I’ve heard an old saying that rings true: “Sometimes you prefer the devil you know to the devil you don’t.” When I was a young seminarian, I counseled with a woman in my congregation who was physically and emotionally abused by her husband. She wanted a change, and so we set about making the plans that could free her and her sons from this situation. Yet, she continually fell back into the cycle of violence that characterizes such relationships. When I finally asked her what was keeping her in her marriage, she responded, “At least I know what’s going to happen. If I leave, I have no idea what will happen to me or my family.” She preferred the devil she knew.
In today’s passage, we read a genuine and life-giving exchange between Jesus and the demoniac. But then we witness a troubling response from the demoniac’s community members who ask “Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.” The swineherds are upset because the hogs into which Jesus sends the demons are a huge loss. Losing them into the water probably means the loss of livelihood for the better part of a year, and the people of the region have an established social order. The demoniac clearly resided on the bottom and outside of the order. Now that Jesus has healed him, they feel unsure of his fit in their structure. They prefer the devil they know.
The introduction of the gospel into our lives and our world continues to cause upheaval and resentment. Although Jesus Christ brings freedom and healing, he also asks us to rethink the ways we interact. Many of us will prefer the devil we know to the radical freedom Christ offers.
Healing Lord, give us courage to embrace the freedom the gospel brings us. Amen.
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