I consistently argue that Jesus’ humanity is the model for behaviour and, for priests and religious, the model for exercising ecclesiastical authority.
Four instances often challenge the proposition that Jesus is the model: destroying pigs to save a demoniac when he could have avoided that economic loss, apparent discrimination of a Canaanite woman, cursing of the fig tree out of hunger and probably anger, and the cleansing of the temple. I will treat these stories each week.
Today’s post is on the deliverance of the demoniacs (Matt 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39). The story is that Jesus delivered two men from a legion of demons. In doing so, Jesus sent the legion of demons into a herd of pigs numbering about two thousand. The demons drove the herd into the river, and they drowned.
The main lesson from this passage is that Jesus illustrated the infinite value of human life. The passage also shows the unparalleled power of Jesus to drive out a legion (6,000) of demons with a single command. It also challenges us because if the demons can testify that Jesus is the Son of God, why not we? Furthermore, since the demons asked Jesus to send them to the pigs (Luke 8:32), the destruction of the pigs assured the demoniacs that the demons had actually gone.
Irrespective of the above lessons and many others, the deliverance poses a big challenge because of the economic loss suffered by the pig owners and their employees (the herders). To put the economic loss into perspective, if a pig costs an average of ₦100,000, 2,000 pigs cost about ₦20 million. This is a huge loss. Why would Jesus cause this loss when he could have simply handled the demons? How do we reconcile this with Jesus’s teaching of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’?
An attempt to resolve this challenge is to consider the location of this miracle and the people involved. There are two perspectives on where the miracle occurred. The miracle happened in the region of the Gadarenes (Matthew 8:28) or Gerasenes (Mark 5:1 and Luke 8:21).
As an author wrote, “Matthew is habitually more oriented to a Jewish readership, and so he refers to ‘Gadarenes’ because Gadara was the most important Jewish city in the area. Mark and Luke, on the other hand, write to more general audiences, and Gerasa was the main Greek-Roman city of the area. So they refer to Gerasenes”. However, most commentators argue that the miracle happened outside of Jewish territory. It is unclear if the two demon-possessed men were both Jewish or Gentile or both. Another group is the herders and the pig owners. It is unclear if they were Jewish or Gentile, or both.
Since my focus is on the destruction of the pigs, the nationality of the herders and pig owners is instructive in attempting to understand why Christ drove the demons into the pigs. There are implications if they were Jews or Gentiles.
On the one hand, if one argues that they were Gentiles, many objections come to mind. Why would non-Jewish livestock farmers be so gentle with a Jew (an enemy) who destroys their means of livelihood? The action of Jesus should have led to an inter-ethnic conflict or violence.
If one argues that the glory of Christ silenced them, one needs to recall that the Nazarenes, people of Jesus’ hometown, were enraged with Jesus for preaching conversion to them that they attempted to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:29). That the people never cared if it was on the Sabbath day or that Jesus preached in the synagogue (Luke 4:16) showed how angry they were. If Jews can treat a fellow Jew as such, one imagines what they would do to a Gentile or what Gentiles would do to a Jew for damaging their property and causing a huge economic loss. Anti-Semitism is still rife today.
The experience of St. Paul is evidence of the above argument. Demetrius was a silversmith in Ephesus who made silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. This brought business and income to the artisans.
Demetrius incited the artisans against Paul, arguing that his teachings discouraged people from buying their statues, leading to a drop in income and a threat to the worship of Artemis. When they heard this, they were enraged, and the city was filled with confusion. The people rushed to the theatre and dragged Paul’s travelling companions out. Paul wished to go to the crowds but was discouraged.
When the people discovered that Alexander, who attempted to make a defence, was a Jew, they shouted with one voice for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”. The city leaders later calmed the uproar, and Paul left the city (Acts 19:24- 20:1).
If Paul never interfered with the business and Demetrius only speculated, yet there was an uproar, one could imagine the people’s reaction if he threw a single statue or about two thousand statues into the sea. The people would have lynched him immediately.
The same scenario plays out in the case of Jesus. If the pig owners were Gentiles, they would have galvanised their people into action against Jesus. Two thousand pigs is a big number that suggests many people or multiple families could have owned the herd. Instead, the owners and herders begged Jesus to depart their neighbourhood. This shows that the people who lost their jobs and farm animals were afraid instead of being angry, a contradiction to how humans often react.
Therefore, the people were most likely to be Jews. Jewish law considers the pig an unclean animal (Leviticus 11:7) and forbids eating pork and even touching its carcass. The scripture says: “And the swine, because it parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch” (Deut 14:8).
Hence, if the herdsmen or pig owners were Jews, they disregarded the law because they were touching an unclean animal, and there was no way they would not touch the carcass of a dead pig. It was also unlikely they would not eat pork. Prophet Isaiah includes eating pork among the offences that provoke God (Isaiah 65:3-4). This explains their fear instead of anger, and only this can explain the people’s restrained reaction over the death of their herd and grave fear before Christ. This is another probable explanation for why Christ may have accepted the demons’ request to be sent to the pigs.
This raises further questions about Jesus’ salvation for all and Peter’s vision that what God has cleansed is no longer unclean (Acts 10: 15). The vision of Peter was to prepare him for evangelisation to all nations and not about eating all animals. This is why Peter was invited to Cornelius’ house immediately after the vision. Till today, Jews officially do not eat pork, and all cultures today abstain from certain animals.
This conclusion raises further questions about Jesus’ love, mercy, and forgiveness. One can argue that Jesus had mercy on the two men by delivering them. He also had mercy on the herders and pig owners by striking only the pigs. When Adam disobeyed God, God did not strike him; instead, he cursed the land (Genesis 3:17).
While the above is not counterproof, it largely shows that the decisions of Christ were not out of place as largely portrayed. It confirms his humanity, which continues to be a model for exercising ecclesiastical authority.
Jesus was willing to forgo economic prosperity to save people in demonic bondage. As those who exercise ecclesiastical authority, what is our value for human life? As pastors of communities, are we more interested in the salvation of souls or our personal economic prosperity?
Are we more interested in the infrastructural development that boosts our ego and caresses our personality or the holistic salvation of souls?
Are we more interested in our comfort as pastors, even if people die from hunger and sickness?
When we ask for money, do we pretend as if we are unaware that people are suffering or that the current political and economic crisis affects people’s ability to feed?
What effort do we make as pastors to improve our people’s conditions, or do we forget that only the living sing Alleluia and use the church or Marian Grotto? Remember, Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick.
If Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the owner of this ministry, comes, what will he say about that collection we want to do or the way and timing of that collection that we want to do or the way and timing of the collection that we have already done amid hunger and sickness? Can we successfully answer that we are/were feeding his sheep as he wants(ed)? Will he consider us good or malicious shepherds exploiting rather than feeding his sheep?
May God continue to help us🙏🏾