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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 8:28–34 

When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go!” So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood. (NRSV)

In this story, Jesus has not only saved the two demon-possessed men from their horrible fate, but in saving them, Jesus has also made it safe for the people to travel on the road again without fear of violence.

You would think the people would be grateful for that and thank Jesus, asking him to come over for dinner and stay in their city to help with other healings. But the line that fascinates me in this story is “then the whole city” came out to meet Jesus and “they pleaded with him to leave their region.”

Who and what are they afraid of? Are they afraid of Jesus’ power because it changes everything? Are they afraid of the demons that are set loose from the men? What if the torment the possessed men had experienced now has to be shared more broadly by society? Are they worried about physical pain? Are their worries spiritual?

In allowing the pigs to die, Jesus allows a large portion of the people to lose their income and possibly a food source. (This story takes place in the Decapolis, on “the other side of the lake” from the Jewish community, where herding pigs provided a livelihood for some.) Are their worries economic?

In this same story in Mark’s and in Luke’s Gospel, the demons identify themselves as “Legion,” which evokes the Roman Legions, the soldiers occupying the people’s territories. In exorcising these legion demons, does Jesus free the people from oppression? Are their worries political?

When faced with change, we too can become consumed with worries. We may be tempted to “plead” with Jesus to just let things stay the same as they have always been. Can we welcome God’s presence when confronted with life-changing events?

Dear God, comfort my soul. Help me to trust that you are with me in all my trials and that you will support and uphold me even when I am uncertain what the future holds. Let me trust in you. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Minister for Congregational Life

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