In the Bible there is this passage, Mark 5:1-20 to be exact. It tells of an encounter between Jesus and a man possessed by demons. I mean this man was scary-possessed. It’s the whole “We are Legion” story. I mean you can’t even read the words ‘we are legion’ and it not be in a creepy voice. They’ve used that line in movies. It’s that kind of scary.
People were afraid of this man. So scared that he lived in the graveyard. (This isn’t helping the creepy factor, am I right?) But Jesus meets this man and his demon legion and he casts the demons out of him and into a bunch of pigs. The pigs then run off a cliff and die.
It’s cool to be a little sad for the pigs, (I mean Wilbur didn’t necessarily deserve that) but be careful not to be so sympathetic toward the pigs that you miss out on the man being set free, healed, ready to rejoin his community. Don't miss Jesus.
I mean the point of the story was that Jesus, in His power and LOVE, set a man free. Jesus gave a man his life back. Jesus loved a man so much that he was willing to lose some pigs over it.
We aren’t always so generous.
"Those who had seen it told the others what had happened to the demon-possessed man and the pigs. At first they were in awe—and then they were upset, upset over the drowned pigs. They demanded that Jesus leave and not come back." Mark 5:16-17 MSG
Doesn’t that verse make you a little mad? (or sad, or smad?) They were upset over the pigs. I get the pigs meant money and food and those things are important but they aren’t (or shouldn’t be) more important than people.
We read that story and we want to tell those people a thing or two about Jesus and freedom and salvation and how they missed it. But…we are those people. We get mad about the pigs far too often in our own lives and we don’t even realize it.
How do we not see it? Well, I think it starts when we put people in neat little boxes that make it easy for us to deal with them and make it more comfortable for ourselves. We put people in political boxes, race/ethnic boxes, gender boxes, socio-economic boxes, religion boxes, wealth boxes, past mistake boxes….you get what I’m saying? We categorize people by one or two things that help us identify them, the problem is people are way more complex than the boxes we limit them to.
When we put people in boxes, boxes that limit them to what they used to do or how they voted or the country they come from, we begin to dehumanize them. Slowly they stop being a person and just become a them.
The demon-possessed man was just a them. He wasn’t a son or brother. He wasn’t someone who was hurting or in need. He wasn’t human anymore, he wasn’t worthy. The pigs were more important.
Now we would never say someone isn’t worthy of God’s love, or that we don’t want them to meet Jesus, or that the pigs are more important but its how we act and, more importantly, react. (We do it a lot, y'all.)
We see a post on facebook or a story on the news or hear the latest gossip and we immediately see the box and don’t see the person. We react, get upset, fired up, defensive and its all about the pigs. We have our buts, and what-ifs, and if they only's, and i’m right so’s, and those excuses and justifications are all just pigs. We begin to make the pigs more important than the people.
Let’s stop being mad about the pigs.
I’m not saying you can’t talk politics, or have opinions or preferences. I am saying be cautious, be kind, be thoughtful, be slow to speak and quick to listen. I am saying don’t make those things more important than people. (And sure those things may be important so don't argue with me on that. Again, the pigs were important but not so important that Jesus wasn't willing to sacrifice them for one man.)
God loves people. If God loses sleep about anything it’s people, not politics, not opinions.
It’s hard. I know. To put people first we have to choose to see people and not the boxes. We have to choose to engage people with open minds, hands and hearts. We have to listen. We have to forgive. We have to have compassion and empathy. (Let's make America empathetic again. The whole world too but you gotta admit this would make a great t-shirt.) Even when we don’t agree with someone we still have to see them as a someone who is valuable to Jesus, more valuable than whatever pig we are worried about losing. People, after all, are the most valuable thing to God. (I know I said that already but in case you missed it.)
Getting rid of the boxes and seeing people is scary. I mean we get mad about the pigs because focusing on the pigs keeps us comfortable. Removing the boxes around other people means we have to take a risk. It means we have to let people actually see us instead of our box too. It means we have to be vulnerable. It means we have to do a little work. (What’s the work? The work is love. The work is kindness and empathy.)
Jesus did the work. Jesus saw a man when everyone else just saw his demons. Jesus wasn't afraid of him but loved him. Jesus, showing that love, doing the work no one else wanted to do, gave that man a future, a purpose. If Jesus did the work and we are His followers, we have to do the work too.
"Jesus never said doing these things would be easy. He just said it would work.” -Bob Goff, Everybody Always
The work is worth it. The work is necessary because it is the work that helps people and communities move forward. It’s the work that brings true freedom, freedom that no one can ever take away, freedom that gets us all out of the graveyard. The work will work!
I say it again…please stop being mad about the pigs. See the person, the one that Jesus sees, and make them more important. Don't miss Jesus and Him using you.
PS: No real pigs were harmed in the writing of this blog. I am completely for the fair and ethical treatment of pigs. But this wasn't about real pigs so much as metaphorical ones. The metaphorical ones have got to go.