by Nik Nilsson
Chapter 5 in the book of Mark deals with demon possession as it relates to swine. I like swine. They’re where bacon comes from. This chapter therefore holds some fascination for me, though things do take a disturbing turn almost at its outset. Here’s what happens.
Having spent the day teaching the multitudes and telling storms to be quiet, Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee and disembarks on its eastern shore. As he gets out of the boat he finds himself not only on the outskirts of a necropolis, surrounded by tombs, but he is accosted by a demon-possessed fellow who introduces himself as “Legion,” and goes on to explain that he calls himself this because, and I quote, “we are many.”
I don’t know what the man’s voice sounded like, but I don’t care. He could have sounded like Pee Wee Herman and I’d still be back in the boat, paddling away so quickly you could water-ski behind me.
Of course, Jesus has nothing to fear because he knows the demons in question are afraid of him, all bazillion of them. So frightened are they that, just to get away, they beg him to send them into a nearby herd of two thousand pigs, which promptly screams the Aramaic equivalent of “Banzai” and leaps from a nearby cliff and into the sea.
When I first read that passage, I had to shake my head. I think I even paused in a moment of silent torment. I mean, what a tragic waste of bacon! Such thoughts probably make me a bad man, but seriously… that’s a lot of bacon.
After I tore myself away from the culinary aspect of the tragedy, I began to wonder who owned all those pigs. A Gentile, if the livestock itself is any indicator, as Jews do not partake of the swine. It was probably an ordinary, hard working Gentile with a couple of wives and a few dozen children to feed. His name would be something nondescript like… oh, I dunno, let’s call him Morty. Morty the Swineherd.
Jesus was lucky there was no People’s Court in those days. I can see the judge now…
“Mister Christ, while I sympathize with your actions, I represent the law. Under the law, I must consider Mister… uh, Swineherd’s loss, which totals… let me see here, carry the one, square root of seven, plus the denominator times pi… unbelievable… two thousand swine. That’s a lot of swine. Mister Swineherd, you say that nothing was offered in recompense? Because I don’t mind saying that this is a wanton disregard for bacon we have here.”
Our judge, being quite strict, would bristle at this casual address. “Your honour,” she would say over the top of her spectacles.
“Sorry… I uh, I meant to say, ‘No, your honour,’ your honour.”
The laser of our judge’s gaze would then swing to the defendant, one Jesus Christ, former tradesman. Current occupation: the Messiah. “Is this true, Mister Christ?”
Of course, Jesus would meet that gaze directly. “I tell you the truth, your honour, I offered Morty the only recompense that matters in this life. I offered him salvation. I would also submit that this salvation was of the eternal variety.”
“So he did offer you something, Mister Swineherd.”
“Uh… I thought he… uh, that is to say… I thought he said ‘salivation.’ Yeah, salivation! I… uh, I’m sure you will agree that even for a humble swineherd such as myself, that’s not a very appealing recompense. Besides, I’m a Gentile. What’s Jewish salvation got to do with a guy like me?”
Jesus would pipe up at this point, but not until Morty the Swineherd had finished his statement. Jesus is nothing if not noble. “Your honour,” he would say, “eternal salvation is more valuable than all the world’s treasures, and I’m free to give it to anyone who will but take it. Had Morty just stretched out his hand, he would have had something more valuable than two million swine.”
“All right!” the judge would exclaim, dropping her spectacles to the bench. “Stick a fork in me, I’m done!”
I think maybe Morty, plaintiff and swineherd, would have had a very strong case. Our worldly law doesn’t place much value in something like salvation. It doesn’t today, and it didn’t then. These people saw a man, one of their own, cured of demon possession right in front of them, but still they wanted nothing to do with Jesus. He was the Messiah, and I have no reason to doubt that they were aware of this fact, but he nonetheless represented a threat to their livelihood. The immediate financial problem was of much greater importance to them than eternity as represented by the Son of Man, the Messiah who stood before them.
I guess looking out for Number One isn’t such a modern phenomenon after all.
To put it another way: had Jesus gathered the swineherds together beforehand and put the proposition before them, would this community of farmers have traded two thousand pigs for the soul of one lunatic?
For more information visit Nik Nilsson’s website at www.smallisthegate.com