June 20, 2010
This is one of the weirdest stories in the Bible, and it’s in the Bible three times. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of when Jesus cast the demons into the herd of pigs. Maybe it was just too weird to pass up. Maybe people back then were interested in the weird and freakish just like people today. Maybe a little bit of tabloid-type newscasting made the Jesus story more interesting. ... Maybe ... and maybe ... just maybe ... there is an important message here - even for us modern people who find this story so uncomfortably weird.
To get at this meaning, we’ll have to unpack some of the weird stuff.
For starters, the flow of the story is out of sync. Luke tells the story with all of these flashbacks and asides. Instead of telling the chronological sequence of events, Luke has rearranged the material so that it centers around Jesus showing up. Everything changes when Jesus shows up.
Then, there are several cultural issues. Jesus and the disciples have now traveled to the east side of the Sea of Galilee. The Jewish Messiah is now landing in Gentile territory. Gentiles are “unclean.” They don’t believe in Israel’s God. They eat pork and worship the Roman gods. This is a bad, bad place for a good Jew to be. It was something like a priest taking his seminary students (complete with black shirts and white collars) into a full-on bikers bar. They were out of place - in hostile territory.
In the passage just before this one, while their boat is crossing the Sea of Galilee, a storm comes up and almost sinks the boat. In ancient Jewish culture, the sea is this symbol of chaos and evil, so for the disciples, it’s as if the forces of evil were trying to suck them down to Hell. Jesus finally stands up in the boat and calms the storm. Even the wind and the waves (these symbols of evil) obey Jesus.
Then, just as the boat reaches solid ground, they are confronted with more forces of evil. There’s a deeply crazy guy who says he is filled with thousands of demons, and before the disciples get the boat docked, he’s already screaming at Jesus and thrashing on the ground. (If I were a disciple, I would probably just get right back in the boat. “OK. This was a nice trip. Let’s go home.”) ...
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