Don’t reject God over ‘a herd of pigs’

The church was intended to reflect the beauty of God’s character. Somebody once said, “The most important difference between churches is not their doctrinal statements, liturgies, structures or architecture, it is the way they treat people”.

In the past, religious leaders expected Jesus to be an advocate of the status quo and his orthodoxy was measured by his willingness to conform to the established religion.

Any application of scriptures that did not conform to the already established policies and procedures was considered heresy. Christ negated their most sacred interpretations.

He was accused of defiling the Sabbath by healing on it. He was accused of being a friend of sinners simply because he actually was their friend. He treated tax collectors as if they could access the mercy of God. Surely, if Jesus were present today, he would be challenging Christianity today much as he challenged the Judaism of his time.

In the book of Mark chapter five, Jesus displayed his power over evil spirits by casting out a horde or legion of demons (a legion was a major unit of the Roman Army comprising 4000 to 6000 men) from a possessed man in a place called Gadara, a city located south east of the sea of Galilee.

Traditional Christian exegesis treats the man as representing all of humanity. He is plagued by demons (temptations and sins) that cause him great pain and suffering. When the community tries to bind him with chains (rules, commandments, laws) in order to protect him, the strength of his demons (sins) allows him to escape so that he can continue doing greater harm both to himself and to other people. Eventually he is forced to wander among the dead, alone with his guilt and sins.

The demons strip him of his human dignity, undress him and continue to torment him. This changes when Jesus appears. Instead of trying to restrain him with laws and commandments, Jesus frees him of his sins through the power of his love and the man’s faith.

Three very important guidelines on the church’s ministry with the mentally ill people are within this story. Jesus encountered the “demoniac” among the tombs, exhibiting florid positive symptoms of psychosis (screaming, raging, harming himself).

Firstly, Jesus intentionally sought the demon possessed man. He did not fear the man’s “uncleanness” nor the stigma attached to his condition.

The church must embrace the stigmatized and those declared unclean by society. Secondly, Jesus loved and healed them man. Psychiatrists can administer and monitor medications, but that is only one part of the therapy needed.

Equally important, is a loving, supportive community ‘ a support system of real friends, brothers and sisters. Lastly, Jesus returned the man to full membership in the community, which should be the goal of our ministry to any disabled or outcast group of people.

We should always find our direction from the compass of the purposes of God.

The conflict of Jesus with the crowd

The deliverance of this possessed man cost the community two thousand pigs.

The pigs could not stand demon possession and committed suicide. Now those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country, and the people came out to see what it was that had happened.

They came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. The people were so glad that this man was healed that they applauded Jesus. Wrong. Losing 2000 pigs does not settle well the people. They do not applaud Jesus for healing the man of this terrible plight. Instead they ask Him to leave. They responded in fear and rejection.

Would a group of people reject God over a bunch of pigs? These did. Their value system was messed up.

They were more concerned with their money than with the man. Jesus knew what would happen to the pigs, but let it happen to expose their materialism and faulty value system.

We should not allow earthly possessions cloud our responses to the Saviour. Christians must embrace the habits of the master and learn to place more value on people than possessions. Never uncouple compassion and responsibility.

The business of winning souls for Jesus is really and truly a costly one.

Let me conclude by repeating the words of Debra Rienstra in So much More: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality. “‘the poverty of our goodness is truly appalling.

We spend our intellect and energies shoring up own financial security and give only a pittance away to those who do not have enough food to keep their children alive. We say we care about corporate justice, but continue to buy cheap goods even though we have no idea who might have been grossly underpaid to make or grow them.

We use each other socially by maneuvering to sit with the successful people at a conference, asking after their family when honestly we only care about selling the deal.

We use another person sexually in the name of self-expression and a shallow-temporary intimacy.

We avoid even our own friends and family when they need us because helping them might interrupt our all-important work schedule”.

Let us consider the importance of having the right priorities and proper value system, first to us as Christians and then to the community at large.

Jesus died to gather into one family all the inhabitants of the world. May our lives be bread for the hungry and streams in the wilderness. We should learn to recharge, rather than drain the batteries of others. Let us not hoard as private treasure what the Lord so freely gave us.


October 2006
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