Earlier this week, I had a text message conversation with my mama.
Me: I have your favorite Bible story this Sunday.
Me: When Jesus casts the demons into the pigs and then they jump off the cliff.
Mama: No!!! Bad!!! Possessing and killing pigs is bad!!!
My mama can intimately relate to the pig farmers in our passage, who are displeased by the actions of Jesus resulting in the loss of their hogs and lively-hood. My mama was and is proud to have been an Indiana pig farmer, who also unfortunately lost the entire herd in one night when lightening struck the metal silo where the pigs were cuddled together.
So, my mama always asks: Why the pigs? What did they ever do to deserve it?
And so, I decided to explore ‘why the pigs’ more deeply this week and I learned there are multiple, significant levels of symbolism.
So, why did Jesus allow these demons to enter into living things instead of an one-way ticket back to the fires of hell?
Jesus and the disciples have traveled by boat across the Sea of Galilee, including surviving a storm that rattled the disciples until Jesus calmed it causing the disciples to wonder who exactly was this teacher that even the natural elements obeyed him.
Jesus and the disciples arrive opposite of Galilee, which is Gentile territory. Again, the Gentiles are the uncircumcised, pork-eating Pagans who were the opposite of the first century Jewish community.
The presence of pigs is a reminder that Jesus and the disciples were not in Galilee anymore… but it becomes more socially and politically charged than that.
Immediately upon their arrive, Jesus is greeted by a demon who had made a man become naked, living among the dead in tombs, and not in his ‘right’ mind. The man, or demon, begs Jesus to not torment him/them.
Jesus asks for the name of the demon, for in the culture if you know its name you can control it including the ability to exorcise (remove) it and release the person. Since the demon instantly gives it to Jesus this is further evidence of Jesus’ divine power.
The demonic name is ‘Legion’ for there are many.
A legion was a military unit of approximately two thousand Roman soldiers who occupied the entire region, whether Jew or Gentile.
I learned this week that the Tenth Legion of Rome, who occupied the region and was responsible for the destruction of the Temple in 70 ce., had a symbol or mascot. It was a pig.
Note: The Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written approximately 70-80 ce.
Essentially, the force occupying this man in body, mind, and soul was a demonic legion and permitted to enter into a legion of pigs which ironically was the symbol of the Tenth Legion of Rome who occupied the region. Perhaps it is not ironic but quite symbolic.
We also have a beloved scripture from Galatians, which offers more insight if we understand the culture and their situation.
The Galatians are also known as the Gauls, which were a Celtic tribe. Thus, Celtic persons who are uncircumcised, pork-eating (former) Pagans in a Roman occupied region attempting to abide by Jewish and Roman law. I imagine the community may have been stressed.
Paul wrote to the Galatians and speaks of their freedom, or release, from the responsibility of the of the law and the chains that bound them to it. Although this message may seem odd, Paul and Jesus often speaks of freedom from the letter of the law in order to live into, to be, and to become the ‘somebody’ that God had called and continues to call us to be.
We are all occupied, or at least preoccupied, in our mind, body, and soul with Legion through unrealistic expectations, anxiety, prejudice, intolerance, hate, addiction, and etc..
We all have and continue to be bound by such chains.
Confessing that I am a concert junkie, last weekend I saw Travis Tritt, who had been my favorite artist until Garth Brooks arrived and stole my heart. Travis played a song that has been echoing in my mind ever since, the title is “I’m Gonna Be Somebody”.
He said “I’m gonna be somebody.
One of these days I’m gonna break these chains.
I’m gonna be somebody someday.
You can bet your hard earned dollar I will.”
Jesus released this man from the occupying forces of the demons known as Legion.
God, by grace alone, releases us from those same chains and occupying forces, so that the demons do not prevent us from living into and living out our baptismal promises:
- proclaiming Christ in word and deed,
- seeking justice,
- acting with compassion and mercy,
- loving and serving all people,
whether Jew or Greek, slave or master, male and female.
May we, by the grace of God, experience being freed from those chains and released from the occupying forces (demonic or not) preventing us from being the “somebody” God has and continues to call us to be AND hopefully without harming any innocent pigs.