Lectio Divina: Matthew 8:28-34
1. Ordinary Time
You call Your children
to walk in the light of Christ.
Free us from darkness
and keep us in the radiance of Your truth.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 8:28-34
When Jesus came to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. They cried out, "What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?" Some distance away a herd of many swine was feeding. The demons pleaded with him, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine." And he said to them, "Go then!" They came out and entered the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned. The swineherds ran away, and when they came to the town they reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.
• Today’s Gospel stresses the power of Jesus over the devil. In our text, the devil and the power of evil is associated with three things: 1) the cemetery, the place of the dead. The death which kills life! 2) The pig, which was considered an impure animal. The impurity which separates from God! 3) The sea, which was considered the symbol of chaos before creation. The chaos which destroys nature. The Gospel of Mark, from which Matthew takes his information, associates the power of evil with a fourth element which is the word Legion (Mk 5:9), the name of the army of the Roman Empire. The Empire oppressed and exploited the people. Thus, it is understood that the victory of Jesus over the Devil had an enormous importance for the life of the communities of the years 70’s, the time when Matthew wrote his Gospel. The communities lived oppressed and marginalized, because of the official ideology of the Roman Empire and of the Pharisees, which was renewed. The same significance and the same importance continue to be valid today.
• Matthew 8:28: The force of evil oppresses, ill-treats and alienates people. This first verse describes the situation of the people before the coming of Jesus. In describing the behavior of the two demoniacs, the Evangelist associates the force of evil with the cemetery and with death. It is a deadly power, without a goal, without direction, without control and a destructive power, which causes everyone to fear. It deprives people of their conscience, self-control, and autonomy.
• Matthew 8:29: Before the simple presence of Jesus the force of evil breaks up and disintegrates. Here is described the first contact between Jesus and the two possessed men. We see that there is total disproportion. The power, that at first seemed to be so strong, melts and disintegrates before Jesus. They shouted, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come to torture us before the time?” They become aware that they are losing their power.
• Matthew 8:30-32: The power of evil is impure and has no autonomy, nor consistency. The Devil does not have power over his movements. It only gets the power to enter into the pigs with the permission of Jesus! Once they entered into the pigs, the whole herd charged down the cliff into the sea and perished in the water. In the opinion of the people, the pig was a symbol of impurity, which prevented the human being from relating with God and from feeling accepted by Him. The sea was the symbol of the existing chaos before creation and which, according to the belief of that time, continued to threaten life. This episode of the pigs which threw themselves into the sea is strange and difficult to understand. But the message is very clear: before Jesus, the power of evil has no autonomy, no consistency. Anyone who believes in Jesus has already conquered the power of evil and should not fear!
• Matthew 8:33-34: The reaction of the people of that place. The herdsmen of the pigs went to the city and told the story to the people, and they all set out to meet Jesus. Mark says that they saw the “possessed” man sitting down, dressed and in his right mind” (Mk 5:15). But the pigs were still gone! This is why they asked Jesus to leave their neighborhood. For them, the pigs were more important than the person who recovered his senses.
• The expulsion of the demons. At the time of Jesus, the words Devil or Satan were used to indicate the power of evil which drew persons away from the right path. For example, when Peter tried to divert Jesus from His mission, he was Satan for Jesus (Mk 8:33). Other times, those same words were used to indicate the political power of the Roman Empire which oppressed and exploited people. For example, in the Apocalypse, the Roman Empire is identified with “Devil or Satan” (Rev 12:9). While at other times, people used the same words to designate evils and illnesses. They spoke of devil, dumb spirit, deaf spirit, impure or unclean spirit, etc. There was great fear! In the time of Matthew, in the second half of the first century, the fear of demons increased. Some religions from the East taught worship of spirits. They taught that some of our mistaken gestures could irritate the spirits, and these, out of revenge, could prevent us from having access to God and deprive us of divine benefits. For this reason, through rites and writings, intense prayer and complicated ceremonies, people sought to appease these spirits or demons in such a way that they would not cause harm to life. These religions, instead of liberating people, nourished fear and anguish. Now, one of the objectives of the Good News of Jesus was to help people to liberate themselves from this fear. The coming of the Kingdom of God meant the coming of a stronger power. Jesus is “the strongest man” who can conquer Satan, the power of evil, snatching away from its hands a humanity imprisoned by fear (cf. Mk 3:27). For this reason the Gospels insist on the victory of Jesus over the power of evil, over the devil, over Satan, over sin and over death. The Gospels encourage communities to overcome this fear of the devil! Today, who can say “I am completely free?” Nobody! Then, if I am not totally free, there is some part of me which is possessed by other powers. How can these forces be cast away? The message of today’s Gospel continues to be valid for us.
4) Personal questions
• What oppresses and ill-treats people today? Why is it that so much is said about casting out the Devil today? Is it good to insist so much on the Devil?
• How is the meaning of a statement different when we use the term “evil” or “evil forces” versus “Evil One” or Satan or the Devil? How does modern society try to downplay the existence of Satan? Is this important?
• Who can say that he/she is completely free or liberated? Nobody! And then, we are all somewhat possessed by other forces which occupy some space within us. What can we do to expel this power from within us and from society?
• What is freedom? What is free-will? What is choice? If I go along with the crowd, am I free? Have I freely decided or have I acquiesced? Others, including Satan, cannot force us, but we can “go along”. We may not say “yes”, but did we really say “no” to evil today?
5) Concluding Prayer
Yahweh is tenderness and pity,
slow to anger, full of faithful love.
Yahweh is generous to all;
His tenderness embraces all His creatures. (Ps 145:8-9)