Why does Jesus permit a legion of demons to leave a human being and possess pigs? Jesus and the disciples have crossed Galilee and on the other side, they find a man who is possessed by many demons so that he’s been given the nickname Legion.
The demons bring with them superhuman strength so that the man is able to break chains that are used to bind him up. However, that power is not used for good, instead, the man is in great turmoil and pain so that he self-harms cutting himself with whatever he can find. He has been driven to live among the tombs.
This is the devil’s work, whether through demonic oppression or through temptation, the tactics may be different but the strategy is the same. His aim is destruction and death. That’s why throughout the Gospel, we’ve seen the contrast between Jesus who brings healing and life and those choosing Satan’s side who plot destruction and death.
In our world today, we still see the outcome of Satan’s work, going on since the Fall. Some ways in which he brings destruction and death include:
- By encouraging greed leading to workaholism which in turn causes exhaustion.
- Through selfishness breaking up relationships and families
- Through addictions to drugs and alcohol which destroy mind and body.
- Through pride, gossip and slander that poison churches and communities.
Here in the Gerasene area, when Jesus meets a man fully under demonic power, those enemies of God immediately recognise him as the Holy one and plead with him. Jus as Jesus is able to command the storms to be silent, he is able to command the demons. Here’s another situation where Jesus brings peace in the storm.
But the demons plead not to experience immediate and complete banishment. Luke 8:31 expands on this by saying that they beg not to be sent to “the abyss” -another name for the place where evil spirits were imprisoned ready for judgement and destruction. So, instead Jesus permits them to possess a herd of pigs.
Why does Jesus allow this and why pigs? Well, I suspect the pigs here are symbolic of uncleanness. These animals were classified as ceremonially unclean. Uncleanness was a category that separated out people, objects and animals to show that the mess and dirt of life contaminates and divides us from others and God.
And that symbolism perhaps best explains why Jesus permits it. You see, here as the pigs hurtle headlong into the sea and to their death and destruction is an immediate and forceful image of the destructive power of sin, Satan and evil. Sin brings death. The danger couldn’t be made clearer. At the same time, the choice is made clear and stark for the people of the region. Will they chose life or death? Yet, they preferred the compromise, seen even in their keeping of unclean animals, involved in their commerce, they would rather benefit financially than see a man saved and healed.
What about you and me? In what ways might we be tempted to compromise with the world against Jesus? In what ways might we allow death and destruction to get a hold in our lives, families and communities? In what ways might we even find ourselves seeing the life giving power of Christ, through the Holy Spirit as disruptive and inconvenient?