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On Your Mark

Pigs or People?

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 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. (Mark 5:14-17, NIV)

Pig herders were at the bottom of the totem pole socially and economically. The Gerasene herders not only had to tend the swine but also keep watch over the crazy demoniac man who lived nearby — perhaps on the next hill.

It’s a wonder the demoniac had not already stampeded the pig herd just by the wildness of his roaming and yelling.

After Jesus’ miraculous deliverance of the demoniac, these pig tenders run off into the town and countryside — to the surrounding small pockets of population. With a huge herd of 2,000 pigs to watch over, it’s a safe assumption that the livestock were a community mutual fund. Many had an interest in the well-being of their animal investment.

So the owners come looking for their pigs and see the man instead. Mark notes he was “dressed” — the assumption being that prior to his deliverance he was naked or disheveled.

And he is sitting! What joy he must have felt to have physical control of his own body. Before deliverance, he had been restless and tormented — unable to control his own actions. Just as Jesus had earlier brought peace to the wind and waves, He has given peace to a fractured soul.

The reaction of the people is twofold: first, fear; and then, rejection.

The fear of Jesus does not lead the crowd to reverence Christ or bow down in worship. They quavered in the face of Jesus’ power, but ignored the evidence of Jesus’ love in bringing the man to wholeness.

Surprisingly, they reject Jesus. They tell Him to get out of town. Why?

Suppose they had an election and could only vote for one: keep their pigs or restore the wild man to wellness. How do you suppose they would have voted?

Jesus knew. That’s why He let the pig herd be destroyed. He knew this community valued property more than people. The citizens of Gerasa focused on what they had lost, not on what they had gained. Their own wallets had been hit; therefore they could not rejoice that a person had been restored to humanity.

The Gerasenes were neither the first nor the last to make this kind of choice.

You see these same values at work later in the life of the Early Church. What happens when a demon-possessed fortune-telling slave girl is delivered at Philippi? Her owners seize Paul and Silas, have them flogged and throw them into prison (Acts 16). The same phenomenon is repeated on a larger scale when the gospel comes with such power at Ephesus that the major industry of the town, idol making, is practically put out of business — the idol industry workers riot (Acts 19).

Whenever we put our possessions above the well-being of people, then — like the Gerasenes, the slave owners of Philippi or the idol makers of Ephesus — we will be sending Jesus on His way.

A prayer of response
Lord Jesus, may my possessions belong to You so that if I lose them it's more Your loss than mine. Help me to live by Your values. May I keep a very loose grip on my wallet so that I might keep a tight grip on the hands of those I love and those whom You died to save.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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