Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district (Mt 8:34).
After hearing of the healing of the demoniacs and the herd of swine rushing into the water, the townsfolk came out and begged Jesus to leave. This is also attested to in the Gospel of Mark 5:17. Luke adds that the people asked Jesus to leave because: “they were seized with great fear” (Lk 8:37). Jesus healed two demoniacs in Matthew’s account, one in the Mark and Luke accounts, and the people asked him to leave in all the accounts. Hearing of Jesus’ healing power to expel demons, that the swine ran into the seas, and hearing about his act of mercy and grace, would we too ask Jesus to leave?
Before answering, “No, of course not!” too quickly, how many times have our own judgments, prejudices, and self-centeredness, our own lack of understanding for the bigger picture, our own fear, been chosen over living the Gospel in our own lives? Is our life shaped by the Gospel message of Jesus? Do we wrestle with the challenge of how we are to love our enemies, to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, to turn the other cheek, and to answer in practical, concrete ways, “What you do to the least of these: you do it to me?” Or, if we read or listen to the Gospels at all, do we seek to adjust Jesus’ message, to conform God to our will, to fit the message to our lifestyle, what works for us? Is the radiance of Jesus’ mercy, love and grace too bright for us such that we wince in pain, that we feel it is too much to bear, and we too say, “Go away!”?
In these slower summer days, may we make some time to read, slowly and prayerfully, each of the accounts of the healing of the Gadarene demoniacs in Matthew’s Gospel and the one demoniac in the Mark and Luke accounts. We will also notice with Mark and Luke that after the demoniac who was possessed with demons was healed, the man followed Jesus and asked to follow him. Jesus said to the man: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). The one who was so bound up by possession that he was out of his mind, still had some glimmer of hope that he could be healed and ran up to and prostrated himself before Jesus, was healed and freed. He then proclaimed the Gospel to the whole city.
In our reading and prayer, may we enter into this powerful account and also encounter Jesus. What still enslaves and binds us such that we continue to be separated from God and others? Will we give in to our fear and beg Jesus to leave us, or open our mind, heart, and soul to his healing word and touch? May we, as the man possessed did prostrate ourselves before Jesus, surrender to him, so to experience the healing mercy, love, and forgiveness of Jesus that we too may be free. Free to experience freedom for excellence, free to embrace who we truly are and who the Holy Spirit guides us to be.
Let us pray for each other that Jesus may forgive and free us as he freed the two demoniacs in today’s Gospel account from Matthew. May he free us from our fears, prejudices, tendencies to gossip, belittle, and dehumanize one another, and may we commit to align ourselves with Jesus, so to be more willing to encounter, embrace, accompany, encourage, and love one another. Our country may appear to be coming apart at the seams and getting darker each day, yet we are called to be contemplatives in action.
People of prayer, yes, but prayer leads us to act. Jesus calls us as he did the demoniacs who wanted to follow him. Jesus sent them home to their friends. We are sent to do the same, to be engaged, to share the love and mercy of Jesus, and be his agents of change and reconciliation in our own unique ways.
Painting: James Tissot, The Swine Driven into the Sea
Parallel accounts of today’s Gospel see: Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39