Do you remember that story where Jesus casts a bunch of demons out of a man, and then sends them into a herd of pigs? That’s gotta be one of the strangest stories in the Gospels.
Why—or how—were there so many demons in this man that they went by a collective name that means “We are many”? Why did the demons beg to be sent into a herd of grazing pigs? Why did Jesus give them permission? And why on earth did the pigs run off a cliff and drown?
It can be a pretty confusing story, to be sure, but there’s one part that really grabbed my attention the last time I was reading it:
The men who tended [the pigs] ran off and reported it in the town and the countryside, and people went to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the man who had been demon-possessed, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and told about the pigs. Then they began to beg him to leave their region. (Mark 5:14-17)
The people who owned the pigs saw Jesus cast out these demons, and witnessed an incredible act of liberation and compassion. They saw a man, who had previously been acting so crazy that they tried to chain him up and leave him for dead, wearing clothes for the first time in who-knows-how-long, eating and drinking, and acting like a normal person. And what was their response? Did they praise God? Did they welcome the man into the community? Did they try to contact his family? No.
They wanted Jesus to leave. Just because they lost their pigs.
These people cared more about their livelihood than they did about an oppressed man in their own community. They didn’t care that he had been freed from evil spirits, they didn’t care that he was in his right mind for the first time since they could remember—they cared that they were going to lose money.
Does that sound familiar to you? Because it does to me. I see this attitude a lot in Christian communities, in churches, and—most especially, and most disappointingly—in myself.
I have caught myself thinking, “I hope Jesus doesn’t show up in this situation, because I’ve made myself pretty comfy here.” Or, “It’d be a lot easier for me if I pretend not to see this person. Yeah, I’ll just keep walking by.” Or, “Sure, that person needs help, but I’ve got a big assignment due tomorrow, so I can’t spare the time.”
So often I care about my own livelihood, my own business, more than I care about oppressed or hurting people around me. That’s an uncomfortable and shameful thing to admit, but it’s true. And I don’t think I’m alone here—this seems to be a part of the human condition. The prophets called out the nation of Israel for this sin. Jesus called out the Pharisees for this kind of thinking. And I think Mark the Evangelist wants us to examine ourselves for this mindset when we read this passage.
Do we care about those around us who are hurting? Would we give up our own wealth, time, and effort to see them liberated from their bondage? Or have they just become part of landscape? Have we relegated them to our own “graveyards” because they’re out of our way, and we don’t have to think about them anymore?
Jesus didn’t ignore this man with an unclean spirit. He looked on him with compassion and did what he could to liberate him from his bondage. Granted, he has a lot more power in that department than we do, but I want to suggest to you that we should be following Jesus’ lead on this one. As Christ’s Body here on earth, we are the means by which Jesus acts today. We are to participate in his work here and now. And if we have to give up a little money, a little time, or even a few pigs—so be it. We’re the Church. That’s our job.