Peace in a city

Healing two possessed men

Matthew 8:28–34

The authority of Jesus

And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.”  And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. — Matthew 8:28–34 ESVUK

A sepia and black picture of a herd of pigs and a swineherd.
Herd Of Pigs by Béla Iványi-Grünwald

This is one of those passages where Matthew’s Gospel has two people or things, where the other Gospel writers have one. Others include two blind men healed by Jesus outside Jericho and two donkeys in the entry to Jerusalem. Whatever Matthew’s reason for saying there were two (or Mark and Luke saying one) I do not know, neither do I know which version is the most accurate.

This story has given its name to a philosophical fallacy, the Gadarene Swine Fallacy: Just because a group is in the right formation it is not necessarily on the right course. Do not follow the crowd is a teaching found elsewhere in the Bible, particularly in the letters of Paul, but that is not the conclusion I draw from this actual passage.

There are two themes running through this part of Matthews Gospel. We are in the second of three sets of three miracles in Matthew chapters 8 and 9. In the first set of three Jesus heals people on the edge of society, an outcast, a foreigner and a woman. In this second set, Jesus racks it up: Power over a storm and here casting many demons out of one or two men. But there is also a theme of peace going on. The calming of the storm is also about peace to the disciples in the boat as it is power over the forces of nature, here it is as much about bringing peace to a city, a city that was terrorised by these demoniacs who could not be chained down without escaping. Jesus power is shown to be on another level than simply healing, there is a power here that makes the people of the city who were unable to control these men afraid. The power shown here by Jesus, power of God over evil, is too much for them to face. Bringing them peace from their possessed oppressors is overwhelming, they ask Jesus to leave.


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