Everybody pays attention to the pigs.
Tell this story to an audience today and the focus is on the porcine creatures. Why did poor innocent pigs have to die? How much money did the pig herders lose? What about the ecological damage to the waters? And finally…Couldn’t Jesus have come up with a better plan?
The pigs are not just a modern fascination, though. I plunged around for artistic representations of this story, and every painting I could find, going back to the 10th century, includes the swine.
You know what none of the paintings show?
The man sitting, clothed and in his right mind.
A right mind.
At first, that may seem a little underwhelming.
Here was this man capable of terrifying a whole town. Now, we are presented with a simple picture. A man – who was once possessed by a legion of demons – is now seated. Clothed. And in his right mind.
We’ve had danger and drama. Part of us loves a sordid story.
A man in his right man fully clothed can appear a little dull.
Maybe that’s why the artists don’t spend their time and oil paints on that picture.
But the gospel writer wants us to see this. He wants us to see the freedom of sanity. He wants us to know it is a gift to be able to sit in the presence of the Most High God and community and be sane and civil.
Jesus’ liberating power can put a right mind within us.
It is a gift of internal peace and external blessing. When we have a right mind, we know what is right. We know the truth when we see it. We know goodness when we experience it. We can sit amid the craziness of our neighbors, without joining the frenzy. We keep our wits about us even when demons are controlling men who are leaping off of cliffs.
The world is often profoundly disturbed by pure sanity. Even angered by it. Frightened by it.
The gospel writer has already told us stories of Jesus disrupting the lives of good Jewish communities, good Jewish people and even not so good, not so clean tax collectors and sinners. Now the gospel writer wants us to see that Jesus can disrupt the whole world. We have been taken into a profoundly non-Jewish context. It is all ritually unclean – the tombs, the demons, the nakedness, the swine and the pig herders, the very land of the Gerasene. It is a place that constitutes – for Mark’s purposes – the whole world.
The pig herders, the townspeople, they aren’t bad people- or not any worse than the rest of us. But what do they focus on?
That’s right. The pigs!
They are unimpressed by their fellow citizen who has been liberated and now sits with a right mind. Because… those pigs! They want their economic security and their social certainty restored.
Jesus is disrupting their world order.
The gospel writer paints a portrait of the disruptive power of Jesus and it is not limited by race, religion, region, morality, health or geographic location.
Even now, when we attempt to make Jesus part of the American way, he disrupts every political party, every presumption of entitlement, our public policies and our economic systems.
It’s enough to make us kneel down and beg the Son of the Most High to leave our neighborhood.
Except we know Jesus disrupts with love. Jesus steps up to all the craziness and uncleanness in us. Jesus sets us free. He offers us love, peace, and sanity.
Don’t focus on the pigs. Focus on Jesus.