September 13, 2020

"Following Jesus: Two Men and Herd of Pigs"

Scripture Reading: Matthew 8:28-34

Our reading today from Matthew 8:28-34 tells us about a strange encounter between Jesus, two demon-possessed men, and a herd of pigs. It’s a strange story we find here at the end of a chapter that has spoken to us about being a follower of Jesus. What in the world does a herd of pigs and two demoniacs have to teach us about being a follower of Jesus? At its most basic level, this incident shows us that nothing – no person or place – is beyond God’s saving grace. Thus far Jesus has shown the power of his touch when he healed the person with leprosy. He has shown the power of his word when he healed the centurion’s servant. He has shown himself to be the Lord of creation when he calmed the wind and the waves on the sea. In our reading today, Jesus shows his power over the forces of evil.

Questions:

How would you define “evil”?
How do the two men in our reading greet Jesus? What do they know that the disciples at this time do not know?
To what does the “appointed time” refer?

As Jesus went about his ministry on earth he revealed the coming of the Kingdom of God. Through his words and healings, and also through his casting out of evil spirits, Jesus was showing the Kingdom of God breaking into this world’s time and space. He was setting things right. He was redeeming all things to be the way they are supposed to be. Wherever Jesus went, he was the embodiment of God’s Kingdom. It’s no different when he arrives at the other side of the lake. It does not matter that he is in a “foreign land” so to speak. The entire world belongs to him. What is now accomplished in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ will be revealed fully at the “appointed time” that is still to come. Therefore, the demon-possessed men ask, “What do you want with us, Son of God?”

Questions:

If Jesus has brought the Kingdom of God to earth, why is there still evil in the world?
What happens to the herd of pigs when the demons go into them? What does this say about the effect of evil on all things?

The demons beg Jesus to be allowed to enter a herd of pigs. Jesus says “Go” and they went. The herd goes crazy, runs into the lake, and drowns. Evil not only causes the suffering to human beings, but also to the rest of creation.

By the end of the story we have an unsatisfactory conclusion. The good news is the two people released from their captivity to the demons. The bad news is the reaction of the town. When those who were tending the pigs report to the towns people all that happened, verse 34 concludes our reading saying, “Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.”

Questions:

Jesus is the best reality for some and worst reality for others. How do we see this in our story?
Why do the people ask Jesus to leave their region? What happened to make Jesus a bad reality for them?
Can good education and economic equality solve the problem of evil?

In his gospel Jesus comes to us. He calls us to follow him. If we respond to his call then this is evidence of his Holy Spirit at work in our lives. In the meantime, we live in the tension. We live between our salvation accomplished and its full realization at the appointed time.

The Conclusion:

When the “appointed time” comes, where will you stand? With yourself or with Christ? Do you trust in the powers of this world: political and economic? Or do you trust in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of all things? This world is not the waiting room for heaven. For those who belong to God in Christ, eternal life begins right here, right now. The Kingdom of God may not be here in perfection, but the signs of the Kingdom are all around us. Love, grace, and truth are possible. How will you show this in your career and retirement? How will you live this out for your children and family? To the demons in Matthew 8:32 Jesus said “Go!”. To us, in Matthew 11:28 he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The world is not perfect, but our Savior is perfect. Follow him into New Life in the Kingdom of God. Amen.