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.
- See Mark 5:1-20.
- Matthew 28:19.
- 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.
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago, p. 442.
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