After passing through the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, we made a round through the various towns of Decapolis and proceeded once again to the Lake of Galilee. I remember we were almost at Chorazin when we came across a crowd of farmers running and screaming like crazy….
In front of the crowd was a man who was panting and stumbling every now and then. He was short and untidy, his tunic in tatters. Behind him was a group of men with boards and stones in their hands, running and cornering him like a beast….
Neighbor: Go away from here, Satan!… Go away, go away!
Woman Neighbor: Off you go to the desert! Demon! Outta here!
Another Neighbor: You’re Beelzebul! You’re Beelzebul! You’re Beelzebul!
A stone flew over our heads and landed right on the neck of the poor creature. Whirling, the man fell to the street. He was motionless.
Neighbor: Seraphio is cursed! Seraphio is cursed!
Woman Neighbor: Don’t get too close! This man is possessed by the devil!
Neighbor: Seraphio is cursed!
Jesus and I forced our way through the enraged multitude and finally saw Seraphio who was whimpering on the ground, his head supported by his two hands. He was trembling with fear…
Another Neighbor: Send for the Pharisee! Send for the Pharisee!
Pharisee: Here I am, dammit! Let me pass, you bunch of troublemakers!
An old man with his cloak of prayers hanging from his shoulders, appeared in front of everyone.
Woman Neighbor: This damned fellow needs special incantation.
Jesus: Hey, what’s all this hassle, huh? Who’s this fellow?
Neighbor: He’s possessed by the devil. Can’t you see?
Jesus: Why, what happened to him?
Woman Neighbor: What else could happen to him?! The devil slipped into his body, like he swallowed a fly!
Neighbor: The poor creature has been hiding for a week. If it hadn’t been for old man Clete who found him this morning, we wouldn’t have known what happened to him. Do you know where he found him? There, right inside the well, like a mouse trapped in his hole, dropping all his shit in the water that everyone drinks!
Neighbor: Damn! If not for Clete…! He took him out with a rope!
Another Neighbor: Say the prayer fast, Pharisee, and hurry! This man is dangerous! He’s possessed by the devil!
Jesus: Are you sure he’s possessed?…
Woman Neighbor: Of course. Look, this devil’s gotta be really strong, he can’t even hear or speak. He’s tongue tied and his ears are covered.
The Pharisee was already preparing to pray, so he signalled us to keep quiet….
Pharisee: I want complete silence, so the Lord will hear our prayer! If anyone sees the devil leave this man, throw him at once to the ground to prevent him from entering another person’s body….
We were all on tiptoes in order to get a view of poor Seraphio who was curled up on the ground. Then the Pharisee raised his hands and began to exorcize the deaf and mute demon.
Pharisee: Stay away from this man, Satan! Go away, get away from here, and leave the body of Seraphio!…. I command you, in the name of the Lord!… Satan, filthy serpent, monster of broken hooves, beast with seven horns, get out!… Go away, stinking devil, leave this man, unclean devil, deaf devil, mute devil!…. Beelzebul!… conqueror of man, temptation of woman, go away from here, drown yourself into the sea, burn yourself in fire, go back to hell!… This man is not moving… He does not even hear nor speak. He’s got the devil all over him! But I’ll get him, yes sir, I’ll get the devil out of his body at any cost!
Woman Neighbor: Hey, Pharisee, why don’t you try it with a candle? They say that the demon is like a scorpion that emits its own poison when threatened by fire.
Pharisee: Yes, let’s try it with fire. You, four, tie his hands and feet. Make it tight so he won’t kick. Then bring me a torch… We’ll put the candle on his feet, to make him talk. The mute devil hates the candle…
The Pharisee took a burning torch and placed it near the sole of Seraphio’s feet. He looked at us terrifed….
Seraphio: Aaaaagghh….! Aaaaaagghhh!
The air was filled with the smell of burned meat. The deafmute twisted but could not escape from the four strong men that held him on the ground….
Seraphio: Aaaagghh…! Aaaagghh…!
Pharisee: He’s a very powerful demon, more powerful than the candle… He has his tongue tied in four knots. But, don’t worry, now we’ll remove the cover from his ears. The deaf demon flees from boiling water. Hey, bring me the pot so I can remove the stuff from his ears…. Hold him tight and turn his face!…
The Pharisee poured the boiling water into Seraphio’s ears who was kicking like mad…
Seraphio: Aaagghh….! Aaaagghh….!
Pharisee: Do you hear me?…. Do you hear me?…. Can’t you hear anything, damn!
Woman Neighbor: Maybe, there are seven of them, Pharisee, that’s why the ears don’t melt…
Pharisee: Please wait…. Let’s try the needles. My father exorcized not seven but seventy demons from a witch’s body! No demon can ever stand the prickings he’ll get in the groin!…. Hold him tight…!
Jesus, who was beside me, lost his cool and pounced on the Pharisee…
Jesus: For God’s sake, stop it!… Do you wanna kill him? Is that what you want?
Pharisee: This man is possessed by the devil. We must get the devil out of his body.
Jesus: At the rate you’re going, you’ll soon be pulling out his soul. Leave him alone, dammit! Don’t you see he’s already suffering?
Pharisee: Ha! This only proves you don’t know him! He’s got the deaf and mute demons inside him! Isn’t that enough? I couldn’t get them out with candle nor boiling water.
Jesus: I’m not surprised.
Pharisee: Why do you say that?
Jesus: Have you forgotten what the prophet Elijah found out in the cave of Sinai? That God was not in the fire nor in the hurricane, but in the soft breeze…
Pharisee: What do you mean?…
Jesus: This man doesn’t need a burning torch but the warmth of a helping hand. He doesn’t need boiling water. Just a small amount of saliva will do…
Pharisee: Hey, stranger, wait a minute, what will you do?
But Jesus was already inclining over the deafmute lying on his back on the ground, breathing irregularly and with a terrified look on his face…
Seraphio: Ahh… Ahh… Ay….
Jesus: Don’t be afraid, brother, I ain’t gonna harm you…
Jesus wet his fingers with saliva… Then he touched Seraphio’s tongue and ears and gently blew over his forehead….
Jesus: Look… I told you, Pharisee…. The Spirit of God is like a soft breeze… This man’s already cured….
Pharisee: This is all a hoax! How can he be cured?! I’m the only one here who knows about exorcism, do you hear? This poor creature’s possessed by at least seven demons that make him deaf and mute….
Seraphio: You, you… are the seven demons…!
When Seraphio spoke those words from the ground, we milled around him all the more. Some of us even shoved one another just to get a glimpse of what happened to the deafmute… The stronger men threatened with their boards to maintain some order… Then the Pharisee spoke…..
Pharisee: My dear neighbors from Chorazin, as you can see, Satan takes to his kind. We wanted to get rid of this deafmute, but a greater evil is in his stead. This stranger who has anointed him with saliva is more evil-possessed than Seraphio!
Woman Neighbor: Why do you say that, Pharisee?
Pharisee: Why? Because only a nail can pull out another nail. If he was able to exorcize the devil out of this wretch, then he could’ve done it only through the power of Beelzebul!
Another Neighbor: How’s that possible, Pharisee? If Beelzebul had driven away the same spirit, then he would have been crazy fighting his own self, don’t you think so?
Pharisee: Shut up woman, or you might end up being possessed by the devil too!… Neighbors, this stranger drove away the devil with the power of the same devil. So, why don’t you all stone him?… Did you hear me? This man is possessed by the devil!
But the farmers of Chorazin did not move to stone Jesus nor to hit him with their boards….
Pharisee: I repeat, the same Beelzebul has come in to our midst. He’s right here before you!
Woman Neighbor: Well, I didn’t know that the devil was a fine, young man!
Pharisee: Oh, yeah? So you’re disobeying my command? Right now, I’ll inform the great Rabbi, Josaphat, that all of you have been influenced by this devil of rebellion! Everyone’s under the power of Satan! You are all possessed by Evil!
The indignant Pharisee shook off the dust from his tunic and left… The people were waiting for Jesus to speak.
Jesus: No, my friends, Beelzebul is not here. It’s the Kingdom of God that has come! The devil is conquered, and he can’t do anything! There’s no more demon to fear!
An Old Woman: You can’t say that, young man! No one can ever surpass the demon, whose tail is so long, it measures forty feet! They say that when the Lord puts him in jail, he opens the doorlock by using his tail. That’s why the demon’s always free!
Jesus: No grandma, that’s not so. The demon is well tied up, because God’s already cut off his tail. It’s only God who’s powerful. Truly, the devil can no longer slip into someone else’s body. Don’t be afraid. Only the Spirit of God can enter our soul, ’cuz he has the key to our being. The devil can’t do anything before God, who is most powerful.
Neighbor: Look, stranger, Isaac, the Pharisee, has spent all his life pursuing witches and demons. When this thing happened to Seraphio, I told him: “You have more faith in the devil than in God. You never speak about God, but Satan and his hell.”
Old Woman: Well, he’s done a good job for him. Ha! This is what the devil wants, my son, that you don’t mention the Lord, but him…. This I know for one!
Jesus: Don’t tell me, Gran’ma, that you have seen the devil and his tail… Or have you?
Old Woman: Well, not really, but….
A Woman Neighbor: What about you, stranger, you who come from afar? Have you seen the devil?
For a moment Jesus became pensive as he rubbed his beard….
Jesus: As a matter of fact, no. I haven’t seen the devil yet. But I’ve seen a lot of evil deeds. Yes, here in Chorazin and all over these towns. That’s why, I tell you, the devil doesn’t really have to exert too much effort here. He goes around with arms akimbo….. as we do everything for him with our evil deeds… Isn’t that right, Seraphio?
Seraphio: Yes, yes!… You burned me…. you threw stones at me…. you’re the devil…. all of you!
Seraphio, who had become a deafmute, pointed an accusing finger at all his neighbors who had maltreated him… and with his brand new tongue, repeated his accusation…
Seraphio: You, all of you are demons!
There might have been a lot of deafmutes in Israel, since in the book of Leviticus, there is a special law applying to this group. It is prohibited to throw a curse against these people, who, because of their handicap, are too helpless to defend themselves (Lev 19:14). As in the case of other ailments, this disorder was attributed to the devil and the evil spirits. It was likewise believed that in Messianic times, the deaf would hear and the mute would speak. (Is 32:1-4).
All diseases before, against which people felt specially defenseless, intensified beliefs in the power of the devil, and exorcisms – prayers, gestures, invocations – were practiced to confront these spirits and drive them away from the sick person’s body. Oftentimes these practices turned out to be cruel and violent, thinking that the struggle was directed against the devil. At present, a number of people still blame the devil for the strange behavior of some people. Today, spectacular exorcisms are also performed with the purpose of winning the battle over the devil. Such a mentality needs to be overcome, and the gospel of Jesus is a help to rid one’s self of such beliefs.
The gospel speaks of Satan (i.e. the adversary), one of the names of the devil, who is also called Lucifer, Beelzebul…. The gospel writers do this precisely to point out negative deeds which they know are not pleasing to God, yet which they cannot explain very well. In writing about the power of the devil, they appear as people of their time – with all the limitations in various fields of knowledge – manifesting their own bewilderment, their disorientation. In their texts, however, they try to express over and over again by means of symbolic language, what for them is decisive: that Jesus has all power over the devil and his complete trust in the Lord makes it easy for him to defeat the devil. The gospel aims to free us from fear of the demon, from this false idea, rooted in various people, of two gods: the good one, God; and the bad one, the Devil who has similar powers, yet opposite intentions. The whole life of Jesus is the joyful proclamation that the only God is the Father who loves us.
The traditional “faith” in the devil has been catastrophic. It has sown terror in people’s heart; it has made us believe that we are a plaything fought over by good and bad angels, with the stronger coming out as the winner. It is easy to blame the devil for an evil event of our own doing, and for what exists in the world in the form of injustice. In this sense, faith in the devil is absolutely contrary to Jesus’ message which is the word of liberation, a reaffirmation of God’s kindness. God embraces people and history and demands that each of us take to heart the responsibility for our actions. Other horrible consequences of professing “faith” in the devil were the persecutions which occurred against witches and those possessed by the devil. Witch-hunting and burning are among the dark chapters in the history of the Church in Europe. From the XI to the XVI Century, persecutions spread like famine through all regions of Europe, with victims estimated to reach millions. The majority were poor women farmers who were accused of being possessed by the devil, either because they were ugly or pretty, or were extremely happy or silent. They were tortured and burned. Yes – as Jesus said: “The tree is known by its fruits” – the tree of faith in the devil has given rotten and bitter fruits throughout history; and if only for this, it should be uprooted.
Jesus was accused of being possessed by the devil, precisely because of the enormous freedom he manifested before these and other false beliefs, and for his opposition to priests and other authorities enslaving the people by way of their beliefs. The powerful of this world always make real demons of their enemies, of those who denounce them. Calumnies and suspicions haunt those who struggle for a better world, depicting them as agents of the very same forces of evil. The mechanism used in the systematic defamation is the same as that one used against Jesus, a mechanism that aims at nothing else but to hide the truth. The “devil” is on the other side. The cruel person, the blood-thirsty and the unjust one – these are the devil, or in any case, his best accomplices. There is no need to resort to the devil to explain the evil in this world as long as there are still many unjust people, criminals and enemies of life.
(Mt 13:22-29; Mk 3:20-26; Lk 11:14-23)