As I’ve continued exploring the various stories about Jesus’ ministry through the eyes of others, I’m realizing that some stories are difficult to categorize. Take, for example, the story of Jesus healing the Gerasene demoniac.
In this story, Jesus travels beyond Galilee, to the “other side of the sea,” or what is today called the Golan Heights. He’s entering Gentile (foreign) territory. Jesus arrives and immediately encounters a man possessed by an “unclean spirit” which is strong enough to break any shackles used to restrain him and causes him both physical and emotional pain (“Night and day, among the tombs and on the mountains, he was always howling and bruising himself with stones”). Clearly this is a man in need of healing.
Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man. The man responds by recognizing Jesus as “Son of the Most High God” and begging that he not torment him. Jesus then enters into a dialogue with the unclean spirit, asking its name. The spirit responds that it is Legion, because there are actually many spirits. That Legion gets smart, or creative, and entreats Jesus to allow them to enter a nearby herd of swine, rather than being banished altogether.
This is important because pigs were considered unclean animals and would not have been raised, tended, or eaten by Jews. Perhaps Legion thought that Jesus would grant this request because, as a Jew, he would not consider the swine important animals. Interestingly, Jesus gives Legion permission to do this—and the next thing we know, the entire herd is acting like lemmings, rushing off a cliff, perhaps the one pictured here, into the sea to drown.
I wonder if this drowning was Jesus’ way of outsmarting Legion. They thought they could continue to live in the swine, but Jesus encouraged or allowed the swine to commit suicide rather than let these evil spirits to make their lives miserable. Or perhaps the swine were willing collaborators, taking on these spirits because Jesus asked them to. We don’t know. We do know the human perspective, however: The man is restored to his right mind and the surprised locals find him sitting and talking with Jesus.
This is a complex story with many witnesses. If I were to explore the story from the perspective of the man who was possessed by the Legion, it would be a story of healing. If I were to explore the story from the perspective of a disciple, it would probably be a (backhanded?) miracle—who else would be capable of driving a legion of spirits out of one person and into an entire herd of swine?
On the other hand, for the Gentile swineherds, this is a disaster. I’ve reflected on that perspective in a poem in my Lakeside Lessons ebook:
Acts of God
Just how am I to
Explain this to
Owner (former) of
Freshly drowned pigs?
I don’t think he’ll understand if
I invoke an “act of God” clause like
Even though we both now know
That’s what you’ve done.
You’re God here now.
Our world’s turned upside down.
No wonder this mob wants you to
My job has disappeared.
What sacred cow is next?
Which perspective would you like me to explore? What other stories from Jesus’ ministry could be explored from multiple perspectives?
What experiences in your own life could benefit from reflection from multiple perspectives?