They came to the Gerasene region, and immediately a man with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs, and no one could restrain him anymore, for he broke the shackles in pieces. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. – Mark 5:1-5 (NRSV abridged)
I once preached a sermon on this story that was all about the pigs. (Read past verse 5, you’ll find them.) The demons make a deal with Jesus: they’ll leave the man if they can enter the pigs. Apparently, even demons have to be someplace.
They should’ve thought it through a little better. Jesus should’ve seen it coming, too. The crazed pigs charge into the sea and drown. And I preached an earnest sermon about the questionable ethics of killing innocent animals and the unfairness of saddling the herdsman with debt for their loss. Clever, creative, justice aware.
Afterwards, a parishioner had a question, “I cried when it said the man was hitting himself with stones. You didn’t talk about him. What about him?”
Well, I thought to myself, we’ve done him already, a million times: man afflicted with demons, Jesus casts them out. Ho-hum, another healing story.
“I was going for a justice angle,” I replied.
“But it was awful, what he went through,” he said.
Thankfully, some people still hear the gospel.
It’s not all about the pigs. It’s about a person’s desperate suffering and the compassion that relieves it. You can’t hear that story enough, can’t feel it enough, can’t weep over it enough. For in preaching and in life, if you can casually sidestep a howling man on your high-minded march to justice, you’re the one who needs the healing.
Tell me the same old story, Jesus. About human suffering and your compassion. I can never hear it enough.