The Miracle of the Gadarene Swine,
Painted by Briton Rivière (1840-1920),
Painted in 1883,
Oil on canvas,
Presented by Sir Henry Tate to the Tate Gallery in 1894
© Tate Britain, London

The Miracle of the Gadarene Swine,
Painted by Briton Rivière (1840-1920),
Painted in 1883,
Oil on canvas,
Presented by Sir Henry Tate to the Tate Gallery in 1894
© Tate Britain, London

Gospel of 5 July 2023

The Gadarene Swine

Matthew 8:28-34

When Jesus reached the country of the Gadarenes on the other side of the lake, two demoniacs came towards him out of the tombs – creatures so fierce that no one could pass that way. They stood there shouting, ‘What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the time?’ Now some distance away there was a large herd of pigs feeding, and the devils pleaded with Jesus, ‘If you cast us out, send us into the herd of pigs.’ And he said to them, ‘Go then’, and they came out and made for the pigs; and at that the whole herd charged down the cliff into the lake and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off and made for the town, where they told the whole story, including what had happened to the demoniacs. At this the whole town set out to meet Jesus; and as soon as they saw him they implored him to leave the neighbourhood.

Reflection on the painting

Our artist today, Briton Rivière, was a British artist of Huguenot descent. He is mainly known for his animal paintings. Whilst animals feature in our painting, it is the story of the Gadarene swine which is central in our canvas. Each of the individual pigs are meticilously painted. Yes, they run together, but it is each single one making the decision to follow the other demonic-looking swines in tumbling over the edge of the cliff. They are trampling one poor fleeing swineherd, whilst another swineherd has managed to run away with his dog to safety. Also note the low faint clouds, with their touches of flame-reds and violets.

The location of this story, as mentioned in the first line of our Gospel reading ('Jesus went to the other side of the Lake') says a lot about Jesus. He crossed the lake to go to gentile territory, where Jews would not normally go. Jesus is always the man reaching out, inviting strangers, taking risks, getting out of his comfort zone… His mission transcends all boundaries. And when he does that, he doesn't even hold back. In today's reading Jesus is performing a full miracle driving out demons.

There is a rather strange ending to today’s gospel reading. Jesus had just healed two deeply disturbed people. They were described as so scary that nobody dared pass near them. They addressed Jesus very aggressively, ‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ Yet, their aggressiveness did not deter Jesus from ministering to them. Yet, in response to Jesus’ healing work, the whole town implored him to leave their neighbourhood. It almost seems that the local people were more comfortable with having two very disturbed people among them, than with a display of God’s healing power. Jesus’ liberating ministry did not always meet with welcome and faith, just as today's `Christian message is often also now welcome in society at large.

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John Hobbs
Member
John Hobbs(@edward-dhanley)
7 months ago

I struggled with this all day. And then I thought about the expression “pearls before swine”. Isn’t the story really saying the Gentiles valued their food supply more than ridding themselves of a demonic presence. The source of that metaphor is, according to Google, Matthew 6:7 where Jesus teaches His disciples to discern who they correct. They should not correct people who are like dogs or swine, people who are unwilling to receive correction, people who will respond with hostility. Best, John

Pk
Member
Pk(@pk)
7 months ago

Good morning, Interesting “conversation ” about this painting.
I was wondering if there was a significance in it about the white dog?

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain(@mark_crain)
7 months ago

In addition to the challenging interpretations noted in the earlier comments, I am struck by this: “the devils pleaded with Jesus, ‘If you cast us out, send us into the herd of pigs.’” The devils picked the swine. Jesus complied.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace(@spaceforgrace)
7 months ago

An interesting painting. It was a large herd of pigs, and the artist captures that very well, and their movement. We feel sorry for them being used like this, but still regard pigs as appropriate forms of insult. That idea of pigs being filthy and dirty goes back a long time. Yet we are physically closely related to them, more than we are to sheep. History says pigs were introduced to this side of the sea of Galilee by the Greeks who came with Alexander, and remained pagan.

This story is in all three synoptic gospels, so we should not treat it purely as allegory. Yet we do wonder what Jesus is doing. The whole town comes out to see him, only to tell him to leave. Yet, the men (in some versions it is one man only) are told to remain. Why? Simply as a living presence among the pagans. Some scholars see these men as the first gospel witnesses to the Gentiles, well before Paul.

It is certainly a fascinating reading and one that leads to much interpretation.

As Father Patrick says, how do we treat the presence of Jeus in our lives? Are we like the pigs, following each other over a cliff? Or like the simple men, living quiet lives of faith and witness, among people who would rather we weren’t there?

Challenging thoughts indeed.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M(@chazbo)
7 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Very interesting elucidation (nice word from the Latin) SFG.

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien(@marispiper)
7 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Agree – an insightful post SFG

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain(@mark_crain)
7 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

So challenging! Thank you,

Noelle Clemens
Member
Noelle Clemens(@jeanne)
7 months ago

As Gentiles, the Gadarenes wouldn’t have had a prohibition against pork. So it seems that in healing the demoniacs, Jesus took away part of their livelihood when he allowed the demons to enter the pigs. Hence their rejection of Jesus? Agree this is a difficult passage, like the withering of the fig tree.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace(@spaceforgrace)
7 months ago
Reply to  Noelle Clemens

This is my interpretation t.oo

Andy Stoker
Member
Andy Stoker(@rufustfirefly)
7 months ago

(small typo? “Jesus’ liberating ministry did not always meet with welcome and faith, just as today’s `Christian message is often also now welcome in society at large.” ? *not* welcome?)

Jenny Cieslik
Member
Jenny Cieslik(@jenny-c)
7 months ago
Reply to  Andy Stoker

Yes, now doesn’t make sense.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace(@spaceforgrace)
7 months ago
Reply to  Andy Stoker

well spotted- I didn’t see it!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M(@chazbo)
7 months ago

I find it difficult to derive moral messages from this reading? I presume the swine ran over the cliff because pork meat is not popular in that part of the world. In which case why were they keeping swine? Also the demoniacs recognised Jesus as the Son of God which is pretty forward thinking of them; more forward than the Jews. Looks like the Gadarenes are fertile territory for Jesus’ message.
Perhaps someone else can unravel this passage a bit more?

Joshua Schwieso
Member
Joshua Schwieso(@churchwarden)
7 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

This is gentile territory so pigs are just fine for the locals. And they are presumably rather more worried about the destruction of a lot of their property than what a Jewish rabbi might have to say! Thesir loss but rather understandable in then circumstances.

Anthony
Member
Anthony(@anthony)
7 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

I believe the Gadarenes were not entirely of jewish descent, It was gentile territory. So pork would be on the menu!

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien(@marispiper)
7 months ago
Reply to  Anthony

Pigs get a bad press. Shame – I like them and they are very intelligent animals. In fact, I’d say most animals are more intelligent than we think…viz I will never eat octopus again!

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain(@mark_crain)
7 months ago

Hahaha.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M(@chazbo)
7 months ago

I enjoy eating them when in Spain. Pulpo, sepia, calamar !!!
Octopus, cuttlefish and squid…

Rosemary Hart
Member
Rosemary Hart(@xanadutheblue)
7 months ago

Quite right, Patricia! I’ve always wondered about the fate of these pigs. Now matter how much people like you and I love animals, it is impossible for us to love them more than God their creator, who sees every sparrow that falls in the streets, loves them. I’m afraid I’m too sleepy to express the rest of my feelings clearly at the moment, and I have a busy day tomorrow.

Rosemary Hart
Member
Rosemary Hart(@xanadutheblue)
7 months ago
Reply to  Rosemary Hart

My next-day thoughts are above, and not here when I intended to post them.

Rosemary Hart
Member
Rosemary Hart(@xanadutheblue)
7 months ago
Reply to  Anthony

Maybe the locals disliked Jesus because they’d just seen their prospective hog roasts and the 1st century equivalent of bacon butties go over a cliff?

Seriously, I think there is more to this story than meets the eye. It’s too easy to say the swine don’t matter, but this can lead to the shocking way we often mistreat animals, which I’m certain Jesus doesn’t want! I don’t presume to get to the bottom of it, but I do have a story to tell.

God put the love of birds into me, so I’ve learned to paint them. I believe the Second Commandment applies to treating your own creation as an idol, as if it was alive, but if you accept that your creation is basically just inanimate marks on paper, you’re not breaking the commandment. Whenever I ask God what He wants me to do, He says: “Paint, paint, paint!” Paintings have earned me thanks worth more than diamonds, but the memory of one – of an owl – stands out above all the rest.

A woman who saw it told me she saw her mentor as an owl exactly like the one I’d painted, so I let her have it. One her way home, she was in a horrific car crash and rushed into hospital, put in intensive care with drips and tubes, not expected to live! A nurse looked in her bag for something that would matter to her, found the owl and put it by her bedside. The woman opened her eyes and said: “Take the drips and tubes away! I’m just going to meditate on the painting!” And she credited my painting with saving her life!

I’ve often thought: “How can a painting save a life? How can I be the person who painted it?” Of course she saw her mentor in her mind’s eye. But my painting was the channel. It was surely the work of God!

He taught me to love birds, but another person could love pigs…

Rosemary Hart
Member
Rosemary Hart(@xanadutheblue)
7 months ago
Reply to  Anthony

Oops! I’m trying to reply to Patricia, and don’t know how my post ended up here… I’d like to delete it and report in the right place, but I can’t see an option to do that.

Readings related to Matthew 8:28-34

1 July 2019

Matthew 8: 18-22

Foxes have holes

26 June 2021

Matthew 8:5-17

I am not worthy to have you under my roof

1 July 2020

Matthew 8:28-34

The Gadarene Swine

29 June 2020

Matthew 8:18-22

The birds of the Air have Nests

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