It is a familiar story. The one where Jesus sets two men free from demonic possession, by sending the demons into a herd of swine and causing the swine to commit mass suicide. Ok that last detail may be exaggerating the storyline just a tad bit. But that’s the story in essence. Part of the reason why this incident is so well known is due to the miraculous nature of the event. A power encounter!
But there are two interesting aspects to this biblical narrative. The first is the conclusion to the miraculous deliverance: Jesus was asked to leave the region in which He had performed His miracle, by the townsfolk ; “what ingrates” you might be tempted to think! But wait, was there a legitimate reason for them to be upset? To deduce the reason why Jesus was rejected, we turn to an extremely significant (and often neglected) character in this story: swine. Yes, you read that correctly. Here’s the passage found in Matthew 8:28-34…
“When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. And they cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters. The herdsmen ran away, and went to the city and reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region.”
One of the keys to biblical interpretation is: take note of repeated phrases/ideas. Here, the herd of swine stands out prominently. In order to save two persons, Jesus destroyed an entire herd of swine. In case we wonder about the numbers, Mark 5:13 tells us they numbered approximately 2,000… a local economy devastated. And for what purpose? The saving of two men.
The herdsmen were understandably livid. Their livelihood was destroyed. And they brought this report back to the city. The gospel writer was brilliant in the subtlety in which he emphasises where the focus of the herdsmen was on, “The herdsmen ran away, and went to the city and reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs.” The second part of the phrase seems like a kind of appendix, a throw-away as it were in their report concerning the power encounter. They didn’t care about the two men who were saved. They only cared about their herd of swine.
You see, in the economy of Jesus, it was well worth devastating a region’s economy to save two people.
In my opinion, this passage is a brilliant rebuke of our day and age, perhaps in particular our overemphasis (even in church!) on health and wealth. You see, in the economy of Jesus, it was well worth devastating a region’s economy to save two people. How many of us would bear this trade-off? How many times have you attended a church service in which the pastor challenged you that being a Christian may mean losing your wealth (we are frequently taught the very opposite aren’t we)? Of course, we in the Western/Singaporean church seldom have to deal with this possibility. But the reality of it is, many of our brothers and sisters around the world (in the Middle East, in North Korea, in China etc.) are confronted with this stark choice: become a Christian and stand to lose everything including their lives.
Perhaps the Lord, through this passage, is challenging us believers living in prosperous Singapore with this question: what would you be willing to give up and sacrifice in order that people may hear the gospel and come to saving faith in Jesus Christ?