The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

John MacEvily’s Commentary on Matthew 8:28-34

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 24, 2012

Mat 8:28  And when he was come on the other side of the water, into the country of the Gerasens, there met him two that were possessed with devils, coming out of the sepulchres, exceeding fierce, so that none could pass by that way.

Of the Gerasens.’ There is a diversity of manuscript readings here. Some Greek copies have “Gadarenes;” others read, “Gergesenes.”

Two men. St. Mark 5:2; Luke 8:29, without denying that there were two, speak only of owe, either because this one was more remarkably fierce, and savage than the other—and Mark and Luke only meant to narrate the substance of what took place— or, because only one fully appreciated the blessing conferred on him, and wished to follow our Divine Redeemer (Luke 8:38). The two Evangelists describe the wretched condition of this demoniac, to show the malice of the demons, and the great power of our Lord.

Coming out of the sepulchers. It was required by the law of Moses, that the sepulchers should be built outside the cities, towns, and villages. They were constructed in the shape of vaults, of such size as to allow several persons to enter them. These wretched men were impelled by the cruel demons to take up their abode, ill these dismal, lonely places, far away from any intercourse with men. Probably, the superior power of our Lord compelled these demons to bring their wretched victims to meet Him, so as to have His power and mercy displayed in their regard.

Mat 8:29  And behold they cried out, saying: What have we to do with thee, Jesus Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?

They cried out. After our Lord, as Mark 5:8 and Luke 8:29 tell us, had
ordered the demons to go out of the bodies of the possessed.

What have we to do with thee, Jesus Son of God? The Greek,  τι ημιν και σοι, can hardly be literally translated, so as to bear any intelligible meaning. Hence, the above translation is rather explanatory than literal. ” Quid nobis et tibi.” These words must be interpreted, according to circumstances. They generally, and perhaps, always, convey the idea of obsecration, entreaty, or remonstrance. Here, probably, they mean—As you command us to give up the possession of these men, we ask, what have we done to Thee, thus to torture us, and exercise Thy power over us? What have you to say to us, or we to you in this matter? We only torment sinners. We have nothing to do with Thee, the Son of God, who art infinite sanctity, incapable of sin.

Art Thou come hither before the time to torment us? Some of the fallen spirits
were dragged down with infernal ropes to the lower hell (2 Peter 2; Jude 1); others were permitted at large, to dwell in the air, and on the earth. Hence , called the “Prince of the powers of the air” (Eph 2); “Spirits of wickedness in high places” (Eph 6). It is the opinion of St. Thomas (1 P. q. 64, Art. 4 ad 3), and of others, that wherever they are, they carry the torments of hell fire about them, God so arranging it, by His infinite power, that the fire of hell would act on them at a distance, not to speak of the pain of loss. These haughty spirits were tortured by the very presence of Christ, as St. Jerome tells us (in Matth. viii.) Moreover, in their pride, they would regard it as an aggravation of the infernal torture they were already enduring, to be expelled by a Superior Power, and be sent, before the time, to the infernal abyss (Luke 8:31), into which they are finally to be cast, or driven out of the country (Mark 5:10), perhaps into some desert region. They would thus, be deprived of the fiendish pleasure of injuring the earth, by causing storms, sterility, diseases, and of tempting mankind. It may be, that while at large, roaming through earth and air, they suffer less than when confined to hell.

Before the time, i.e., before the Day of Judgment; after which they were to be cast into the abyss. They were afraid that our Redeemer was anticipating the Day of Judgment, to cast them into the depth of hell.

To torment, means, increase, aggravate the tortures they were already enduring.

Jesus Son of God. Most likely, at this time, the devil knew Him, from the several miracles and wonders He performed, to be the Son of God, although he may
have doubted it at the temptation. (Matt 4).  St. Luke 8:29 says—”When he saw Jesus, he fell down before Him,” rendering Him, from compulsion, Divine adoration, credunt Demones et contremiscunt. The words of St. Paul (1 Cor 2), prove nothing to the contrary. St. Paul does not say, the devils did not know Christ to be God. He only says, they were ignorant of the economy of redemption, and the consequences of His death. For, it is not clear, they would not, out of sheer malice and hatred, have crucified Him, even though they knew Him to be Son of God. (See Commentary, 1 Cor 2:8.)

Mat 8:30  And there was, not far from them, a herd of many swine feeding.

And there was, not far from them. The Greek reading is affirmative (μακραν, “a great way off”). But the Vulgate reading, “non longe,” is, most likely, the correct reading; both because it is found so in all old and modern Latin codices, in all ancient interpreters, except Euthymius; as also, because it accords better with
Mark and Luke. The former says, ”near the mountain” (Mark 5:11); while Luke 8:32 has, “on the mountain,” which was at hand. Both those readings are easily reconciled, inasmuch as the herd, being very large, “about two thousand” (Mark 5:13), some of them were on the mountain; more of them, ” near ” it.

Mat 8:31  And the devils besought him, saying: If thou cast us out hence, send us into the herd of swine.

The devils asked for three things—1st. Not to be cast into the abyss of hell. 2nd. Not to be sent out of the country where, from their acquaintance with the dispositions of the people, they could do much mischief, and more effectually act on their known tendencies. 3rd. To be allowed to enter the herd of swine, in case they were cast out of the bodies of the two men possessed. They were very numerous. Their name was Legion (Mark 5:9). The reason why the devils wished to enter the swine is supposed to be, to create indignation among the people at the destruction of their property, and thus cause them to reject our Redeemer’s ministry. The event justified their anticipations. They, moreover, desired to show their hatred of man, by the injury done him in his property, as they were not permitted to do injury to persons.

Mat 8:32  And he said to them: Go. But they going out went into the swine, and behold the whole herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea: and they perished in the waters.

Go. There can be no doubt, that our Lord, as Sovereign Master of all things, could, in virtue of His high dominion, permit this destruction of property; and as He had, undoubtedly, in view in this act, besides God’s glory, to succour man’s spiritual necessities, it is not to be wondered at, if so many of these animals are destroyed to succour man’s corporal wants, that a few, on this occasion, would be destroyed to succour his spiritual and more urgent necessities. Several reasons are assigned by interpreters why our Lord permitted the demons to enter the swine. 1. To spread abroad the miracle of the expulsion of the devils from those possessed. 2. To show the number of the demons; and, that they can do nothing without the Divine permission; also to show their malignity, and how they would torture and destroy men, if God permitted them. Some commentators say, our Redeemer permitted the destruction of the swine to punish those who kept them, and exposed themselves to the danger of partaking of swine’s flesh, contrary to the law of Moses. However, the law of Moses, nowhere prohibits the Jewish people from feeding swine for the purposes of traffic, or any other purposes than the eating of them. Moreover, although this district was formerly possessed by the half-tribe of Manasses and the tribe of Gad, whence some call the city Gadara; still, as it was on the confines of the Gentiles, it is not unlikely many Pagans tended swine, who could use swine flesh without sin, and who might be the lawful owners of the herd in question. And it is expressly stated by Josephus (Lib. de Bello, cap. 2), that the district beyond the Jordan was inhabited by Jews and Syrians conjointly. Our Lord might also have in view, to meet the errors of the Sadducees, who denied the existence of spirits, and of future Rationalists, who denied the personality of demons, and said, that in these several possessions, there was question of mere diseases. For, by what propriety of language could the Evangelists say, “they” i.e., diseases, “going out, went into the swine?”

The whole herd. St. Mark tells us, they amounted to “about two thousand.”

The entrance of the demons into the herd of swine, in a mystical sense, shows what a fit habitation for unclean spirits are the bodies of the unchaste, who wallow in the mire of uncleanness, of which the swine are a fit emblem.

Into the sea, i.e., the Sea of Galilee, of which there was mention in this chapter.

Mat 8:33  And they that kept them fled: and coming into the city, told every thing, and concerning them that had been possessed by the devils.

The swineherds, terrified at what they saw, “told everything,” and especially regarding the cure performed on the men who were possessed by devils.

Mat 8:34  And behold the whole city went out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart from their coast.

The whole city, i.e., a great number of citizens, moved, probably, from curiosity, went out to see one, of whose miraculous wonders they heard so much.

Besought Him, &c. This was, probably, dictated by a fear of any further temporal disaster. Influenced by a fear of temporal loss, they wished to forego the blessing of His presence among them, who had performed so many wonders in favour of the possessed. Hence, proving unworthy of His presence, our Lord, unwilling to cast the priceless pearl of His Holy Word and ministrations before swine, left their country, and recrossed the lake.

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