures.” They are created. They are not uncreated like God. They are not his equals. They are dependent upon him for everything, even for their being, for their very existence. Just as you are and just as I am. We are creatures too.
It is plain in today’s gospel that, although the demons have destructive power, and although they want to have nothing to do with the Son of God, they remain entirely under his authority. They can sense that he is going cast him out and that they therefore will be cast out, and so they beg for permission to enter the swine. They and we can do nothing without the permission of our creator.
He tells them to go into the swine and they do go, driving the whole herd to its death in the waters. They take any opportunity for death and destruction they can get, no matter how petty.
Before I said that there is goodness in everything that exists, and I mean that. But, what about these demons? you may ask. Is there is goodness in them? Well, do they exist?
Let me back up. Evil does not exist in and of itself. It has no essence of its own and it was not created by God. We reject the Gnostic notion of uncreated and eternal evil existing alongside the uncreated good God. Darkness is not a thing that exists, but is only the absence of light. Likewise, cold is the only absence of warmth. And death is only the absence of life. And evil is only the absence of good.
But the opposites are not true. Good is not merely the absence of evil. Evil is a privation, but good is what really is.
For example, you are not your sin. Who you are is good. You are a good image of God. That’s what makes your sin a sin – it goes against who you really are.
An evil cannot exist without a good to deprive, but good has always existed for all eternity before creation and for all eternity yet to come, and it has existed without any evil in it at all. God, who alone is both uncreated and everlasting, is entirely good and in him there is no evil at all.
God created angels, just as he created every creature that exists, and his creation is good. Those angels who choose to use their God-given power destructively, rebelliously, and pridefully we call demons. But inasmuch as the demons continue to exist, there remains some good in them. If there did not, they would cease to exist. The paradox is that without that good of existence, they could do no evil.
It remains an unplumbable mystery as to why God allows evil to exist. There is no answer to that question. But today Jesus gives us the clear example of how to deal with it. Tell it to go.
Let’s do the good we can do. Bring comfort to the afflicted, as Jesus does today to the two men possessed by demons, even at the expense of a herd of pigs. Two human beings are worth more than many pigs, and you are worth more than many sparrows (Matt 10:31). See the value in one another and go to whatever lengths and expense necessary to love another, comfort one another, support one another. This will go a long way in driving out the evil influences in our lives.
And for some additional ammo against the evil ones, remember what Saint Anthony of Egypt said: “The devil is afraid of us when we pray and make sacrifices. He is also afraid when we are humble and good. He is especially afraid when we love Jesus very much. He runs away when we make the Sign of the Cross.”