When Jesus Costs Us Our Comfort: Reevaluating Our Priorities in the Light of His Holiness

Now a long way off from them, a large herd of pigs was feeding. “If You drive us out,” the demons begged Him, “send us into the herd of pigs.”

“Go!” He told them. So when they had come out, they entered the pigs. And suddenly the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. Then the men who tended them fled. They went into the city and reported everything—especially what had happened to those who were demon-possessed.

At that, the whole town went out to meet Jesus. When they saw Him, they begged Him to leave their region. (Matthew 8:30-34)

In last week’s post, Jesus encountered the dark side of the spirit world in the form of demonic spirits inhabiting two men in a region called the Gadarenes.

The spirits shouted out at the sight of Jesus, calling him “Son of God” and acknowledging his power over them.

The passage today finishes that story. Not far away, Matthew says, a “large herd of pigs” was feeding. (According to Mark, there were at least two thousand.) For some good reason we don’t fully know about, the demons begged to be sent into the herd of pigs.

Jesus agreed. Immediately the spirits fled into the pigs — and the pigs went mad. The entire herd plunged down a steep hill and into the sea of Galilee, where they drowned.

The pig-keepers rushed to the nearest city and reported everything to the locals.

At that point, Jesus had another encounter — not with demonic spirits, but with the conflicted priorities of human beings and the power of economics to define our decisions.

Dear Jesus: Please Leave

We can’t be entirely sure who the inhabitants of Gadara were. They may have been Jews; they were more likely Gentiles — ethnic Greeks who had settled the Decapolis in the north of Israel. That, at any rate, explains the pigs, which would have been an abomination to the Jews.

Either way, it’s clear from the story that the two possessed men hailed from this city originally, and also that the massive herd of pigs represented a significant economic investment for the region.

In telling what they had seen, the pig-keepers especially stressed “what had happened to the those who were demon-possessed.” They had seen Jesus deliver two violent, tomb-dwelling men from the spirits that had tormented them, and that’s what they relayed to their countrymen.

But the process of deliverance had come at significant financial cost. Some would value the herd at about a quarter million dollars in today’s numbers.

And when the people of the city saw Jesus, “they begged Him to leave their region.”

When the Presence of Jesus Costs Us Something

So far, most of the encounters with Jesus in Matthew 8 have been strongly positive for those encountered. We’ve seen a string of incredible healings, deliverances, and miracles. Yes, a few people have been forced to respond to rather strong calls to follow Jesus even at a high personal price. But that was all voluntary, and it came with perks … for the moment, anyway. Jesus’ star was clearly on the ascendant. Anybody choosing to follow him at this juncture was gaining a certain amount of prestige.

This time is different. This time, in delivering two men from captivity to horrendous demonic forces (if the demons entered two thousand pigs and drove them insane, stop to think about what those two men were hosting), Jesus brought about collateral damage.

The people of the city had a choice in that moment. They could receive their compatriots back, healthy and whole, and honor the Deliverer. They could seek to know the identity of this man the demons had called “Son of God,” this man who had power over such violent and powerful spirits.

Or they could count up the money they’d lost and decide it was too much.

They made the second choice.

The Value of Jesus’ Presence

I don’t understand the ins and outs of this story, really. I don’t know why Jesus would allow the demons to do something with such a high human impact (financial stress is not just some light thing).

But that’s not new. I don’t understand much of what God does — in the Bible or in my life.

When, however, the presence of Jesus costs something, I have a choice to make. I can choose to see his holiness, his otherness, and honor it. I can embrace mystery and take my losses with a heart of worship.

Or I can decide the cost is too high, and I can beg him to leave.

It’s a question I heard in my spirit just a few days ago, in a different context:

When Jesus doesn’t do what you want — when he demonstrates that he is holy — does his value in your eyes go up? Or does he lose value to you?

The people of the Gadarene region lost a lot when they sent Jesus away. Who knows how many more of their people might have been healed, or delivered from demons? Who knows but that their fishermen might have found themselves hauling in quadruple catches, or their harvests exploding — making up for the loss.

Who knows how many might have become disciples, among the earliest followers of Jesus, seeing the resurrection and gaining eternal life?

Who knows how the kingdom of God might have manifested in the region, in the city, in the individuals who begged Jesus to leave.

The lives of two men who had been tormented by demons were worth more than a herd of pigs.

And the presence of God incarnate was worth far, far more.

But they didn’t see it.

A Tale of Skewed Priorities

It’s so easy for our priorities to become skewed. It seems to me that of everything that brings about such a tilt, the pressures of money can be among the worst.

I am not against money, even wealth — I think it’s good for people to prosper, and that generally speaking, it’s God’s will that they do.

But it’s not for nothing that Jesus warned us that we can’t serve God and Mammon. Likewise, he will later issue a warning that when the word of God goes out like seed, it’s often the “worries of this age and the deceitfulness of wealth” that choke it out (Matthew 13:22).

Our priorities are awry when we dismiss the presence of God in order to make more money. Or to protect our carefully constructed self-identities. Or to preserve our position among our peers.

Our priorities are awry when we shy away from spiritual growth because it might cost us. When we decide not to press in to know the Lord because we instinctively realize he might ask us to let go of something.

Or when he doesn’t do something we want him to do, or he does do something we’d rather he didn’t, and as a result we beg him to leave, to stop, to go away. When we withhold our worship and he is devalued in our eyes, instead of honored as holy.

The Questions We Ask

The people of the Gadarenes looked at what Jesus’ presence had cost them, and they asked him to leave.

They didn’t ask what they had gained by his presence, and they didn’t ask what more they would gain if they welcomed him.

That’s the question I find myself asking as I read.

  • What more will I gain if I trust Jesus more?
  • How much more can I grow if I choose to walk through this hardship?
  • What blessings might Jesus want to exchange for the things I cling to so tightly?

I will ask those questions, and Lord willing, next time Jesus challenges my priorities (today), I will swallow my protests and my gut-level desire for him to leave.

And instead I will ask him to stay, even if it costs me. And I will worship, because he is holy, and because his value is greater than anything I could ever imagine.


I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!

This is Part 111 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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One response to “When Jesus Costs Us Our Comfort: Reevaluating Our Priorities in the Light of His Holiness”

  1. Daniel Broom Avatar
    Daniel Broom

    Thank you for this Rachel. I always like your writing’s and thoughts. 🙂

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