Our Need for Protection and Deliverance – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis AlmquistMatthew 8:24-34

Why was this Gospel story remembered?  Why did this story of Jesus’ power exorcising two demoniacs, and with the subsequent destruction of a herd of pigs, become part of the Canon of the New Testament?  It’s quite puzzling.  The Gospels according to Matthew and Mark remember virtually identical stories but they don’t locate the miracle in the same country.  (1) A herd of swine was sacrificed – which would have been an economic disaster to the swineherds and their families… who – being swine herders – were obviously not Jewish.  But that’s surely not a good reason to remember this story.  (After all, Jesus’ last words in the Gospel according to Matthew are to “go into all the world.”)(2)  And the story ends with the townspeople begging Jesus to leave.

This Gospel account we read is “pre-psychological,” i.e., it comes from a worldview when virtually anything frightening or unexplainable would be attributed to demonic spirits: one’s being physically crippled, or being afflicted with epilepsy or dementia, or suffering from something like Asperger’s syndrome would all be attributed to demonic spirits.  These spirits were believed to live in places thought “unclean,” such as in caves or cemeteries; they especially populated the desert; they preyed on those who traveled alone, and on women in childbirth, and on children in the night, who needed  guardian angels.  Demons were especially active before sunrise and at sunset and in the heat of midday.  Whatever was bad, whatever caused suffering, whatever could not otherwise be explained was attributed to demonic spirits.  …None of which gives us a clear answer why this Gospel account was remembered and handed down to us.  Search the commentaries from the scholars from the third century onward, and you get no clear opinion.  My own answer to the question, Why?  Why is this Gospel account remembered?  I don’t know.

I do know two things we can draw from this.  We still live in a world with unexplainable happenings.  With the best of hard science and technology, with all the insights we glean from social science, with the most learned diagnoses and technological explanations, we still come up short with empirical answers to explain everything, including the inspiration for what is so astoundingly beautiful, and wonderful, and magnificent about life, and its opposite, why some things are so bad and clearly evil.  One lesson from this Gospel lesson is to pray for protection.  It is a good thing to pray for our own spiritual protection and for others’ whom we sense are vulnerable.  Pray for the surrounding of God’s light; pray for the right kind of protecting shield and armor over head and heart, and over the will and passions; pray for the guarding of vulnerabilities – our own and others whom we carry in our heart.  When do we pray these prayers for protection?  When it seems the right thing to do.  When God’s Spirit prompts you, pray for protection.  This Gospel story reminds us of Jesus’ power and provision, Jesus’ protection and deliverance when the soul is vulnerable or under attack – our own soul or someone else’s.

And secondly, we should read this Gospel account with humility.  Throughout the Gospels we see how bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. (3) And we see how good people are very capable of doing bad things.  Look no further than Jesus’ own disciples.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes in The Gulag Archipelago: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  …  At times [every human being] is close to being a devil, at times a saint.” (4)

We need to be protected, delivered, and saved.  Jesus is our Savior.

  1. See Mark 5:1-20.
  2. Matthew 28:19.
  3. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5:44-45.
  4. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago, p. 442.

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  1. Bobbi on August 31, 2021 at 12:21

    Thank you, Br. Curtis, for the reminder to pray not only for my own protection, but for those with whom I don’t agree (my enemies). We are all in this together; we all need humility.

  2. Daniel on August 31, 2021 at 09:05

    Thanks Brother Curtis—i think its also a story about restoration–in Mark’s gospel, in the NRSV, Jesus says “go home to your friends”…this man has friends? Jesus says he does, despite the fact that they were probably the same ones injured by trying to restrain the demoniac with chains.

  3. Margo on August 31, 2021 at 08:57

    In moments of perplexity or accusation found in strange Biblical stories the collect for purity gives me direction.
    “Almighty God unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy spirit that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy holy name through Christ our Lord.”
    There was providence for those ‘swine herders’ Jewish or not. The demons both past and present are taken are of. Our not so attractive parts are taken care of. Even when our endless greed has reduced the earth to dust and ashes for us the universe will still be made and God will do something else with us.

  4. Elizabeth Hoffman on July 4, 2015 at 19:18

    Oh and just fyi, I grew up w/ this benediction from the old Union Prayer Book. The words, “Let the time come when superstition will no longer enslave the mind nor idolatry blind the eye.” are etched in my mind. Maybe you can use this prayer as a template for coming up with a prayer suited to your beliefs. p.s. I doubt anyone believes that pigs are possessed by the devil –at least since the Middle Ages. “May the time not be distant, O God, when Thy name shall be worshiped in all the earth, when unbelief shall disappear and error be no more. Fervently we pray that the day may come when all men shall invoke Thy name, when corruption and evil shall give way to purity and goodness, when superstition shall no longer enslave the mind, nor idolatry blind the eye, when all who dwell on earth shall know that to Thee alone every knee must bend and every tongue give homage. O may all, created in Thine image, recognize that they are brethren, so that, one in spirit and one in fellowship, they may be forever united before Thee. Then shall Thy kingdom be established on earth and the word of Thine ancient seer be fulfilled: The Lord will reign forever and ever. (Union Prayer Book for Jewish Worship (New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1940), 71–72)”

  5. Elizabeth Hoffman on July 4, 2015 at 18:48

    Brother Curtis, thank you for your beautifully written and heartfelt sermon. None of us are perfect, but I try not to be superstitious and believe in pure evil (although if I were Solzhenitsyn and was writing about Stalin, I suppose I would have occasion to talk about pure evil too). Anyway it is for some of the reasons that you cite in your sermon, that I listen to the SSJE CD of Compline before bed, so that I have the reassurance that God is watching over me and others as we sleep. I find this very comforting. yours in Christ, e

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