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 Gadarene Swine
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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