THE GERASENES EPISODE
Tay Eng Guan (Singapore)
The dissonant scream pierced the
air. Scrambling down from the rocks, the shocking semblance of a man approached
Jesus. Wild-eyed and dishevelled, the putrid stench from his filthy naked body
filling the air – he fell prostrate before the Lord. “What have you to do with
me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!”
“What is your name?” “Legion … but not into the abyss, no Lord … the pigs,
there – we beg you … let us … there.” “Go!”
And the undean spirits came out,
and entered the swine and the herd numbering about two thousand, rushed down
the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned — concluding another of the
Lord’s miracles. But it was not the end of the episode.
The herdsmen fled, and told it in
the city and in the country. And the people came to Jesus, and saw the former
demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the man who had had the
legion, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told what bad happened
to the demoniac and to the swine. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from
their neighbourhood (Fmk 5:1-17).
Surely, this was no way to treat
someone who had just liberated a fellow human being from his anguish. Also,
this was in sharp contrast to the adoring crowds that clung to Jesus, attracted
by His teachings and His miracles. What was wrong?
It is doubtless that the
Greasiness were awed by one who could control the
demons. Perhaps, they were afraid that Jesus would ask the demons to possess
them just as He did the swine and so begged Him to depart. The writer thinks
not, not in these circumstances, for when He had liberated one man, would He
ask the demons to possess another? No, the answer does not lie in the fear of
possession but rather in the fear of dispossession — in the down-to-earth,
everyday and often sordid affairs of money and profit!
Remember the swine? Now pigs may
not be the most beautiful of animals, not what one would consider household
pets, but they would bring in quite a tidy sum at the market. Two thousand
pigs, the Bible records; and at the present market price of Singapore (S) $6.50
per kilo and taking the average saleable weight of one pig to be 100 kilos,
that herd would have brought in S$1.3 million today. Now that is money.
The people were afraid of Jesus.
They had seen what He had done to the demoniac and they had seen what He had
done to the pigs. The people were most likely afraid, not for
their lives nor for the demoniac, but of the possibility that Jesus
would liberate other demoniacs and kill more pigs in the process. It was no
good, their livelihood would be affected. Jesus had to go.
episode draws attention to an oft-neglected aspect of our religion — why do we
believe in Jesus? Why do we go to church?
The attitude of the Gerasenes,
later revealed even in the adoring crowds who followed Jesus, shows the ugly
side that arises from a s4fish belief in Jesus Christ.
The very people who shouted ‘Hosanna’ deserted Jesus at His crucifixion when
they saw their source of profit — healing, free bread, hope of a revived
Is this attitude among churchgoing
and professing Christians today?
Certain trends signal an
unsatisfactory attitude. Irregular church attendance and going to church only
when there are no other pressing matters is one. Stopping our children from
attending religious education class on the basis that they have to study their
schoolwork for their own good is another. But would two or three hours spent in
the worship of God and the building up of character be so unprofitable? Do we
ask Jesus to depart and leave the demoniacs as they are so as to save the pigs?
“Wretched man that Jam! Who will deliver me from
this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I
of myself serve the Law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law
of sin.” Romans 7:24-2S
We are in a sense like the demoniac,
possessed by our flesh and committed to sin. We need Jesus for our liberation
and to attain that, we need to be always close to Him, not ask Him to depart
whenever it affects our profit!
Surprisingly, many professing
Christians do not realise that believing in Jesus requires commitment and not
mere involvement. The simple allegory of ham and eggs illustrates the
difference. The pig is committed while the hen is involved. The pig dies in the
production of ham but the hen suffers only a little inconvenience. Commitment
requires sacrifice and sacrifice often excludes profit. Does one come to church
only when there is something to be gained - peace of mind, success in life,
social respectability? All these are not wrong by themselves but if they
constitute the sole reason for belief, one is open to disappointment and
disbelief when these are not quickly forthcoming.
It is not surprising then that
Jesus remarked, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” One of the delineating
factors for this is the line between commitment and involvement.
But does one truly forsake profit
when believing in Jesus? No, if true profit, as in the biblical sense, is
‘… godliness is of
value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the
life to come.’ I Timothy 4:8
True belief in Christ to the point
of sacrifice does not ‘only’ procure salvation, it gives one a truly abundant
and meaningful life here. It is not measured in dollars and cents but in smiles
and peace. Is not one son who is filial and of unimpeachable character worth
more than ten who attain worldly status but who cause you heartache, a result
of stunted spiritual development? Isn’t a sane man worth more than 2,000 fat
pigs? Isn’t Christ worth more than what the whole world has to offer? If we can
sincerely answer yes to all these questions, then truly our belief is not in
vain and the Lord God will surely accept our humble sacrifice.
One other thing is worth
emphasising in conclusion: Jesus never meant to exterminate all the pigs in
Gerasenes. It remained only a dreaded possibility in the minds of the people,
stirred perhaps by the fact that Jesus was a Jew who did not eat pigs. Just as
it is today, commitment does not always mean the loss of all things, just the
willingness to lose all things for the sake of Christ and to be with Christ.
The question, do we, for fear of losing all, ask Jesus to depart?
Save the pigs or save the