Written by Rhonda Neal
Scripture to Read: Matthew 8:28-34
Matthew’s gospel focuses on the Jews. His purpose was to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah. This account emphasizes Jesus’ authority over powerful demonic forces. Jewish teaching held that “evil spirits of the wicked dead dwelt especially in lonely desolate places and among tombs.” (1) This event takes place on the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee in a mixed population area of Jews and Gentiles, which explains the 2,000 plus herd of swine. Although Jews lived in the area, they had no use for “unclean” animals.
The disciples and Jesus had spent the night crossing the Sea of Galilee on a fishing boat. Jesus’ much-needed sleep had been interrupted by distressing shouts from the disciples of impending disaster due to a sudden raging storm. The sea suddenly calmed when Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves. Likely around sunrise, the small group came ashore following the tumultuous night at sea.
A short distance from the shoreline was a cluster of tombs. Jesus and the disciples had barely disembarked from the boat when two demon possessed men emerged from the tombs. From a distance they called out, addressing Jesus as “Son of God.” They asked if Jesus had come to “torment them before the time?” and begged Jesus to send them into a nearby herd of swine. These men were excessively violent. Discharging them from civilization to live amongst the tombs was deemed the only recourse to preserve community health. Attempts to bind them had proven futile. Day and night their horrid shrieks plagued the air. Indeed, they were “so fierce no one dared pass that way.”
Jesus commanded, “Be gone” and the demons fled into the distant herd of swine which immediately rushed down a steep bank, plunged into the water and drowned. The frantic herdsman rushed into town and recounted the morning’s terror which lead to the “whole city” scrambling out to see for themselves the person who could command demons and was responsible for the loss of 2,000 swine. Upon seeing Jesus, they promptly pled for Him to “leave their region.” To their way of thinking, nothing positive could come from one who commanded such tremendous power. The loss of an entire herd of swine would lend credence to that reasoning. Considering Jesus’ power over demons was superseded by concern of economic loss. Whoever he was, whatever his power, his presence meant nothing but trouble.
Jesus and his disciples got back into the boat and left.
Were Jews convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah after hearing Matthew’s account? We don’t know how many Jews believed in Jesus’ identity, but we do know the demons recognized Jesus. Consider their reaction to Him. First, the demons immediately recognize Jesus; second, they address Jesus as Son of God; third, they acknowledge an impending time of torment, which is understood to be the final judgement. Lastly, they petition Jesus to at least let them remain in the area and go into the distant herd of swine. The demons recognized all authority in heaven and on earth belonged to Jesus.
We may easily miss opportunities to know the power of Jesus’ authority. I often commented to the classroom aides who worked with me how I wished I could afford to be more involved in ministry. I loved the classroom but teaching demands did not allow for many commitments during the school year. Evenings were consumed with schoolwork. Summer was the only time I seemed available for ministry.
Conflict arose in the workplace. I became dissolutioned and angry. I prayed, cried and lost sleep over what appeared to be a manageable issue, but minds were set in stone against resolution. What was I to do? Retirement from the school corporation was an option. I did not want to retire. I wanted mature behavior that would lead to resolution so all could return to normal.
Two months later, as a retired teacher, I helped organize and teach the 2018 Luvability Winter Retreat. I have continued to work with Luvability, a ministry for people with developmental disabilities and people who care for them. Throughout the rocky transition, I missed much of the joy and peace for failing to recognize God’s power to provide for my needs AND provide more involvement in ministry. I failed to see the Son of God. May we be diligent to recognize the authority of Jesus today.
(1) Christ of the Gospels, J. W. Shepherd, p. 235