There is an odd story captured three times in the bible where Jesus heals a demon possessed man (Mark 5:1-21, Luke 8:26-40). In Matthew 8:28-34 it records two demon possessed men. Jesus delivers the man (or men) by sending their many demons into a heard of pigs who then jump off a cliff. The end result is not a happy town, but one where they begged Jesus to leave.
This story is about deliverance from demons, but what does that mean? Beyond the demons, why did the town want Jesus to leave? Why wouldn’t Jesus let the delivered man go with him?
This town was being oppressed by demon possessed men. People couldn’t live freely along side of them. So, what is a demon and what was actually happening to this town?
In horror movies, demons are dark minions who serve a darker power of Satan and live in another dimension of reality (usually Hell) and occasionally inhabit people and do damage to all that is around them. They are manifestations of evil, hatred, pain and deception. This bible story seems to corroborate Hollywood’s perspective.
When the legion of demons sees Jesus, their negotiation with him illuminates that “something more” (another dimension) is beyond our natural frame of “seeing.” Demons are aware that there is a “time” (Matthew 8:29) when their power is lost, and they are aware that Jesus is the one to end it. Jesus, apparently aware that it’s not time to judge them, complies with their request to be sent into the herd of nearby pigs. Like all miracle stories, Jesus accesses another dimension, to remove suffering in this one. We would do well to learn from this.
If you’re a pig farmer, then your pigs are your livelihood. If Jesus sends demons into your pigs and they go jump off a cliff, then Jesus just destroyed your business. When the pig farmer ran into town, he wasn’t likely celebrating the deliverance of the man (men). He was telling the town that something worse than the oppressing demons was at hand. The loss of liberty by oppression is often preferred to loss of business.
Jesus will jeopardize the status quo. This city isn’t ready for real healing, it fears change more than the demons it harbors, and that’s precisely why the town harbors demons. The dark forces behind our oppressions and prisons will not take residence in the life that faithfully welcomes transformation. A life that is stifled by fear and resists change fails to recognize that it’s already under the influence of this other dimension.
The heart of this story is found between the lines. This story is found among other stories that reveal how life will require a faith or trust that doesn’t work as we would expect. Following Jesus isn’t a formula, a doctrine, or a rigid system. It’s tapping into a perspective (another dimension) that is paradoxical to our primary assumptions. Faith doesn’t ignore the facts, it simply trusts that there is something more beyond them.
And then there are the pigs.
There is so much suffering in the world. We all face some sort of internal or external oppression. Our “demons” are the squatters who move in to that dimension of our life that we would prefer to avoid. We prefer to think we’re in control. We consume what we know we shouldn’t. We keep repeating that thing we promised to change. We overeat, overspend, over drink, and overdo because moderation doesn’t satisfy that dimension of us that we are powerless to face. We get nowhere not despite our efforts, but because of them. If we long for a life that is liberated from such things, but the work to change it seems too hard, if the hole seems too deep, then we have chosen our oppression.
Like this town, we too often prefer the demons to Jesus. We won’t leave it with the pigs.
Personal liberation isn’t easy. It’s costly. We could lose all of our pigs into the sea, we might lose our businesses, our livelihoods, our communities, our reputations. If we have built our identity around such things, if we think that our job title, our zip code, our social status is who we are, then liberation will cost us our entire life. For some, its too much of a price to pay. An authentic life cannot live in the town of denial.
What about the delivered man (men)?
Jesus pulled from a dimension that allowed him to see the trapped man beyond the demons. His compassion for this man took president over a local business and the distorted ideals of the town. No wonder the delivered man wanted to follow Jesus and leave it all behind. Instead, Jesus sends him back to the town on a mission to remind them about this other dimension. His presence in the town is a daily reminder that there is “something more” to those who fear facing reality. This town can never ignore this other dimension again so long as he lives among them. The healed man replaces the demons as an alternative form of oppression. Jesus leaves him there as a scourge of love. That is true mission.
Freedom doesn’t always look like we think it should, it eludes our fake ID’s. This other dimension will intersect with us one way or the other. Before us all, within this very moment, we can avoid Ultimate Reality and take on a squatter, or we can forsake all that we think is real, trusting we’ll find the truth.
When we finally get to the place where we desire authenticity so much that we forsake everything else, then we can be sure that our demons have gone and we have entered the kingdom of God.