Paul Brian Campbell, S.J.
In yesterday’s Gospel we read about the stormy journey by sea and how Jesus rebuked the sea and the winds to calm them. Now, having crossed over to pagan territory near Gadara, Jesus will now challenge and subdue the demons infecting two people.
Matthew takes this story from Mark [5:1-20] and abbreviates it quite a bit. He presents the area as troubled by two savagely disturbed people who were ritually unclean by their contact with the dead and their apparent closeness to pigs.
It’s noteworthy that, unlike other people, the demoniacs immediately understand who Jesus is: “What have you to do with us, Son of God?”
Even though Matthew elsewhere described Jesus as “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” [15:24] he goes beyond the usual confines to bring peace and healing to these two demoniacs. In doing so, Jesus was teaching his disciples to reach out to all those in need, even if they didn’t fit within normally acceptable categories.
One Scriptural scholar has described the reading’s final sentence as one of the saddest in the New Testament. The townspeople’s response to his healing of their troubled neighbors is to say, “Just go away.” Jesus’ presence has disturbed their usual reality and they don’t know how to deal with the situation. Was the loss of their pigs more upsetting to them than the cure of the demoniacs?
Over the years, I have observed a tendency, like the Gadarenes, to want to be left alone and not have to deal with my issues and problems. In the light of today’s Gospel, I ask for an open heart and for an ongoing awareness of Jesus’ loving presence in my life.