And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets - who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted and tormented - of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swne was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, "Send us into the swine; let us enter them." So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you." And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
The Scriptures respect our human situation, yet they also make us realize that while on earth we are engaged in a struggle with evil and are expected to respond heroically. Not that every day of our existence is such a dramatic struggle. If it were, we would collapse under the tension and lose emotional control like the demoniac. Yet at key moments of our life that struggle between good and evil spirits does occur and to survive we must be heroic. At such times the Scriptures call us to homely virtues like patience and hope.
In Hebrews we are coming to the end of one of the most theological documents in the New Testament, composed by a disciple of Paul and John who was able to blend Paul's insistence on faith with John's concern for Jesus' incarnation and earthly life and for the liturgy. The author of Hebrews portrays Jesus' life as a long pilgrimage through human life, stepping into the footprints of every kind of human existence and even sharing our temptations and discouragement, leading eventually after the struggle against death on the cross into the Holy of Holies. Hebrews has been continually drawing on Old Testament passages, but mostly of a liturgical or highly doctrinal nature. Today, however, it summarizes the earthly pilgrimage of Jesus in another way, by a litany of Old Testament saints, all of whom struggle heroically to be faithful to God's will in their life.
The heroism of the saints is not intended to set them apart but to unite them with us in the family of God. Even when we are at our best, like the Old Testament saints, we still need others to support and encourage us. Perhaps we can understand this final position of today's texts by re-reading Paul's hymn to charity: If I have faith great enough to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give everything I have to feed the poor and hand over my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing…. There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:2-3, 13).
The gospel reading today tells a disturbing story about a man possessed by demons. This character is quite out of control, completely alienated from himself and from others. He was more dead than alive, as is shown by his living among the tombs. He was the total outsider. Yet, Jesus engaged with him and as a result of his encounter the man was restored to the community from which he came. Having just calmed a storm at sea, Jesus calmed the storm in this man's psyche and spirit and sent him out as a messenger of good news to his community.
We may never be as disturbed as this man evidently was, but we can all find ourselves out of joint from time to time, out of sorts with ourselves and with others, feeling only half alive within ourselves, tossed and thrown about. It is then that we need to come before the Lord as the man in the gospel did. His initial approach to the Lord was quite aggressive; it was full of anger, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?" That can be our starting point too when we come before the Lord in prayer. Yet, he is never put off by our disturbance within. If we let him he will pour his peace into our hearts; he will calm us as he calmed the storm, and having done so he will send us out to share his peace and mercy with others, just as he sent out the man in the gospel.