The deliverer driven – Wednesday, 13th week in ordinary time – Matthew 8:28-34
Chapters 8 and 9 of the Gospel of Matthew have ten miracle narratives punctuated by three teachings on discipleship. The Gospel of today focuses on the fifth miracle in this ten part series.
Jesus has had to deal with the incredulity of his apostles. He reprimands them, albeit gently for he found their faith lacking. The three miracles that he had worked in Capernaum had not convinced them that with Jesus in the boat they could smile in the storm. Now that the Sea of Galilee is calm once again, the apostles and the Lord arrive at the ‘other side,’ in the country of the Gadarenes. The country of the Gadarenes was more a region rather than some sovereign nation and it got its name from the town of Gadara on the south-east side of the lake. This was most certainly a Gentile region for we are told that its people reared pigs, an animal no Jew would ever touch, lest they be defiled.
Our Lord is encountered by two demoniacs coming out of the tombs, they are fierce and no one could pass that way. Right away, the demoniacs have no problem recognising who Jesus is; they call him the ‘Son of God’. How ironic it is that the twelve apostles, just a couple of verses earlier, ask “what sort of man is this?” in response to Our Lord calming the storm. If the demons recognise that Jesus as the Son of God, shouldn’t we?
At the time of Our Lord, there was a belief that demons were free to roam the earth until the Judgment Day came. They did this by taking possession of people. This possession was often associated with disease, because disease was the consequence of sin and a sign of being in Satan’s power.
Now they stand in the presence of the Lord, they know that this is a battle they won’t win. There’s no negotiation here as if they were equal partners at the negotiating table; Jesus is superior, and they know it and so they chose a way out; “send us into the heard of swine.”
The number of pigs isn’t mentioned in Matthew like it is in Mark 5:13 (“about two thousand”), but the herd is called large so that when the demons go out from the two demonised men into the herd and they all perish, we get the very clear sense of how big, how large, how serious these men’s bondage was, and how even this was no problem for Jesus.
But what happens next is even more surprising. The demons may have chosen their next place of residence but the swine would not have satan live with them for even a moment. They preferred death than having to live with satan. They rush down a steep bank into the sea and perish in the water.
The demons had clarity who the Lord was and seeing him they had a premonition that he was here to destroy them. It is they who say to him, “have you come here to torment us before the time.” What they did not expect is that the Lord was not here to give them a new comfortable dwelling or a change in residence. The Lord comes to conquer and destroy satan not to make him comfortable.
The narrative now takes an unexpected twist. For one, it does not tell us what happened to the two men in whom the demons had once taken residence. It takes for granted their new life of freedom from satan. However, we are told that the townspeople on being told what had happened begged Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. Were they scared? I think not.
The townsfolk should have asked Jesus to stay and stay forever, in order to be protected from any further attack. Why would you ask a mighty Messiah who has the power to deliver you from the clutches of satan to leave? The answer is obvious; we love our possessions more than the Lord. They would rather have their pork vindaloo on Christmas day but not the Christ who was born to save us.
Finally, to address the modern skeptics of the Bible, some who claim to be Christian and to whom demon-possession is rubbish. Such people claim that demon possession was just a primitive way that people described psychic or social disorders. But the Scriptures are not so accommodating to popular superstitions; if they were false or fanciful, they would correct them. Rather, they clearly affirm that there is a spirit world all around us that cannot be ignored. The war against satan is real.