I have always thought it was the most tragic verse in Scripture.
How could anyone see the extravagant,transforming power of God,and then instead of thanking Him,or asking Him for more,ask Him togo away?
Yet In Mark chapter 5,we see that exact thing happen.
Our story actually begins at the end of Mark 4 with Jesus and His disciples in a boat,making what was surely expected to be an uneventful crossing to the other side of the lake.Jesus had just finished teaching crowds of people,and now He had an appointment across the lake.Exhausted from preaching and ministering,He fell asleep in the boat.The book of Mark tells us that a "furious squall" came up,so violent that the disciples thought they were going to drown.
You know the story – Jesus spoke to the raging storm and it immediately ceased.End of that section with the heading "Jesus Calms the Storm" in many Bibles.
Enter Mark 5,and a new section heading,"The Healing of a Demon-Possessed Man".Different story,right?Maybe not!One of the commentaries I read states that many believe the stories are linked,and the storm had demonic origin,in an attempt to keep Jesus out of the region He was about to enter,and from the appointment He was on His way to keep.
How silly.No one can whip up a storm so powerful that it can keep out the Creator of the wind and waves.If Jesus is coming to deliver you from darkness,NOTHING can keep Him from reaching you.
But back to the narrative – Jesus and His disciples made it across the lake in spite of the storm and arrived in the region of the Gerasenes.They had hardly gotten both feet on shore and the boat dragged up onto the ground when they were confronted by the un-welcome committee,a notorious and violent demon-possessed man.
This man had more problems than just one demon,which would have been bad enough.The spokesman demon told Jesus they were called "Legion" because there were many of them.
A little research on Roman legions shows that depending on when in the 1st century you're asking,a legion was from about 3,600 to 6,000 men.Um,that's a lot of demons.
The many demons who made their home in this man gave him superhuman strength,and no one was able to restrain him,even with chains.Trapped in his inner world of torment,he would cry out night and day and cut himself with sharp rocks.Can you imagine living in that hell?Or imagine that being your son,brother,or husband?
This man's misery was not cloistered away in some remote,hermit-like existence,either.He was loud,he was in a public place,and he was often the recipient of group action by the people of the area who knew SOMETHING needed to be done.While surely well-intentioned,their very best,united efforts were completely impotent in the face of such evil and torment.
They faced a truth we are still learning today.Evil can't be chained from without;evil can only be changed from within.
Evil can't be chained from without;evil can only be changed from within.
Enter Jesus and His followers.
The demon gang inside the man was terrified when they saw Him walking up from the lake.
Oh yes,they knew Him.
We humans are the slow ones;in the spirit realm,there is never any question about the identity and authority of the Son of God.
The demons begged Jesus not to torment them before their time and requested to be sent into a nearby herd of pigs instead of being sent out of the region.Their territory.
Interestingly,Jesus agreed.He knew their time was short,and He will be dealing with them later.
The now unemployed,goggle-eyed swineherds ran off to instant message everyone they knew,and the incredible power encounter was broadcast throughout the area at the speed of light.
NOW there's going to be a ruckus.Now you're messing with the economy,Jesus.Those pigs were someone's retirement fund,maybe.
By the time the crowd gathered to see for themselves what in the world was going on and find out who's going to pay for all those pigs,the formerly demon possessed man was seated,clothed,and in his right mind.
The crowd saw him,Mark tells us,and was afraid.
Of all the reactions they could have had,fear would be a few bullet points down on the list of what I would have expected.
Jesus,in a display of His love,compassion,and power,freed this man from his torment and suffering,and simultaneously rid the area of arguably its biggest problem.He demonstrated His authority over evil – even multiplied evil in large quantity.He transformed someone's life and delivered him from a living hell.
And the people were afraid.
Then,instead of taking their fear to Jesus,they pleaded with Him to leave their region.
They would rather have their pigs.
My heart breaks when I read that.
My Jesus,who would have done so much to set other people free from the ravages of sin and sickness,was begged to go away.He came that they might have abundant life,and they slammed the door in His face as though He was peddling unwanted wares door to door.
Our friend,the newly delivered man,begged Jesus to be able to accompany Him and His disciples when they leave.
In an act of supreme grace and unconditional love,Jesus denied his request.Why?Because Jesus knew the people of that region needed Him,and He planted that man there as a missionary to share what God had done for him.
What love.He didn't reject the people who rejected Him.He left someone there they might accept with the message of His power and love.
Even when we show a preference for pigs,Jesus still works on our behalf.
It makes me wonder,what pigs do I prefer over the confrontational power of God that upsets my status quo?
When Jesus tells me to repent to someone,do I prefer the pig of pride?
When Jesus tells me to give extravagantly,do I prefer the pig of greed?
When Jesus tells me to walk away from a sin so He can set me free from its grip,do I prefer the pig of addiction?
Do I clutch my tattered rags of impotent human effort about me and scowlingly cross my arms to the interfering invitation to abundant life,because I am afraid?
What,if anything,do I have to lose?
Today,I don't want to settle for even a good thing at the expense of a God thing.
What about you?Have you at times experienced a preference for pigs over the power of God?Leave a comment if you'd like to share your thoughts – I would love to hear them.
If you,like me,want to embrace the messy,unpredictable,confrontational power of God that will deliver us from our preference for pigs,would you pray with me?
"Dear Father,today we want more of You.Give us eyes to see where we are preferring our pet pigs of sin and brokenness,and give us the courage to evict them.Oh God,come sweeping into our lives in a torrent of grace and set us free from the things that keep us from fully embracing You.Free us to know You,to love You,and to serve You in an overflow of joy and gratitude.Nothing is worth holding on to that keeps us separated from You."
With faith,hope,and love,