July 5, 2023
Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
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. Matthew 8:33–34
Why would “the whole town” beg Jesus to leave their district as a result of Jesus delivering two of their fellow townsmen from demons? This event took place on the northeast edge of the Sea of Galilee near a town of the Gadarenes who were not of Jewish background, which accounts for the fact that there was such a large herd of swine (the Jewish people did not eat pork). Two of the Gadarenes were possessed by demons, and Scripture reports that “They were so savage that no one could travel by that road.” And when Jesus delivers them from this awful plight, instead of rejoicing in gratitude, the townspeople begged Jesus to leave.
Saint Jerome says that it is possible that the people were actually acting in humility, in that they did not consider themselves worthy to be in the presence of someone as great as Jesus. Like Saint Peter who fell at the feet of Jesus and cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8), these townspeople may have been in such awe at what Jesus did for them that they did not see themselves as being worthy of His presence. However, other Church Fathers point out that it is more likely that these townspeople signify those who are stuck in their life of sin and do not want to come face-to-face with the Gospel or with the Person of Jesus. They prefer to close their ears to the truth and to remain in their life of ignorance and sin.
It’s also helpful to reflect upon the relationship between the townspeople and these two demoniacs. Ideally, when the townspeople saw these two men completely freed of the demons who tormented them, they would have rejoiced in a way similar to the way the father of the Prodigal Son rejoiced when his son returned to him. Sadly, in this case, there seems to be a tremendous lack of excitement by their fellow townsmen over the freedom these two demoniacs experienced. This shows a clear lack of love for these two men within the town. Perhaps many of the townspeople took a twisted form of pleasure in their mockery of these two men over the years, and they enjoyed telling stories about how crazy they were. Now, they were faced with these two men who were completely changed, and they may have found it difficult to speak well of them because of their pride.
This negative example set by these townspeople gives us an opportunity to reflect upon how we think about and treat those who have changed their ways and have turned from evil to good. Perhaps you have a family member who has sincerely tried to change. Or perhaps someone at work, a neighbor or some other acquaintance has gone from a life of sin to a life seeking virtue. The real question to ponder is whether you rejoice over the goodness of others, over their ongoing conversion and pursuit of holiness, or whether you struggle with truly expressing joy as you see people you know change for the good. It’s often very easy to criticize but much more difficult to rejoice in the holy transformation of another.
Reflect, today, upon those in your life, those close to you and those with whom you are mere acquaintances, who have been set free by our Lord in some way and have moved from a life of sin toward a life of virtue. How do you react to them? Are you able to sincerely rejoice in the goodness of others? Or do you find yourself struggling with jealousy, anger, envy and the like? As you do see the goodness of God at work in others, try to put on the mentality suggested by Saint Jerome above. Allow yourself to be in awe of God’s action in their lives. As you do, humble yourself before the transforming power of God, admitting that you are not worthy to witness His transforming power but rejoice in gratitude nonetheless.
My all-powerful Lord, You overcame the power of the evil one and cast demons from these two men who suffered through this oppression for many years. Give me the eyes I need to see You at work in our world and to joyfully bear witness to Your transforming action in the lives of others. May I always humble myself before Your saving actions and learn to express true gratitude for all that You do. Jesus, I trust in You.