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Sermons

The Legion Cast Out

October 24, 2004

Bible Reading

Read Mark 5:1-20

Reading from Swedenborg

Let me briefly mention how the Lord expels the compulsions to evil that besiege our inner self right from our birth, and how he provides desires for what is good in their place when we use our apparent autonomy to put away evils as sins.

I have already explained that we have an earthly mind, a spiritual mind, and a heavenly mind, and that we are wholly locked into our earthly mind as long as we are caught up in our compulsions to evil and their pleasures. During all this our spiritual mind is closed. However, as soon as we look into ourselves and realize that our evils are sins against God because they are against divine laws, and therefore try to refrain from them, the Lord opens our spiritual mind and comes into our earthly mind by way of its desires for what is true and good. He comes also into our rational processes and from there rearranges the things in our lower, earthly mind that have been in disorder. This is what feels to us like a battle, or like a temptation if we have indulged in these evil pleasures a great deal. There is actually a psychological pain when the pattern of our thoughts is being inverted.

This is a battle against things that are actually within us, things that we feel are part of us; and we cannot fight against ourselves except from a deeper self, and only because of a freedom there. It then follows that the inner self is fighting against the outer self at such times, is doing so in freedom, and is forcing the outer self to obey. This is self-compulsion; and we can see that it is not inconsistent with our freedom and rationality, but quite in accord with them.

(Divine Providence #147)

Sermon

Today we will look at the Gadarene demoniac in some detail: his conversation with Jesus, the meaning of the demons being cast into the swine, and finally, the seemingly strange refusal on the part of Jesus to allow the man to go with him.

The first response of the demon-possessed man to the Lord's presence is: "Seeing Jesus from afar, he ran and worshipped him." What is it that sees Jesus? It is "a man." More literally, the Greek word for man, anthropos, means "a human"--or what is potentially human in our natural minds. The word anthropos literally means "human-faced." "The faces of God" (a literal translation of a common phrase in the Word) are love, mercy, compassion, and goodness; and these attributes are also the face of what is truly human. Love, mercy, compassion, and goodness are embodied in the face of God in human form, which is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Human beings are created to mirror these attributes in their interactions with one another. We see, then, that our story today describes the anthropos, the human form of the natural mind, as something that is out of order, since it reflects, not the faces of heaven, but the faces of the hells. The demoniac represents a state of disorder found in the human condition when our mental and affectional faculties created for the expression of loving service to the Lord and others have become possessed by every unclean lust. This puts us in the position of being controlled or driven by the very things we want eradicated from our lives.

The Lord's presence in us, if we are serious about our spiritual development, brings about significant disruption in our inner lives. This disruption is what spiritual temptation is all about. If we are to be delivered from the unclean lusts of our natural wills, we must come to see that they do in fact separate us from the Lord. This is why the demoniac is described as being "afar off." This speaks of our realization of our state of separation.

Realizing our separation is seeing that we are not what we should be. This motivates us to try to close the gap. The demoniac sees Jesus "afar off," and we are told that his response is to run toward him--or to reduce the amount of separation. In the spiritual world, distance occurs according to differences in state. Those who are closest to us in the spiritual world are those who are closest to our own state of life and love; those more distant are those who are dissimilar in state of life. So here we have captured on the part of the demoniac a realization of a separation due to a difference in state. Without this perception of separation there will be no effort to close the distance between ourselves and the Lord.

When we look at the conversation between the demoniac and Jesus, we see that in the case of the demoniac it is very difficult to get a sense of where the man ends and the demons begin. The text interweaves the responses so that they are hardly distinguishable. So we may wonder what or who it is that is responding to the Lord's presence in the Gaderene region.

We can gain an appreciation of the tension that the person in this state of mind must endure; for despite the opposition of the hells within the man to the Lord, he runs to the Lord and worships him. What a remarkable response, given this man's condition! What causes him to run to Jesus to worship him? Is it his perceived need for deliverance, or is it the demons within him, hoping for a reprieve? We are not told. But given the situation, it is probably a mixture of both. If we think about our own experience of temptation we can see this; there is a part of us that knows its need of the Lord in order to be delivered, and then there is a part that seeks to maintain the delights and pleasures our selfishness can offer.

This sense of being unable to distinguish between what belongs to the man and what belongs to the demonic legion within him offers a powerful picture that highlights a key New Church concept concerning the ability of hellish things to dominate a person's life. Listen to the following from Arcana Coelestia #6206:

All evil flows in from hell, and all good from the Lord by way of heaven. But the reason evil becomes our own is that we believe and convince ourselves that we think and practice it all by ourselves. In this way we make it our own. But if we believed what is really so, it would not be evil, but good from the Lord that became our own. For if we believed what is really so, the instant evil flowed in we would see that it came from the evil spirits present with us; and because we knew this, the angels could ward that evil off and repel it. For inflow from angels takes place into what we know and believe, not what we don't know or believe.

The hellish legions within us are all the selfish thoughts and intentions crying out for gratification. When we see these things as coming from ourselves, we do not just see them as arising from ourselves, but actually believe them to be ourselves. This state is illustrated in the lack of distinction between the demons within the man and the man himself--and it is the cause of his torment.

Think of it this way: we know we need to be more loving and understanding toward others, but we find we are continually letting ourselves down--particularly with those closest to us. If we don't believe things as they really are: that the things that rise up and cut down our intention to be more loving and understanding are from the evil spirits present with us, but rather believe that they are us, that this is "just the way we are," then we have a real problem. The problem the Arcana reading points out is that our beliefs form the basis for spiritual inflow, and false beliefs limit the Lord's ability to operate in our lives for good. Angelic inflow, or influence, clothes itself in ideas or beliefs that are true, and uses these to ward off the advances of evil spirits. Evil spirits, on the other hand, use false ideas to maintain their hold on our minds.

True ideas about the reality of spiritual life are contained in Word when understood in the light of the Heavenly Doctrines. In approaching Jesus, the demoniac is said to run to him. This word "run" means to expend all our strength to attain something. In this case, it is a desire to be closer to the Lord and to worship him.

This speaks of our approaching the Lord in his Word. Jesus is carried to the shore of the Gadarene region in a boat. The boat corresponds to the ideas we hold about the Lord and spiritual life--ideas we have acquired from the Word and the teachings of the Church. These serve as vessels in which the Lord himself can be present with us. The Lord coming out of the boat and then being seen afar off by the demoniac is our recognition or insight that the Divine is indeed in these things. The Lord being "seen afar off" describes our own state when the spiritual sense of the Word is beginning to come into view.

The demoniac is said to worship him. This describes bringing our natural lives under the authority of the Lord's Word. If the Word is to be understood spiritually, then we need to be in the effort to work its principles into life. It is this effort that constitutes true worship. This is described in the running, or striving, of the demoniac. This principle of application is what brings the demoniac into contact with the Lord. And it is this effort that brings us to see the Lord in his Word--to see its inner sense, and from this secure our deliverance from the lusts of the natural will.

When we approach the Word with humility and reverence, it begins to speak into our life. We can see this here as Jesus begins to question this man of the Gadarenes. Remember, the man represents our understanding; and it is this that we apply to grasp the Lord's Word. The inner sense of the Word is represented here by the person of Jesus, who is working continually to lift us from these lower loves into the higher loves of heaven. The Lord's goal is our salvation, and by means of his Word he works to remove what is unclean. But he can do this only when we are in the effort to remove what we see as evils within us. This effort provides the basis for insight into the quality of our thoughts and intentions from the Word.

This process is captured in the Lord's questioning of the demoniac, which represents the activity of the Word in our minds. "What is your name?" This question is the Word searching our being, that we might discover the nature or quality of that which lies within, and that is the source of all that blocks heavenly loves from becoming the governing principles of our being.

With the discovery of the name comes the discovery of the quality of the demons. Up until this point, the Lord has directed his speech to the man; now we see that a distinction is made between the man and that which possesses him. With the discovery of the name, the pronouns shift from the singular "he" and "him" to the plural "we" and "us." This is a vital shift in consciousness. It is seeing things as they really are--something we all need to come into if we are to be delivered from those hellish things that rule us from the natural will.

When we are able to see that the evils that arise from within us are in fact not us, but are the activity of the hells within us, then and only then can they be cast out. This shift in belief concerning ourselves paves the way for heavenly inflow into the new belief from which these evils can be resisted. And this gives a new slant on the statement or principle that "Satan cannot cast out Satan" (Mark 3:23). That which is within and seen as not us can be cast out of us; but you can't cast yourself out of yourself.

There is then a strange bargaining or negotiation between the demons and the Lord. How are we to understand this? We have to pay careful attention to the text to see what is actually going on. Listen to verses 9-13, and pay careful attention to the subtle shifts in the use of pronouns in the conversation.

Then he asked him, "What is your name?"

And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many." Also he begged him earnestly that he would not send them out of the country.

Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged him, saying, "Send us into the swine, that we may enter them." And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine.

Notice that Jesus directs his question to the man: "Then he asked him, 'What is your name?'" And we see that it is the man who is said to answer saying, "My name is Legion." Here we see that the man has identified himself with, or sees himself as, the evil. But immediately following this is the man's statement indicating the shift in consciousness, for he says, ""for we are many."" The realization that we are not what we see flowing into us is a major shift in spiritual consciousness.

Notice now that it is not the demons who initiate the negotiation but the man--and strangely, he does so on behalf of the Legion! Listen to his statement: "Also he begged him earnestly that he would not send them out of the country." Surely we would expect the man to be glad to see the back of this demonic horde. Not so! We are told that "he begged him earnestly that he would not send them out of the country."

We get a sense of a real fear being expressed here. With all change, fears and anxieties rise up. But in the case of such a fundamental spiritual change as this in a person's being, the new belief displacing the old has an immediate impact on those spirits who have enjoyed the cover of a false perspective. They realize that they are about to be exposed, so there is an increase in the levels of anxiety and fear they generate within. When we undergo a change like this, we feel this anxiety and fear as our own. This is because we are still in the process of having the new belief established. Out of this fear, we seek to limit the effects that we think this process will have on us by begging the Lord to limit their displacement.

But it is too late! The new perspective is now set in place, and its impact cannot be halted. Once a new belief is accepted, we cannot go back to how we thought before. So the process advances according to its proper order, and the distinction between the man and the demons that possess him grows. So it is with us: we begin to see more clearly that the evils within originate not from us, but from the hells.

The demons themselves now act, begging the Lord that they might enter the swine that are feeding nearby in the mountains. Mountains, in an evil sense, as in this situation, represent the loves of self and the world. These loves are the root from which every unclean affection and thought springs. Swine correspond to unclean affections. This can be seen in that these swine are said to be grazing or feeding on the side of the mountains. Thus they must represent affections that derive their life from the loves of self and the world. The legion's entry into the swine reflects a consciousness that now sees these evils for what they are: something unclean.

When this state is reached, the "man," or our understanding, is no longer plagued by them, for they can then be separated from us. With the releasing of the understanding through engaging with the spiritual sense of the Word, we have the establishment within us of a better perspective, a new understanding of heavenly principles. There is now no ground in us for these evils to maintain their hold, for with the coming of a new understanding, the old is destroyed. So as these evils arise, they can now be cast out-- back into the abyss of hell where they belong. This is illustrated by the swine running headlong down the steep bank to be drowned in the sea.

The establishment of a new understanding is beautifully described in verses 14 and 15, where it states:

So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed, and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.

The process is not yet complete. Though the swine are destroyed, there remain those who tended them, and those others who are disturbed by what has occurred. Some of these are the people whose livelihood was attached to these swine, and are now left without a source of income. The unclean affections represented by the swine have many other thoughts and affections related to them, and the resulting disturbance in those who are said to be afraid is the residual feelings and associated thoughts that give rise to milder anxieties and fears. This fear is expressed in verse 17, where it says, "Then they began to plead with him to depart from their region."

So the Lord obliges. His presence is as yet too great for this new state of life, and he enters once again into the boat. We will find this in our own experience. There are times when the Word comes alive and speaks powerfully to our hearts. And while we have a desire for such a display of its power to be always present in us, we as yet are incapable of holding it. So we see that the Lord enters the boat and enjoins us from it--from our knowledge or understanding of spiritual principles--to testify of the mercy and compassion shown to us by the Lord:

And when he got into the boat, the one who had been demon-possessed begged him that he might go with him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how he has had compassion on you." And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.

If Jesus coming out of the boat represents the opening of the internal sense of the Word, then his return to it corresponds to our return to a more external understanding of spiritual things. But now there is a difference: now the power of the internal sense to bring healing and deliverance has been felt. And while the Lord cannot remain, his instructions to the demoniac are an enduring lesson. Once we have experienced the power of the Lord's Word in our lives, we need to reinforce its reality through testifying to the great things the Lord has done for us, and how he has had compassion on us.

So we began in the tombs: in those dead memories that support our emotional dysfunction, that seek to maintain their life through keeping alive in us things like anger, guilt, regret, self pity, fear, and anxiety. And through the Word of the Lord understood in the light of the Heavenly Doctrines, through the heavenly perspective these can give us, through the new understanding that awaits every member of the human race, we can be given new memories, new ideas about life into which the influence of heaven can flow. No longer do we have to dwell on former things, for behold all things are made new! And it is in these things that we are called to be the Lord's witnesses. Amen.

Rev. David Millar