Storms, Pigs, and a Change of Subject

This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for August 6 2018.

When Matthew wrote his Gospel, it seems that he arranged the stories and teachings of Jesus into thematic groups. One such group is the trio of miracle stories of Matt. 8:23-9:8. The unifying theme between these is the authority demonstrated by each act of Jesus – he has the authority to still unruly weather, expel demonic powers and to forgive sin. These three feats display an ability that is a prerogative of God, and thereby show us that this Jesus that Matthew presents to us somehow shares in the identity of God.

These episodes not only inform us about Jesus, but also instruct us in how we can relate to him.

Jesus’ order of actions in the stilling of the storm show us that his first concern is with the needless fear of the disciples. Only after addressing them does he deal with the storm that had put them in a panic. Problems will catch all of us by surprise at times, but we must not suppose that they surprise the Lord, or that they are beyond his ability to deal with. This is a lesson not to panic, nor to be overcome with anxiety (cf. Phil. 4:6).

The story about the demon-possessed men and the drowning pigs is odd, and leaves a lot of unanswered questions. But one thing that we can understand from it is that the coming of Christ and the Kingdom will at times prove disruptive and costly for people. The swineherds’ loss is understandably distressing, but their distress causes them to overlook what was to be gained from Jesus. Would we have done the same had we been in their shoes?

‘Disappointment’ might be a good description of the paralysed man’s reaction to Jesus’ words “cheer up, lad: your sins are forgiven” (NLT). That was not what his friends had carried him to Jesus for. But Jesus sees a deeper need than the man’s need to walk. His words call into question our priorities and ask us to soberly lay them at Jesus’ feet.