There are so many vivid details presented to us in the story in today’s gospel, but these same facts are astounding, confusing, and raise a lot of questions.
Jesus was in an area where pagans of Greek and Syrian origin lived and owned pigs; Jews did not raise swine, so we know that Jesus traveled by boat to be with non-Jews. The possessed man lived outside of the town near tombs and caves, and was kept in chains which were not enough to hold him. As Jesus casts out the demons that have a strong hold over the man, they beg him not to torment them, but to send them into the swine. The evil spirits were subject to Jesus. His power over them is evident in this passage.
Why did the people beg Jesus to leave, after the man was freed from possession? Many were affected by the loss of the swine. Two thousand pigs ran off the edge of a cliff into the sea! Imagine being a witness to this bizarre outcome! The freedom of the man cost all of them. They were not willing to sacrifice anything else for the sake of mercy, so instead, they beg Jesus to leave. They do not want to change because it would come at a cost, the cost of freedom from materialism, judgmentalism, the cost of mercy and justice, so they reject Jesus.
Do we close our eyes to the needs of the afflicted, before us, crying out for help? What are we willing to sacrifice to improve the lot of others? Do we know what we need to do but turn our backs, not wanting to get involved, not wanting to recognize our own complicity in the injustice? Do we ask Jesus to leave us alone and not challenge our consciences?
Why was the man not allowed to follow Jesus, but told to remain? Jesus tasks the man with relating all that the Lord had done for him, telling anyone that would listen, that the mercy of God was available to them all. The man became a witness for Christ, he went and did what he was asked to do.
What can we take from this today? Can we identify with the man who received the mercy of God? Let’s look for opportunities to share our stories of all that Jesus has done for us. Let’s be witnesses for Christ.