The dissonant scream pierced the air. Scrambling down from the rocks, the shocking semblance of a man approached Jesus. Wild-eyed and disheveled, the putrid stench from his filthy naked body filling the airâ€”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?"
"Legionâ€¦ but not into the abyss, no Lordâ€¦ the pigs, thereâ€”we beg youâ€¦ let usâ€¦ there."
And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine. The herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and was drownedâ€”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. Those who had seen it told what bad happened to the demoniac and to the swine. They began to beg Jesus to depart from their neighborhood (Mk 5:1-17).
Surely, this was no way to treat someone who had just liberated a fellow human being from his anguish. This was also in sharp contrast to the adoring crowds that clung to Jesus, attracted by His teachings and His miracles. What was wrong?
Doubtless the Gerasenes were awed by one who could control the demons. Perhaps they were afraid that Jesus had the demons at His command. But the likely answer was a fear not of demon possession, but of dispossessionâ€”the loss of their goods and profits!
Pigs may not be the most beautiful of animals, but they would bring in quite a tidy sum at the market. Two thousand pigs, the Bible records. At today's market price, it would translate to an easy million, washed into the sea.
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 endanger livelihood. Jesus had to go.
This episode draws attention to the central question, 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 selfish belief in Jesus Christ. The very people who shouted "Hosanna" deserted Jesus at His crucifixion when they saw the source of their profitâ€”of healing, free bread, and hope of a revived Israelâ€”die.
Is this attitude found among churchgoing and professed Christians today?
Do we go to church only when there are no other pressing matters? Do we stop our children from attending religious education class on the basis that they have schoolwork to do? Consider: how would two or three hours spent worshipping God and building up one's character be so unprofitable? Yet do we ask Jesus to depart and leave the demoniacs as they are in order to save the pigs?
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin (Rom 7:24-25).
We are in a sense like the demoniac, possessed by our flesh and committed to sin. We need Jesus for our liberationâ€”and to attain that, we need always to be close to Him, and not ask Him to depart whenever it affects our profit.
Surprisingly, many professed Christians do not realize 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 gainedâ€”peace of mind, success in life, social respectability? All these are not wrong by themselves and cannot constitute the sole reason for belief. If they do, then 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 appreciated:
â€¦ godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. (1 Tim 4:8)
True belief in Christ to the point of sacrifice does not 'only' procure salvation, it provides a truly abundant and meaningful life here. It is not measured in dollars and cents but in smiles and peace. Is not one son of unimpeachable character worth more than ten who attain worldly status, but cause you heartache as 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 emphasizing: Jesus never meant to exterminate all the pigs of the Gerasenes. It remained only a dreaded possibility in their minds, 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 then is, do we, for fear of losing all, ask Jesus to depart?
Save the pigs or save the demoniac?