Why doesn’t the Bible like pigs? They are entertaining! Does God not like Porky Pig? How could anyone hate on Wilbur from Charlotte's Web? Miss Piggy is awesome! They taste good! Has nobody in the Bible experienced the wonders of bacon? Pigs in a blanket are soooooo yummy!
What's the deal? Why no love for the oink oink in the Bible?
The first dietary laws were handed down in everyone's not-favorite starchy book of the Bible Leviticus. Specifically chapter 11. There's other animals that the Israelites are not allowed to eat besides pigs (camels, rabbits, birds that ate flesh, not grain, reptiles and insects, so put that locust down!). There's a bunch of different theories as to why (hygienic reasons because even in the Bible, people could see what those pigs were rooting around in, additionally, pigs were used in pagan rituals), but probably the sanest theory is that God set down these rules to distinguish his people (the Israelites) as distinct and different than other people.
And pigs figure prominently in today’s weird story.
WHO ARE THE PLAYERS IN THIS WEIRD TALE?
Jesus, his disciples, a demon-possessed man, and a herd of pigs who unfortunately don't know what's coming.
WHERE IS THIS IN THE BIBLE?
Mark 5: 1-20 (it's also mentioned in Matthew 8:28-34 and Luke 8:26-37, though Matthew says there's two demon-possessed men, not one. But in all accounts, there's demons, there's pigs, and there's a cliff. This doesn't end well for the pigs in any book.)
WHAT'S THE BACKSTORY?
Right before this happened, in Mark 4, Jesus taught a large crowd a bunch of parables about farmers sowing seed, lampstands, growing seeds, mustard seeds, and later that night, Jesus calmed a storm that was threatening to swamp the boat that he and his disciples were in as they were trying to cross a lake.
AND NOW OUR STORY BEGINS!
Jesus and the disciples make it to the shore of Gerasenes after Jesus calms the storm. When they get out of the boat, they’re greeted by the Gerasenes welcoming committee, NO, it’s a demon-possessed man who lives in the cemetery, which apparently is the only place he could exist without hurting other people. Now he lives among the tombs, hurting himself, and busting any chains or irons that they try to bind him with, and basically existing as his own 24/7 Halloween Horror Show.
He sees Jesus coming, and runs down to say hi, NO, he doesn’t, he runs down and the demons possessing him engage Jesus in a conversation that quickly turns into a bargaining session.
Interesting facts to note here:
- There’s more than one demon in this guy. There’s Legion, meaning “many,” not the awful Paul Bettany movie from 2009, one of the few movies I’ve seen that I don’t remember one thing about after I saw it, that’s how forgettable it was.
- The Legion of demons (Let’s just call them the Legion of Doom, mmmkay?) call Jesus The Son Of The Most High God. It’s actually the first time that Jesus is called the Son Of God publicly (as opposed to when Satan tempts Jesus in the desert, and it’s just those two by themselves). Irony, right? Jesus’ enemy acknowledges who he is, and the people Jesus is walking among don’t get it.
- This is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus has a conversation with demons. There are other places where Jesus talks to demons and says, “Come out of (that person).” But this is only place where there’s verbal give and take.
So Jesus is about to cast out the Legion of Doom Demons, but they don’t wanna go “out of the country” (in Matthew’s retelling, the demons don’t want to go into “the abyss”), and they beg Jesus to send them into a nearby herd of grazing pigs.
WHY DO THE DEMONS BEG TO BE PUT IN THE PIGS?
Well, they know they're getting kicked out of the demon-possessed guy. They know they can't stop Jesus from casting them out. Jesus is the Son of God, and has power over them. And they're not gonna get anywhere with Jesus if they ask to be cast into, say, the disciples, that's a no-go.
With no clue from the Bible in any of the retellings to guide us, my personal theory is that the demons thought they could outsmart Jesus. That the Legion Of Doom demons were planning on starting a Pig Uprising, that as soon as they got control of the pigs, they’d turn around and charge Jesus, the disciples, and it’d be Death By Bacon all over the place.
But the joke’s on the demons (either because demons and/or pigs are… well… not smart), as once Jesus casts the Legion Of Doom Demons out of the guy(s), they enter the pigs, who immediately go crazy because there’s demons in them, and all the pigs charge down the cliff and drowned themselves in the lake.
Now the pigkeepers, who are suddenly don’t have a herd of pigs, and have just incurred a staggering loss of income, run back to town to tell everyone what just happened to Halloween Horror Show and all their pigs. Everyone in town comes out to see that Halloween Horror Show is in fact, now a perfectly normal not-demon-possessed man, and there’s a bunch of pig carcasses bobbing in the lake.
The townspeople then beg Jesus to leave, as they’re scared of a man who can cast out demons, send them into pigs, and ruin a large source of income for their citizens (though Jesus didn’t tell the pigs to kill themselves, they did that on their own.)
And thus appears the REAL reason for the story’s inclusion in the Bible, the theme that usually any pastor who draws the short straw and has to preach on this story will tell you – pay no attention to demons bargaining with Jesus (though that’s what I found most interesting), pay no attention to the fact that a whole town has lost their bacon supply, what you’re SUPPOSED to be paying attention to is the fact that when confronted with Jesus and the power he has, you have your choice of reactions:
- Damn you, Jesus, get out of my town, you ruined these pigkeepers’ lifestyle, and now they’re broke – you’re worried about financial concerns, money, etc.
- Damn you, Jesus, you scare the hell out of me, and I’m worried you’ll do something awful to me – you’re worried about yourself.
- Damn you, Jesus, those pigs didn’t do anything to you! – you’re worried about moral issues.
- Wow, Jesus, you saved that poor Halloween Horror Show from a life of being tormented by demons. That’s pretty awesome and amazing. Who are you, that you can do that? The Son Of God? Do I believe that?
Ultimately, Jesus, and who he is and what he can do/what he did, requires a response from us all individually.
Jesus, incidentally, loved bacon. Because he says in Mark 7:14 - 19 that nothing outside a man (bacon-wrapped shrimp) can make him "unclean" by going into him (chowing down on said bacon-wrapped shrimp). " Ratherm it is what comes out of a man that makes him "unclean." (V15) and although the fifth grader in us all might directly go for the gutter jokes on that, what Jesus really is talking about is to pay less attention about kosher and non-kosher foods, and more about your character, your conduct, and are you loving God with all your heart, and are you loving your neighbor as yourself?
And actually, Jesus said that AFTER the demons drove the pigs off the cliff. So maybe Jesus felt slightly guilty? Maybe? Or he just REALLY wanted applewood-smoked bacon. That stuff is the bomb.