“They begged him to leave.” With this, the townsfolk in today’s Gospel reading confess that there are more than two demoniacs among them.
Jesus comes to the country of the Gadarenes and encounters two men, possessed. He rebukes the powers that ensnare the men, allowing them to flee into a herd of pigs. The animals are driven mad and throw themselves into the water to drown. This terrifies the swineherds, who rush into town, recounting the whole story. At this, the townspeople come out to meet Jesus, and beg him to leave.
This story is consistent with Christ’s promise to bring not peace, but a sword. Christ is a calmer of storms for the afflicted, but a harbinger of upheaval for communities built on and preserved by sin. By begging Christ to leave, the people have preferred livestock to humans. They have preferred to abandon and exile the afflicted, selling their neighbors to purchase stability. For the sake of peace, they have preferred pigs to men. But this is a false peace, a veneer that serves to obscure the brutality of their society. And it is into this peace that Christ, God’s right hand, thrusts his sword.
We might look at this and find it perplexing. This is Jesus, gentle and lowly of heart, the Good Shepherd, the one who has called us friends, the one who, with joy, receives little children into his loving arms. Even today’s Gospel reading is, fundamentally, a story of Christ the Healer showing mercy to the afflicted. Where, in any of that, is a sword?
But that is precisely the point. In a world enslaved and sickened by cruelty, love is a sword. In the realm of the demonic, mercy is tumult, silence is rebellion, gentleness is treason, prayer is violence, and righteousness is affliction. The sword of love cuts deep, and is full of a steadfast vigor that will not yield. There is a real sense in which we too are called to wield this sword, heavy though it may be. Not all of us will love in the same ways, the same methods, the same contexts, but all of us are called to love. But if we rely only on ourselves, it is a doomed battle; we must fight, but we cannot fight alone. And so we look to the One who is Love made flesh, whose love is so full, so complete, so uncompromising, that it transfigures death into life, to teach us how to love.
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