In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew we hear the familiar story of Jesus encounter with two demoniacs in the country of Gadarenes (Matthew 8:28-34). This is an amazing episode on several levels. First we hear that the demoniacs were fierce creatures that ‘came towards him out of the tombs’. These were far more frightening that anything portrayed in 20th century zombie movies.
Next they identify Jesus as the Son of God. This is confirmation, an epiphany from an entirely different source to that witnessed by those standing on the banks of the River Jordan when John baptised Jesus.
The demoniacs ask of Jesus is to torture them ‘before the time’; so we are abruptly taken forward to the final judgement when the wheat will be sorted from the chaff and the latter will be cast into the eternal fire.
At their own request, Jesus then casts out the evil spirits into a nearby herd of pigs causing the whole lot to charge off the cliff and drown in the lake. The witnesses to this whole event then run to the village to tell the whole story, emulating the shepherds at the nativity and pre-figuring the women who find the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning. But rather than welcoming the Messiah, the villagers implore Jesus to leave. We must wonder why?
Well on the one hand, the villagers may consider him to be an even greater threat than the demoniacs and capable of destroying them. On the other hand, his action had caused the loss of an entire herd of pigs and this may have been the livelihood of many in the town. It was an indication that if you welcome Jesus into your life, there is a personal cost and not everyone is willing to pay, despite the fact that Jesus paid for our sins with his life.
So, one short passage heard at a quiet mid-week Mass announces the presence of the Christ; shows his power over evil and predicts the potential cost of being a Christian.