by Laurie Gudim
The story of the Gerasene demoniac appears in all three synoptic Gospels. And even in the Gospel of Mark, which is so often terse, it is given two long paragraphs.
Perhaps it’s the pigs. A vast herd of swine, afflicted with the demons extracted from one human soul, stampede into the lake and die – that’s pretty impressive. It proclaims the power that Jesus has over all the realms of existence. Even the demons recognize and obey him!
There is an aspect of this tale that is downright chilling, though. It is not in what happens between Jesus and Legion, the pigs or the healed demoniac. It is in what happens after all these exchanges have taken place, after the miracle has been performed. When everything has been accomplished and the sufferer, clothed and in his right mind, is sitting at Jesus’ feet, the people of the Gerasene towns and countryside arrive.
We can imagine how they would be both angry and afraid. All those pigs floating lifeless in the water represent the loss of valuable income, not only in the immediate future but for years and years to come. Sows who would have produced scores of piglets are dead. Prize boars with known lineages have also been irretrievably lost. If the pigs of several owners grazed together as sheep did on Jesus’ side of the lake, then this event is a huge tragedy that will affect the entire region. And think of the magnitude of the cleanup operation!
But still, these people witnessing the aftermath of Jesus’ astounding miracle make a huge mistake. Here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Here is a gateway to the kingdom of God, to an understanding so vital, so precious, that it is worth all the pigs in the world. But they pass it up. Instead they ask Jesus to leave.
They probably feel that they are doing him and his followers a favor. They are not holding them accountable for the loss of valuable animals. It is chilling how thoroughly they miss the point.
How often do I, in my limited understanding of what is important, throw away encounters with the one who can show me the kingdom of God? How do the core values of my society – free enterprise, capitalism, the right to use up obscene quantities of the world’s resources, the right to be happy when others suffer – make me unable to appreciate the gateway when he is standing right in front of me? When do I, in my magnanimous self-assurance, miss that God incarnate is right here with me? When do I ban from my presence the very Light of the World, thinking, in my chilling ignorance, that he is lucky to get away from me unscathed?
Laurie Gudim works is a religious iconographer and writer in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.She has recently published her novel, Loving the Six-Toed Jesus, available from Amazon.
Image: Healing of the Demoniac The Gerasene Demoniac. 6th century. Mosaic Church of Sant‘Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna.