Scripture: And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. Matthew 8:29-32 ESV
Observation: Having proven his authority over nature (commanding the storm to cease), Jesus and his disciples sailed to the Gadarenes, where two demon-possessed men approached him. Matthew tells us they were so fierce that no one dared pass their way. But Jesus is not intimidated. Indeed, it’s all part of his mission: to turn this community upside down and leave them a witness to his sovereign power and grace that transforms lives. Nevertheless, the evil spirits speak aggressively through these two men, confess Jesus’ identity, and then beg Christ to send them into a herd of pigs, which, now deranged, charge over a cliff into the sea and drown. The herders witness the spectacle and hurry to the city to tell the others. But when the townspeople see these two restored men, they beg Jesus to leave their region.
Mark (5:1-20) and Luke (8:26-39) present a more detailed version with a couple of discrepancies. First, they cite only one demon-possessed man. The simple explanation for this seeming discrepancy is that historians during this period of Ancient Israel often focused on the main character. In their version, likely only one seeks to follow Jesus (see next paragraph). Secondly, Mark and Luke mark the location as the country of the Gerasenes, but Matthew states it was the region of the Gadarenes. All three gospellers are correct because the town of Gadara is near the village of Gerasa. So the tombs were likely located near both the Gadarenes and Gerasenes.
Mark and Luke also add that Jesus commands the evil spirits to identify themselves (likely in response to exposing Jesus’ identity). The demons say they are collectively Legion since there are many of them. Finally, Mark and Luke note that after the townspeople beg Jesus to leave, just as he and his disciples enter their boat, the transformed man begs Christ to let him continue with him on his journey. Jesus, however, tells him to return home and herald all that God has done for him—and our first gospeller does.
Takeaway: The responses of the herders and townspeople are not surprising, for they did not have the same sense of urgency in needing a Savior as the formerly demon-possessed men did. So the villagers’ fears pushed them to a flight response. Having learned of the herders’ losses, the rest of the people likely wanted nothing to do with this prophet. What would Jesus demand of them? But the two demon-possessed men who had lost all their material possessions and sanity had everything to gain. And at least one was genuinely grateful and hungered for more. But following Jesus is not about pursuing a holy huddle or a me-and-Jesus mindset but about following his commands. So this newly transformed disciple obeyed Christ’s directive and returned to his community to tell the good news.
The application looks the same to us. We will always seek to play it safe if we fear what discipleship might cost us. But if we believe our Lord has our best interests in mind and that what we gain will far exceed what we lose, we will hunger to follow him. Still, that first step is the hardest. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit sparks the process in us when we hear the Word, and he attests to us its truth. He then inspires, guides, and strengthens us each step of the way. And along the way, he deepens our understanding of the Father and Son’s love for us and grace in us that inspires us to keep obeying his commands and go and tell others. It’s a beautiful flow of desire, discovery, and dependency on our beautiful Savior’s truth, love, and grace.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for giving us your best in the life, death, and resurrection of your Son. And we thank you for your Holy Spirit, who fosters a desire for our Savior, reveals his truth, love, and grace, and disciplines us to depend on your Son. So would you please help us to cooperate with your Holy Spirit in obeying your Son’s commands so that we might share your message of love and hope to the least, the last, and the lost? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling