“And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region. Matthew 8: 34
I am always disturbed when I read the second sentence of this verse. Oh, the first sentence fits a common pattern in the ministry of Jesus. He performs a miracle and the crowds swarm to Him. But the second?This sentence records Him being asked to leave. Actually, an entire city is pleading with Him to go away, and go fast. Why? What could this Man possibly have done to warrant this reaction?
Jesus and His disciples have come to the land of the Gadarenes. He is confronted by two men possessed by demons. In another synoptic account we learn the demons are named Legion, for they were many. They address Jesus by name and acknowledge they know their fate. But they also know this is not the predetermined time of their judgement. They appeal to Him to allow them to enter a herd of swine, which Jesus does. The demons come out of the men, enter the swine, and run headlong into the water and drown. News travels of this exorcism and we come to verse thirty-four. Again, why is Jesus being asked to leave? Wouldn’t it seem rational that the people be glad to see these demon-possessed men healed?
Mark and Luke write, “They were afraid, seized with great fear.” Is their fear driven by the unknown, the unexplainable, or the unexpected? They have witnessed the lives of these men under the power of demons and now they were normal. Or is there something more significant, at least to them, at stake? Is it possible that a major part of the Gadarene economy just crashed? Have the people associated Jesus’ presence as too costly? If the swine market is wiped out today, will the fishing industry be gone tomorrow?
Do they see their bank accounts, homes, jobs, and livelihood at jeopardy with the presence of this man, Jesus?
Frankly, the Bible does not clearly tell us why. Mainly because the narrative is not about the people and their reasoning. The story isn’t about pigs, pig markets, or pig farmers. The author didn’t give us this account to strengthen our understanding of demons, and whether they prefer pigs before sheep.
The story is about Jesus. The story is about Him and His priorities. The story is about Jesus meeting the needs of two men. It is about Jesus prioritizing the spiritual condition of these men, and compared with that, everything else is insignificant.