When Jesus came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, ‘What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’ Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, ‘If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.’ And he said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood.Matthew 8:28-34
When they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood.
During our time of enforced lockdown, we are told that many people are suffering from increased levels of mental illness. Even in our modern world, people speak of those who are afflicted in this way as ‘wrestling with their demons’. Such people might be seen as having the storm in yesterday’s reading raging within them, rather than battering the physical world in which they live.
Today, Jesus encounters two stricken souls who are definitely wrestling with the demons that are making them feared outcasts from their own local community.
As we might well expect, Jesus demonstrates his power over such malign forces. He cleanses those who are afflicted, sending them symbolically into the ritually unclean pigs that were grazing on the hillside.
In a very few steps, we have seen Jesus moving from his authoritative teaching on the hillside to his demonstrations of divine authority over all that destroys the calm of our God-given lives.
Just imagine what it was like. This itinerant preacher comes into town with a whole new message. Alongside his preaching and his teaching, he demonstrates the power and the love of God by healing those who are fearful and diseased. Wouldn’t we, like most who encountered the human Jesus at this stage in his ministry, want him to stay and guide us to happier and more fulfilled lives?
Or … is it more probable that we would be like the people of Gadara? Isn’t it more likely, in our sophisticated modern way, that we would view him with fear and suspicion, with doubt and scepticism?
What Jesus did on that hillside, was to bring his healing touch to a gentile (that is, non-Jewish) community. He was uncompromising in the way he used the ‘unclean’ pigs as a vehicle for removing that which was causing so much harm. But … he did bring miraculous healing into their midst.
But … their fear, and perhaps their anger at the destruction of a herd of pigs, overtook their sense of awe and wonder.
Those people of Gadara made their decision. They decided that, they could not cope with facing the challenge of having Jesus in their midst. They saw him and then they begged him to leave.
Where are we in this story? We know the truth of Jesus. But … are we in reality constantly asking him to leave us alone, instead of facing up to the challenge he presents in his unfailing loyalty to both God and us?