Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 8:28-34
Posted by Dim Bulb on June 26, 2016
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.
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?
Mat 8:30 And there was, not far from them, a herd of many swine feeding.
Mat 8:31 And the devils besought him, saying: If thou cast us out hence, send us into the herd of swine.
And when he was come.] 4. Concerning the dangers of the spiritual life. The gospel describes first the place of the occurrence, v. 28; secondly, the demoniacs and their language, vv. 29–31; thirdly, the miraculous events, v. 32; fourthly, the consequences of the miracle, vv. 33, 34.
a. The place. The gospel states that the miracle took place “on the other side of the water,” in “the country of the Gerasens.” The first of these clauses occasions no further difficulty; but the second has given rise to lengthy discussions. The Vulgate version of the three synoptists [Mk. 5:1; Lk. 8:26] places the miracle in the country of the Gerasens; but the better codd. of the Greek text read “Gadarens” in the first gospel, “Gerasens” in the second [Tisch. Westc. H.], and either “Gerasens” [W. H.] or “Gergesens” [T.] in the third. The reading “Gergesens” appears to date back to a correction of Or. who was induced by geographical considerations to make it. For Gerasa was situated at a great distance from the lake near the river Jabbok; Gadara was a strong metropolis of Perea [Jos. B. J. IV. vii. 3], situated about seven miles from Tiberias, on a mountain near the river Hieromax, in the site of Omkeis; of the Gergesens only the name remained at the time of our Lord [Jos. Ant. I. vi. 2; cf. Gen. 15:21; 10:16; Deut. 7:1; Jos. 24:11], but its ruins, identified with Gersa [Chersa], lie within a few rods of the shore, and an immense mountain rises immediately above them, in which are ancient tombs. Well, then, might Or. be led to his correction of the text, and well may Eus. and Euth. follow him. But how reconcile the original readings? Since Gadara was the principal city in the vicinity of the Perean side of the lake, the district may well have been called “the country of the Gadarens”; the reading “Gerasens” must be explained either in the same manner as the reading “Gadarens,” Gerasa being a city important enough to have a considerable tract of country called after it, or it must be regarded as a corruption, perhaps a variation, of “Gergesens.” Since one district included the other, there is no contradiction in the accounts [cf. Thomson, The Land and the Book, ii. pp. 34–37].
b. The demoniacs. The second and the third gospel speak of only one possessed person, because he was the more wretched of the two [Chrys. Mald.], or because he was the more prominent [Aug. Bed. Theoph. Euth.]. It can hardly be said that the first gospel summarizes two miraculous cures, or that tradition had failed to mention two distinct demoniacs to Mark and Luke. The violence of the demoniacs is more fully described in the second gospel [Mk. 5:2–5], where we see that they dwelt not only in the tombs, but that they could not be bound with fetters and chains, and were cutting themselves with stones, and crying in the mountains; Lk. [8:27] adds that they wore no clothes, and the first evangelist says that they made the road insecure. The second and the third gospel, moreover, state plainly that they lived in the sepulchres; some of these were natural caves, others recesses hewn out of the solid rock, with cells on their sides for the reception of the dead. They thus afforded ample shelter, and their tenants were not molested, for the Jews regarded all such places as unclean. Besides, the resting-place of the dead is the home best adapted for the demons [Salm.] who delight in dead works [Bed.] and are the authors of death [Pet. chrys.]. Thomson, in “The Land and the Book,” gives cases of epileptic fits with phenomena resembling those of the two demoniacs; but it must be remembered that no epileptic fit ever spoke to the physician as the demons spoke to our Lord, and that no nervous attack was ever expelled from man and placed in a herd of swine. As the demoniacs could not be brought to Jesus, he came to them in order to relieve them of their frightful suffering [Pasch. Jans.], thus showing that he had other sheep whom he must bring into his fold [cf. Jn. 10:16]. The language of the demoniacs is not a voluntary acknowledgment of the divinity of our Lord, but the expression of fear, as when runaway slaves come into the presence of their master [Jer.; cf. Chrys. Bed. Pasch. Br. Tost. Salm.]. The demons know that they will be judged on the last day, and punished with more severe torments [2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6]. It is true that they carry now their pain of damnation with them, but having the power to harm men, to roam about the world, they feel their punishment less [cf. Euth. Pasch. Tost. Caj. Salm. Mald. Bar. Reischl, Grimm, Fil. Suar. De ang. lib. viii. c. ii. n. 3, 13, 14; c. xvii.; c. xv. n. 16]. The territories of the Gentiles were especially under the influence of the demons [1 Cor. 10:20; 5:5]. Knowing, therefore, that the time of the last judgment had not yet arrived, they complain in a way that Jesus is about to punish them before their time; for that our Lord had come to crush the sway of Satan is plainly stated in Heb. 2:14. The demon’s eager wish to stay on earth at any price is expressed in the petition to be allowed to enter the swine. Thus they show also their longing to harm and frighten men in some way at least, while they give us a clear proof that they can do absolutely nothing without divine permission [cf. Bed. Br. Thom. Fab. Caj. Salm. Jans.]. According to the second gospel the herd of swine numbered about two thousand. While according to the Vulgate they were not far from Jesus and his companions, the Greek text says that they were far from them, and Mk. 5:11 and Lk. 8:32 merely state that they were there. But distance is a wholly relative term.
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.
And he said to them.] c. The miracle. Jesus suffers the evil spirits to go into the swine, not to punish the owners for breaking the law,—it was not forbidden by the law to keep swine [Jans.],—but to show the number of demons he had expelled [Salm. Tost. Caj. Mald. Jans.], the misery from which the possessed had been freed [Euth.], his power to help all those needing assistance [Jer. Rah. Pasch.], and the filthy nature of the unclean spirit [Petr. chrys.]. Most commentators, both ancient and modern, believe that the swine were driven into the water by the possessing demons; they point to the consequent unpopularity of our Lord among the inhabitants of Perea, and the spiritual harm brought on by their own petition, as sufficient reasons for the action of the unclean spirits. On the other hand, it cannot be admitted that Jesus was deceived by the specious pretext alleged by the demons for entering the swine. The inspired text does not represent the destruction of the swine as intended by the demons; on the contrary, the text suggests that the death of the swine was a disappointment to the devils, who had to return to their dreaded abyss. Petr. chrys. Sylv. Ambr. Lam. Reischl, Grimm, Knab. etc. are therefore justified in regarding the destruction of the herd as the result of the possession in so far only as the swine preferred death to the close alliance with the evil spirits. According to this view the evil spirit has not even the power of interfering with the instincts of animals unless God permits it. That the destruction of the herd of swine was not necessarily a punishment has already been stated; even if the proprietors were Jews, no law forbade them to keep swine either for sale or for any other purpose, except eating. The lessons conveyed by the event are weighty enough to explain why our Lord made use of his sovereign right in the case of the Gadarene proprietors.
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.
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.
And they that kept them.] d. The consequences of the miracle. Jer. Bed. Rab. Pasch. Dion, believe the Gerasens asked through humility that Jesus might leave them; but where this was the sole motive of similar petitions, as in the case of Peter and the Gentile centurion, the language is quite different from that in the present passage. At the same time, it may be readily granted that the Gerasens were less guilty than the Nazarenes, who ruthlessly expelled our Lord from their town, after he had shown them great kindness [cf. Lk. 4:29; Mt. 13:57; Salm.].