Another Look by David Faust
My family raised pigs on the farm where I grew up. Yes, hogs stink. But farming isn’t for sissies, and business is business. Whenever someone complained about the odor emanating from the hog barn, Dad would simply chuckle and mutter, “They smell like money to me.”
So there’s a part of me that sympathizes with the hog owners mentioned in Mark chapter 5. No self-respecting Israelite would raise hogs, which Jewish law pronounced unclean. Either these farmers were Gentiles or they were renegades who compromised God’s laws to make a profit. Within smelling distance of the herd of unclean animals lived a miserable man possessed by a multitude of “unclean spirits.” His name was Legion, for a legion of Satan’s demonic soldiers tortured his body and tormented his mind.
This ghoulish fellow was uncontrollable and unapproachable, and he appeared unredeemable. He lived alone in a graveyard where he found shelter from the weather among the rock-cut tombs. Night and day he terrified others with anguished cries and mutilated his own body by cutting himself with stones. Some brave souls tried to intervene and restrain his brute strength. Treating him like an animal, they attempted to bind his hands and feet, but he ripped apart the chains and broke away the irons from his feet.
“No one was strong enough to subdue him,” says Mark 5:4—that is, until Jesus came along. The power of Legion was no match for the power of the Lord. Without a lot of fanfare, Jesus calmly cast out the demons and brought health and freedom to an individual others considered beyond all hope.
That’s where the pigs come in. Or actually where the pigs go down. Leaving Legion, the evil spirits went into the pigs. “The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned” (v. 13). You’ve heard about swine flu? This time swine flew. Can you imagine a couple of unsuspecting fishermen minding their own business in a boat when suddenly 2,000 crazed hogs stampede down a cliff and splash into the lake? All hams on deck! But the situation wasn’t funny to the farmers who owned the pigs. They had lost a small fortune. In today’s dollars, by conservatively valuing each hog at $100 per animal, this incident cost the pig farmers $200,000.
Word spread quickly. The pig herders ran off and reported what had happened, and a curious crowd of townspeople gathered to investigate. “When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region” (vv. 15-17).
This story raises some hard questions. Do we really believe in God’s power to save lost souls—even those who appear utterly hopeless? How much is it worth to see even one man or woman restored to spiritual, physical, and emotional health? Is it worth $200,000? If you and I had been there watching our hard-earned investments floating dead in the water, would we have wanted Jesus to stick around, or would we have begged him to leave?
God puts more value on a human soul—even a deeply troubled one—than we can imagine. That’s why there’s more to life than merely making a living and pigging out in the pursuit of personal pleasure.
Jesus told the man formerly known as Legion, “Go home to your family.” (What sweet words to a man who had lived alone in a cemetery: “home,” “family.”) Jesus continued, “And tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Transformed from a maniac into a missionary, the man obeyed, and “all the people were amazed” (vv. 19, 20).
Because a changed life is even more amazing than 2,000 pigs trying to do the backstroke.