I attended a conservative Christian middle school in the loop of the Bible Belt. My life and worldview have changed greatly since the days I was taught that the earth was created in six 24-hour days, or believed that Christian and Republican were synonymous, or thought the “Left Behind” books just might be prophetic. But a couple things haven’t changed: my belief in Christ, nourished by loving parents, caring teachers and kind friends (many of whom I am still connected to via Facebook). And the Bible. The same stories just keeping turning up, like precious, insistent pennies.
Recently, a friend taught the story of Jesus exorcising the man with many demons (check it out in Mark 5) at an international Bible study that I belong to. Jesus lands on a literally godforsaken side of the lake and meets a strong, naked, demon-possessed lunatic who lives among the tombs. When Jesus asks the demon’s name, the man replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (This is Ring-level creepy!) Jesus casts the demons into a herd of 2,000 pigs and they plunge off the cliff into the sea. Rather than being impressed by this miracle, the locals ask Jesus to leave, and he tells the man he healed to stay behind and spread his news.
I love this parable, partly because I remember doing a rap about it when I was in middle school. I had never heard rap (except of the Christian variety), but my two friends and I put on sunglasses, wore backwards baseball caps, and rapped our hearts out. The refrain, as I recall, was “I am Legion!”
I really, really wish I had a video.
This time, I started thinking about it from the other people’s point of view. It helped me understand why they asked Jesus to leave. Somebody owned those pigs, and they were worth a lot of money. And then – poof! A total loss!
“Who does this guy think he is, destroying all those pigs? If he can do that, what could he do to us? We thought the crazy guy was scary… this guy could destroy everything we hold dear!”
But somebody loved this man, loved him enough to try to take care of him – although he kept running off, although he behaved like a wild animal.
Just like I love my child, but more.
Jesus knew that this man’s life and sanity was worth far more than 2,000 pigs. Not that he doesn’t care about animals – He knows when a bird falls out of the nest (Matthew 10:29). Yet he allowed this to happen, because pigs and people are apples and oranges.
How much is a human life worth today?
Today this man might have a different label. “Schizophrenic.” “Multiple personalities.” “Subhuman.” The label may be different, but I think demons are still doing their dark work in our world today – on my mind is the recent Slenderman case.
Today, people might still see this man’s life as not worth more than 2,000 pigs or the equivalent. But Jesus calls us to care, to support those with mental illness, or demons, those who are feared and ostracized. He cares for everyone. For embryos, for fetuses, for teenage moms, for 50 year old moms, for drug addicts and work addicts, for murderers on death row, for all of us sinners with our baggage. He grieves at the injustice that rules in our world. He came to break down barriers of ethnicity, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status – everything that we use to dismiss or dehumanize others. He still works through us to break those down today.
How is he seeking to use you?