Pigs have become as good as gold. The goddess Demeter demands them on her altars, the prevalent Greek and Roman cultures happily acquiesce to the ritual feasts, and local farmers are willing to plunge their hands into the proverbial pot of profit. Popular spirituality is like that: it caters to disguised pleasures. The trouble is, the Jewish community has been distinctly forbidden to eat or touch these ‘unclean’ animals, according to the Torah, never mind be involved in supporting pagan worship rituals. So when Jesus enters the scene in the remote Gadarene area east of the Sea of Galilee, he is stepping on rocky ground. This is pig-farming territory, and the locals don’t want to hear any moralizing from zealous Jews. It’s like inviting yourself onto a grow-op and asking to have a look around to set up your picnic; the locals are not going to be happy about it.
When Jesus proceeds to exorcise a regiment of demons from the unhappy local madman (see July 18/14 posting) He is making a unilateral decision: He is evicting them from their human host and authorizing the devilish spirits to transfer their accommodation to the herd of local pigs. It makes sense, really. The pigs are putting on pounds just waiting for the day they will nod their heads to become fodder for the Greek gods. Perhaps Jesus is making a subtle point that worship of gods other than the true God is demon’s territory. One is fitting for the other.
Suddenly, the pigs rush headlong into the sea in a mad fit of uncontrollable abandon, and the locals are not happy. In fact, we’re told that when the townspeople see the ‘madman’ dressed and his right mind, they’re response is fear. They are afraid of One who can cure a madman of his madness. They sense His power exceeds that of the Greek gods; like the demons, they are afraid Jesus will demand more of them than they are prepared to give. So they do what many of us have done when we sense Jesus is a little too close for comfort: they ask Him to leave.
We’ve done that too, haven’t we? There have been times we’ve sensed that if we submit to Him in this or that area of our lives He’s going to turn things upside-down on us; nothing will be the same. We’re afraid He’s going to spoil the profit, take away the pleasure, or make us feel guilty about some of our behaviours. So we ask Him to leave. We shut our ears to His words; we close our eyes to perceiving His presence. We breathe a sigh of relief that we’ve escaped.
The amazing thing is that Jesus doesn’t force His presence on anyone. Having returned the willing ‘madman’ to his right senses, Jesus leaves the remaining townsfolk in their chosen pigsty. Everyone ultimately gets what he or she asks for. It must sadden Him immensely to see that only one person there in Gadara is willing to be healed mind-and-soul this day, but it is how the people want it.
This anecdote is not just a chronological event in the life of Jesus. It’s historical, yes, but it’s much more than that. It contains within it a living message for you and me today. It’s an invitation. Jesus is stepping out of His boat onto the shore of each of our lives right now. He’s standing, sensing the needs each of us have in the deepest depths of our soul. Many of us, like the masses, will react in fear. We’ll push Him away, and He’ll respect that. We’ll lose the greatest opportunity that this day will ever bring us. Or, we can be the one-in-a-hundred that senses He is our only hope – that beats the odds of our stubborn will and humbles ourself before Him.
“Stay, Jesus. Do for me what only You can do. I’ve had enough of pigmania.” A prayer like that is all it will take to begin to replace our pop-culture spirituality with worship of the true and living God.
Greek sacrificial ritual included pouring water on the pig-victim’s head, causing it to ‘nod’ its head in agreement with its imminent sacrifice on the altar.