Luke 8:32-38

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.

And then the story went in a direction that no one expected!

This is a peculiar scene, particularly for us reading it two thousand years later in a culture where demon possession is something seen only in the movies (and the Bible!) and where we have no cultural aversion to swine.

But to the original readers, this would have seemed like a creative solution. Jesus was determined to drive the demons from the possessed man. He hears their entreaty and rather than send them to the abyss, allows them to enter a herd of swine, animals considered unclean in Jewish culture. The swine, in turn, rush down the bank and are drowned in a river. Problem solved, and with no big loss (except, of course, to the owner of the pigs!).

Again, there are so many details that catch our attention and make this scene seem not just peculiar but bizarre. What would likely strike early readers, however, is that Jesus exercises his power not only in Jewish territory but in the lands of Gentiles, as the Gerasenes are Gentiles both by geography and practice (keeping swine).

What might strike us, however, is that the reaction that Jesus’ healing provokes among these Gentiles is the same as the one evoked in his disciples: fear. Which is interesting: Jesus’ display of power, even though clearly exercised in the service of healing, frightens those who witness it (whether first hand in seeing it or second hand in only hearing about it).

Why? Would not those who had tried to help the man formerly possessed of demons rejoice? And would not those who perhaps did not care for him but were only afraid of his deranged wanderings also rejoice?

But their only reaction is fear, fear so strong they ask Jesus to leave, sending away the one who has the capacity to heal and redeem them.

Again, why?

Perhaps because we are such creatures of habit and homeostasis that we prefer stability even over health. We get used to our circumstances, that is, even when they are not good. And perhaps the only thing worse than a difficult, even painful present is an unknown future.

And so when Jesus heals the demoniac he shakes up the status quo and disrupts the order. What now will they do with this man? Where will he now go, stay, and do? And who, now, will be the recipient in turn of their charity or fear or derision?

Change is frightening, and if there’s one thing that Jesus always brings, it’s change.

We may think we want that. But when the change is something we can neither predict nor control, we may be surprised by how much anxiety change prompts. Sometimes enough even to reject the one who might save us.

Prayer: Dear God, when we sense the openness of the future you invite and the amount of change you will ignite we often grow afraid. Come to us anyway, we pray, conquering our fear and working your healing change in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.