bible blog 1163

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news


polio vaccination

polio vaccination

Matthew 8:28-34

New English Translation (NET)

Healing the Gadarene Demoniacs

28 When he came to the other side, to the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were extremely violent, so that no one was able to pass by that way. 29 They cried out, “Son of God, leave us alone! Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 A large herd of pigs was feeding some distance from them. 31 Then the demons begged him, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake and drowned in the water. 33 The herdsmen ran off, went into the town, and told everything that had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

Matthew was using the Gospel of Mark as one of his sources. I’ve printed Mark’s version below:

Mark 5:1-20

New English Translation (NET)

Healing of a Demoniac

5 So they came to the other side of the lake, to the region of the Gerasenes. Just as Jesus was getting out of the boat, a man with an unclean spirit came from the tombs and met him. He lived among the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For his hands and feet had often been bound with chains and shackles, but he had torn the chains apart and broken the shackles in pieces. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Each night and every day among the tombs and in the mountains, he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him. Then he cried out with a loud voice, “Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I implore you by God—do not torment me!” (For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of that man, you unclean spirit!”) Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 He begged Jesus repeatedly not to send them out of the region. 11 There on the hillside, a great herd of pigs was feeding. 12 And the demonic spirits begged him, “Send us into the pigs. Let us enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. So the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs. Then the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake, and about two thousand were drowned in the lake.

gerasene14 Now the herdsmen ran off and spread the news in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man sitting there, clothed and in his right mind—the one who had the “Legion”—and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demon-possessed man reported it, and they also told about the pigs. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat the man who had been demon-possessed asked if he could go with him. 19 But Jesus did not permit him to do so. Instead, he said to him, “Go to your home and to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you, that he had mercy on you.” 20 So he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him, and all were amazed.

The reader  can see at a glance that Matthew has edited Mark’s version very severely, removing almost all the drama from it, while adding a second demon possessed man to the story, without any apparent reason. Mark gives us a savage story about a man who thinks he’s the Roman Army (“legion”), doubtless because the Romans had invaded his country.  Although Mark focuses on Jesus’ exorcism, the violent nature of the “Roman demon” is made evident. It is a specific form of evil which we might call “conquest”. Mark sets the scene clearly in the Decapolis, the ten towns established by the Greek conquerors of Palestine. It is taboo country for Jews yet Jesus breaks into it with liberating power.

Almost none of this survives in Matthew. Neither the self-harming nature of the possession nor the name of the demons are mentioned. The subsequent witness of the healed man to Jesus is also omitted. What is Matthew doing? 

He’s editing Mark to remove all elements except the healing of two people. Whereas in Mark Jesus is a whirlwind of liberation, in Matthew he is a persistent source of wisdom and compassion. We do not have to choose between those portraits as we are blessed to see Jesus as he was “seen” by all four gospel writers. For Matthew demon-possession is a disease which distorts and damages human life,  Mark depicts them as specific aspects of what we might call cultural and political  oppression. Matthew wants his readers to know that Jesus was moved by compassion to reach out in healing  wisdom to those whose lives were being distorted by malign spiritual powers. For all the gospel writers, the human person is porous to good and evil; they all show Jesus acting with confidence to evict the evil and offer house room to the good. Matthew especially emphasises the sober, continuous, compassion of Jesus and his ability to heal.  

Health service poster

Health service poster

We have all met people who are gifted with the same undramatic grace. They are a great blessing to any community. 

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