In this gospel passage, we have two miracles distinct from the other miracles of Jesus. The calming of the wild storm at the Sea of Galilee was unusual because it showed Jesus’ authority over nature and how he could avert a disaster with a mere command. The second miracle was an act of kindness in saving the lives of two men who could not seek his help and ended up in the death of a herd of swine. Instead of appreciating Jesus for the healing of the demoniacs, the people from Gadara prevented him from entering their town. Let us welcome Jesus, the Lord of the universe, realizing that his coming in our midst would cause us some material loss while gaining us a reward eternal.
The Calming of the Storm at Sea
(Matthew 8:23) Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. (24) Suddenly a fierce tempest hit the lake, so that the boat was about to sink under the waves. But Jesus was asleep. (25) They woke him and cried, “Lord, save us! We are lost!” (26) But Jesus answered, “Why are you so afraid? How little faith you have?” Then he stood up and rebuked the wind and the waves; and it became completely calm. (27) The people were astonished. They said, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him.”
The Healing of the Gadarene Demoniacs
(28) When Jesus reached Gadara on the other side, he was met by two demoniacs who came out from the tombs. They were so fierce that no one dared to pass that way. (29) Suddenly they shouted, “What do you want with us, you, Son of God? Have you come to torture us before the time?” (30) At some distance away there was a large herd of pigs feeding. (31) So the demons begged him, “If you drive us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” (32) Jesus said to them, “Go.” So they left and went into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned. (33) The men in charge of them ran off to the town, where they told the whole story, also what had happened to the men possessed by the demons. (34) Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their area.
The Calming of the Storm at Sea
(Mt 8:23) Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him.
Jesus had a busy schedule at Capernaum, preaching and performing many miracles like the cleansing of a leper (Mt 8:1-4), healing of a centurion’s servant (Mt 8:5-13), curing Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8:14-15) and many other sick people (Mt 8:16). As a human being, he got exhausted after all these exertions. Its intensity is clear from his deep sleep while the boat carrying him and his disciples was getting tossed about in the storm. So, he wanted to cross the Sea of Galilee to go to the land of the Gentiles where he was unknown, so he could take some rest. The boats Peter and the sons of Zebedee used for fishing were available for Jesus for his journey in the lake. Jesus took the disciples along with him so they also could take some rest and learn from the activities that might take place on the way.
(24) Suddenly a fierce tempest hit the lake, so that the boat was about to sink under the waves. But Jesus was asleep.
The Sea of Galilee
Though known as a sea, the Sea of Galilee is only a lake. Its other names are Lake of Gennesaret and Lake Tiberias. This pear- shaped lake is 13 miles long from north to south and eight miles at the widest part from east to west. The circumference of the lake is 33 miles and its maximum depth is 141 feet. It is the lowest freshwater lake on the earth and the second-lowest lake in the world after the Dead Sea. The chief source of water to the lake is Jordan River, originating from Mount Hermon and supplemented by springs from the streams and wadis of the hills of Galilee. The water level and the size of the lake have gradually gone down with each passing century.
Violent storms are possible in the Sea of Galilee because of its low-lying position of 700 feet below sea level surrounded by hills. Though the lake is calm, violent storms develop swiftly when the icy wind comes over the snow-covered eastern mountains and drops through the funnel-like narrow mountain valleys into the warm air of the sea.
Swamped by waves
The word used in the gospel for the storm is “seismos” which means earthquake because the storm was wild and shaky. The situation was so dangerous that even the disciples, who were fishermen and familiar with the sea, were frightened. The high waves tossed the boat around and the boat was sinking. Though the storm was a natural phenomenon, it occurred by divine plan. That allowed Jesus to show to his disciples that he, through whom the whole of creation came into existence, was also master over nature. He had already shown his power over sickness and demons by many miracles.
Jesus was asleep
Jesus was in such deep sleep that the storm did not disturb him. Nature’s fury did not perturb him because he was above fear. He was sure that the storm could not end his life nor of his disciples’ because they had to continue their mission in this world. He might have been aware of the storm but relaxing, expecting his disciples’ panicky reactions.
(25) They woke him and cried, “Lord, save us! We are lost!”
Jesus was sleeping during the wild storm, so the disciples had to wake him up. They desperately needed his intervention to survive. Though some were fishermen and had spent much of their life in that lake, it was their most challenging experience to date. They might have been impatient with his seeming indifference at that critical juncture. However, they who had witnessed the miracles of Jesus, believed that he alone could save them.
(26) But Jesus answered, “Why are you so afraid? How little faith you have?” Then he stood up and rebuked the wind and the waves; and it became completely calm.
The disciples were in terror because of the life-threatening situation. Although they woke up Jesus in desperation, according to Jesus it betrayed their lack of faith.
Jesus got up from sleep and scolded the storm as if addressing a person or a demon. That was Jesus’ way of performing miracles. For example, Jesus rebuked the fever when healing the sickness of Simon’s mother-in-law (Lk 4:39), and he rebuked the unclean spirit while healing a boy possessed with a demon (Mk 9:25). The words of Jesus were powerful enough to calm the storm. The effects were instantaneous when he performed the miracle.
(27) The people were astonished. They said, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him”
The people were astonished
Using “people” instead of the disciples shows that there were other men besides the disciples in the boat. That could mean the crew of the boat and the disciples. The cause of amazement was that they were seeing for the first time, Jesus’ authority over the elements of nature.
What kind of man is this?
This would mean that those who witnessed the miracle believed that there was something more than mere flesh and blood here – supernatural forces were at work here.
The Healing of the Gadarene Demoniacs
(28) When Jesus reached Gadara on the other side, he was met by two demoniacs who came out from the tombs. They were so fierce that no one dared to pass that way.
After calming the severe storm, Jesus and the disciples reached their destination across the lake. They reached Gadara, a town that is unidentifiable now. It was a town six miles inland from the shore south-east of the Sea of Galilee. The graveyard and the pastureland for pigs would be outside the town area and could be near the seashore.
Demoniacs from the tombs
The gospels present demon-possession as a common phenomenon. Before the development of science, people attributed diseases and disabilities to evil spirits. Belief in the existence of demons has existed from the earliest years of humanity. The Bible exhibits demons present at tombs and other deserted places. People also believed that the wicked people’s spirits are demons, and they continue their evil acts even after their death. They considered epilepsy (Mk 9:17-27), mental disorder (Mk 5:1-5), and physical disabilities like dumbness (Mt 9:32-33) and blindness (Mt 12:22) as demonic influences. When the sick persons believed that the demons took possession of them, they would exhibit the symptoms of demonic possession. For such people, the cure could happen only when someone convinces them that the demons have left them.
They were so fierce
The two demoniacs were fierce and attacked travellers. So, people used to avoid facing them. Jesus, who came to take rest, volunteered to help the demoniacs by expelling the demons from them. So, unlike others who avoided them because of fear, Jesus approached them with a kind heart.
(29) Suddenly they shouted, “What do you want with us, you, Son of God? Have you come to torture us before the time?”
What do you want with us?
Unlike humans, who still can repent and reconcile with God, the demons have no chance for repentance and salvation. So, they had nothing to do with Jesus. However, Jesus did have business with them. He had come to liberate humanity from the bondage of Satan and demons. So, the demons questioned Jesus, out of their worry, what he would do with them.
The Son of God
The demons acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God. They knew that Jesus’ mission was to redeem humanity from its bondage. So, they worried that their hold over humans would end.
Have you come here to torment us?
So far, demons had been tormenting the two men. Now, Jesus would torment the demons by expelling them from the demoniacs.
Before the time
God allows the evil spirits to torment humans only until the last judgement. The demons knew that Jesus’ appointed time had not arrived. So, they considered that they could continue tormenting humans. However, Jesus, who had power over the evil spirits, would expel the demons from the demoniacs and liberate them from their bondage.
(30) At some distance away there was a large herd of pigs feeding
Swine was unclean for the Israelites (Lev 11:7). That proves that the town was of the Gentiles. The Roman soldiers and the Gentile population used to eat pig meat.
(31) So the demons begged him, “If you drive us out, send us into that herd of pigs”
The demons were sure that Jesus would heal the demoniacs by casting them out. This shows the superiority of Jesus over the evil spirits. They did not want to go into the “bottomless pit” (Rev 9:1- 2). That will happen only at the second coming of Christ. If Jesus wanted them to leave, they requested to be allowed to enter the herd of swine that were feeding at the valley leading to the lake.
(32) Jesus said to them, “Go.” So they left and went into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned
Here a question arises: Why did Jesus allow the demons to enter the pigs? Though Jesus saved the two men, has it not caused a significant loss for the owner of the herd of swine and unemployment for their keepers?
One explanation is that it was necessary to convince the demoniacs that the demons who possessed them had left. Jesus only allowed them to enter the swine. He had no intention to destroy the animals. The life of the two demoniacs was more valuable than the herd of swine. Their fall into the lake was the pigs’ reaction after the evil spirits possessed them. It also had a spiritual meaning that the unclean spirits will look for the unclean men or animals to dwell in them.
Some interpreters consider that the owner of the swine was a Jew and the animals’ destruction was a punishment for violating the Mosaic Law by keeping the unclean animals. Another view is that if the owner was a gentile, it was a message that whatever is unclean is not acceptable to the Lord.
(33) The men in charge of them ran off to the town, where they told the whole story, also what had happened to the men possessed by the demons
The swineherds’ concerns were losing their job and the blame they could face because of the swine’s destruction in the lake. So, they ran in haste to report to their master. They conveyed the incident to all the townsfolk.
(34) Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their area
The incident concludes on a negative note. The townspeople came out en masse to meet Jesus, not to welcome him; but to reject him. They only saw the economic loss of their swine. The liberation of the two wretches from demonic possession did not enthuse them. Their self-centredness made them reject Jesus because they thought he might cause them more losses. They did not want to give up their unclean lifestyle. For them, Jesus was a destroyer of their material property rather than the saviour of their souls. Because they rejected Jesus, he could not do any more acts of mercy for the people there.
This contrasts with the Samaritans who welcomed Jesus into their town when they heard of Jesus from the Samaritan woman. Jesus had stayed with them for two days and conveyed his message of salvation to them (Jn 4:40).
1. The boat represents the church on which Jesus is present but seems dormant. Like the disciples who sailed the boat across the lake, we must lead the church to its destination that is heaven. Storms can and do happen in the church’s journey without any warning. We might feel that Jesus is not concerned with our plight. This was the experience of the early church during the persecution phase from the Roman emperors. After a long delay of almost three centuries, God intervened in the time of Emperor Constantine to make the situation calm all of a sudden. We need to be patient and seek the help of Jesus when we face a crisis in the church and our Christian living.
2. The boat also represents our own lives where stormy challenges happen that might even impact our faith in God. However, we need to know that Jesus is with us, and he can help us. Fear cannot solve the problem, but Jesus can.
3. Though Jesus was tired and came across the sea to the town of the Gentiles for rest, he took the initiative to cure the demoniacs. Jesus’ concern to help those in need, even without their asking him, should be a model for us in helping others.
4. The unwillingness of the villagers to appreciate Jesus for healing the demoniacs and asking him to leave their town are typical of some people even in modern times. Like the apostles and many other disciples like Zacchaeus, we might also lose our material possessions when we welcome Jesus in our lives or when we follow him. Let us approach Jesus with a long-term goal of eternal life and reward.
5. By asking Jesus to leave their town, the people were denying themselves the flow of grace and healing they would otherwise get. All those who reject Jesus do the same damage to themselves and their future generations.