JESUS, DEMONS, THE SWINE, AND THE SEA (Cf. Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-37, Luke 8:27-38)

Question:

“In Matthew 8 verse 31. Jesus cast the demons into swine/pigs. I don’t just understand this. I have tried to but still a bit confused. (1) Why did Jesus consider the request of the Demons? (2) Why the willingness to waste the hard-earned resources of people (herds of pigs) to deliver the men in which ordinarily he could have delivered without destroying the animals. In addition, was the swine cursed as a result of the action of Jesus?”

Response

A superficial and literal look into this event recorded by the synoptic gospel writers is enough to raise questions similar to that above. One may be tempted to ask: why did Jesus obey the evil spirit by sending them into the pigs? Why did Jesus cause the death of a large number of pigs that were someone else’s property? Is he an enemy of progress? Why did Jesus bring an end to the business of the local people? Couldn’t Jesus send the evil spirits to the abyss where they belong? Does it mean that Christ showed compassion towards the evil spirits? The questions are endless…

Addressing this question, let us begin by paying close attention to the name of the city. In Matthew 8:28, we read: “When he reached the territory of the “Gadarenes” on the other side, two demoniacs came towards him…” In Mark 5:1-2, we read: “They came to the other side of the sea, to the territory of the “Gerasenes.” When he got out of the boat, at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him.” The difference in the name of the city isn’t the intention here; however, if we must know, Gerasa and Gadara (the names of the cities) were pagan cities located towards the east of the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan (if we pay close attention to the biblical Map). These cities were colonized or conquered by the Greeks, better still, Hellenized Gentile cities of the Decapolis region, where various atrocities were practised.

Having established this, we must recall that Leviticus 11:1-23, and Deuteronomy 14:3-21 already labelled pork meat as “unclean” among other animals. These would become clean (in fact all creation became clean) by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Little wonder Scripture explains, thus, in Acts 10:9-16 (Peter’s vision – “what God has cleansed, you must not call unclean”) and 1Timothy 4:4 (for every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received in thanksgiving…)

Back to Jesus and the unclean spirits. As at that time (prior to his death), pigs were still unclean, and the reason the legion of unclean spirits begging Christ to send them to the unclean animals (pigs) in that unclean city would make perfect sense to us. However, this was Christ’s way of purifying that pagan city. Simply put, Christ cheated the demons. How are we to understand this?  We are to understand this in the sense of the destruction of the unclean animals and the unclean spirits into the sea which Jesus already demonstrated his authority over. This continues to makes a lot of sense if we notice that both in Matthew and Mark, just before the episode of the demoniacs and the swine, Jesus had already demonstrated His authority over the sea by calming its waves such that his people were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’

Therefore, by healing the possessed men, Christ began his work of purification in that city, and by sending the demons into the swine of pigs such that they were all hurled into the sea, Christ completely freed that city from the bondage of satan, bringing about ‘salvation’. However, the city dwellers did not understand, neither were they happy because their pigs were sacrificed for their good (they preferred material goods to salvation and freedom from satan); consequently, they asked Jesus to leave their town; and being the gentleman He has always been, He left. As he was leaving, He told the freedman “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you. Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him, and all were amazed.” (Mark 5:19-20)

To round up our lesson, I want us to apply this story allegorically as a prototype of Jesus’ followers (Christians), being freed from the shackles of sin and death, by the death and resurrection of Jesus, He commissioned them (us) to go out and win souls for the Kingdom…

Shalom!

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Chinaka Justin Mbaeri

A staunch Roman Catholic and an Apologist of the Christian faith.

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