Imagine a violent tormented sociopath transforming into a person in their right mind. Imagine pigs running and drowning in the sea. Some stories are just too strange. Certain stories ask us to wrestle with their message.
Jesus has just calmed a windstorm when he meets a stormy person, a demon- possessed, socially alienated, unchainable man wandering around a cemetery. Demon possession is puzzling enough, but then the demons announce their name is “Legion.” This twist pulls us to connect the story with Roman occupation. Legion represented 3,000 to 6,000 Roman soldiers.
While waiting for a traffic light at a busy intersection, this story takes on new life.
A man wanders among the tombs and trash on the sidewalk in front of McDonalds. He looks socially alienated. Has he been in and out of jail, shackled but not transformed? Has he been in and out of treatment programs, but no one can bind him and force him to get help? There are signs of self-mutilation and too much alcohol. The connection to Roman Legion echoes in his sign “Homeless Vet.”
We don’t know details about the tortured soul that Jesus met. Was he at some point part of the Roman military? Was he in charge of mass crucifixions intent on teaching the locals that Rome was in charge? Did he brutalize too many people and taste too many rapes? Did he see too much collateral damage?
As a society we try to ignore the tortured lives caused by military participation. We avoid talk of post-traumatic stress disorder, high suicide rates, increased incidents of domestic violence, drug abuse. We don’t want to hear about the deep price of soldiering. We’re shackled to the military mindset.
Jesus brings hope. He liberates the deranged possessed man. Strangely, liberation comes at the expense of a herd of swine. The demons are dispatched to the pigs. This great swineherd rushes into the sea. Is the story pulling us to remember Pharaoh’s army ending up drowning in the sea? Are we to see that out-of-control demons and the captivating power of military might are no match for Jesus?
Just when this crazy story starts to make some sense, the townspeople arrive. They beg Jesus to leave. They see the town lunatic, sitting clothed and in his right mind. Jesus has healed him. Why aren’t they celebrating?
We wrestle with being too hard on the townspeople. They have just lost a big herd of pigs. We understand the lure of economic well-being. We know the attraction of success. We know the pull of the status quo.
We want Jesus to leave before it costs us too much. Don’t stay; we might lose our pigs, our privilege and our big profit margin. Don’t stay; we might lose production contracts if the demons of the military-industrial complex are cast out. Don’t stay; we might have to notice the suffering created by military service. The liberator is not always welcome.
In Engaging the Powers, Walter Wink wrote, “The victory of faith over the powers lies not in immunity to their wrath but in emancipation from their delusions.” Sometimes delusions are hard to unshackle.
Bondage release can shake our comfortable way of life. Bondage release can shake our identity as good Americans. We have choices.
We can choose to look the other way, or we can wrestle with uncomfortable stories. We can choose to look the other way, or we can see the socially alienated wandering among the tombs and trash in front of McDonalds.
There was the man “clothed and in his right mind.” Oh, that we could be clothed and in our right minds.
Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.