Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 11 2013 - Matthew 8:18-34 – They pleaded with him to leave

More remarkable miracles are recorded in the latter half of Matthew 8. The first is a nature miracle. Jesus and his disciples are crossing Galilee in a small boat. Jesus, worn out by the demands of the crowds, is asleep in the boat and remains asleep even when a fierce storm threatens to capsize the boat and to drown the travellers. When Jesus is woken by the frightened disciples he first rebukes them for their fear and lack of faith. He then rebukes the winds and the waves and they immediately become calm. The disciples are amazed, asking, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" (Matthew 8:27).

Well might they ask. In yesterday's notes we suggested that Jesus' miracles were signs of the kingdom; an anticipation of the transformation of all things at his return. They are also a recapitulation of God's original plan for creation. Jesus is the last Adam. In him we see creation once again under the dominion of the man who bears the image of God. The storms give way to a sea of glass and fear gives way to worship.

The chapter ends with the puzzling passage in which Jesus is confronted by two violent, demon-possessed men. The demons cry out to Jesus "What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" (8:29). Again we see that Jesus' acts of healing are anticipations of the age to come. But the puzzling part of the story is yet to come. The demons plead that if Jesus is intent on casting them out of the two men, they should be allowed to enter a herd of pigs that is feeding nearby. Jesus agrees with their request and the whole herd of pigs rush over the edge of a cliff into the sea and are drowned. Why does Jesus accede to their request?

I have heard some strange and rather tortured explanations for this passage. For me, it remains puzzling. I do not have an easy answer to the question of why Jesus allowed such destruction. One thing however is clear, the demons are destructive: they were destructive when they inhabited these two men; they continue to display their destructive power when consigned to the herd of pigs. Satan and his agents are intent on destroying the work of God. Jesus is intent upon restoring the work of God.

What is sad is the reaction of the local inhabitants to the remarkable act of Jesus in healing these two men. "The whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region" (8:34). They valued their pigs more than they valued the life of these two poor men. They valued their pigs more than they valued Jesus.

I am reminded of the account in Acts 16 of Paul casting an evil spirit out of a young girl in Philippi. She was a slave girl who had made money for her owners by telling fortunes under the influence of the spirit. When they saw that they had lost their income they stirred up a riot against Paul and Silas who were flogged and imprisoned. The slave-owners valued an income above the life of their slave.

Have there been times when we have resisted or resented the transforming work of the Spirit of God in ourselves or in others? Have we sometimes felt like Augustine who prayed, "Lord make me holy, but not yet!"

Heavenly Father, help me to long for the transforming work of Christ more than anything else in all the world. The Gaderenes pleaded with Christ to leave – they would give him no place to lay his head; come and make your home with me Lord Jesus. Lord, may your kingdom come. May it come soon. May it come now.

Peter Misselbrook