Today’s Gospel reading about demons and possession by them is one of those uncomfortable passages that we would rather not deal with. Oftentimes, we come to the Gospel to be comforted, to be supported, and to be enriched or edified. Yet, the Gospel is also full of challenges that we must not ignore.
Belief in demons and possession by them is not something that is as prevalent as it was formerly. Just this morning I was reading a story from the Mirror of Perfection which involved such possessions which tells us that for the people of the Mediterranean world, demonic possession was held quite readily. Today we tend to look many such cases as different forms of mental illness. However, whether we look upon it as a type of mental illness or a genuine possession by evil itself, it is a reality that is ever present in the Gospels.
It helps if consider how closely related are the issues of possession and obsession. Alcohol, the drive for career success, the desire for power, maintaining good looks or health, both legal and illegal drugs, sex, social media, video games, television, exercise, and eating are all obsessions that we can readily identify in our modern world.
The common thread that lies throughout these obsessions and demons is that God has provided us with a good thing that we somehow corrupt through our unnatural attachment. Career success is a good thing, but in perspective. So too with good health, alcohol, sex, pharmaceuticals, and so on. All are neutral, and are good if they lead us closer to God, and bad (thus the demonization) if they don’t. We can put them to good use and enjoy them within moderation. Or we can overuse them, and thus become possessed by, dependent on, or addicted to them. Even people can present themselves as disordered if they pull us away from God.
Jesus’ argument or reasoning clarifies how the people of first century Israel thought about demons. On a ranking of the creatures God had created, demons are second only to angels. Human beings and then animal life fill the third and fourth ranks. So the crowd responds to Jesus’ power by saying that he must be one of the demons in order to have power over them. Jesus points out that other people of that time have demonstrated the same power. So he reminds them that there is a thread of unity that ties all of creation together. It is only when we try to disrupt that unity that chaos ensues.
God has given us the ability to thwart obsession or possession. That ability is part of our relationship with Jesus. If we remain in union with him, we can overcome anything. We might not have the strength necessary, but Jesus certainly does.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator