Releasing a Man from Violence 3: The Story of Legion 5:1-18
There’s a lot of begging going on in this story. The man begs Jesus (5:10); the spirits beg Jesus (5:12); the people beg Jesus (5:17); the man begs Jesus again (5:18). Jesus, the Strong One, doesn’t beg, he commands, permits and sends (5:8, 13, 19).
I’m intrigued that the man (or the demon?) begged Jesus not to send him (or it) out of the region. I wonder why that was? And I marvel at how it contrasts with the wishes of the people of the region who wanted Jesus to leave the region.
It’s also worth noting how in chapter 2 of Mark, Jesus casts out a demon in the place of religious power, thereby symbolically announcing his power over religious oppression. And here, symbolised in the pigs which are unclean animals in Jewish tradition, Jesus undoes the secular oppressing powers.
The pigs are a complex element of this story. Obviously Jews have nothing to do with pork and so it was unlikely that the keepers of the pigs were Jewish. More likely perhaps they were Gentiles, perhaps even a couple of retired Roman soldiers.
It’s worth noting that the symbol of the feared 10th Legion, prominent in Palestine at the time, was a boar, so this may have been a deliberate provocation of the Romans.
And surely the writer intended so Old Testament allusion here. After all, any good bible reader will undoubtedly be recalling the last time an army charged down recklessly into a watery death. This was how the Egyptians were dealt with in another important story of release. And now Lake Galilee’s shore teems with dead pigs in the same way the Red Sea once did with Egyptian soldiers.
How subversive a tale is this then to the Jewish mind? The people labouring under Roman oppression could find a story in their tradition of a miraculous deliverance and here it is being recapitulated by this itinerant Jewish teacher that some proclaim as the Messiah. Bringing hope to the Jews, but at the same time offending the oppressor.
There is another troubling element and that is that Jesus, apparently arbitrarily destroys the livelihood of those who were tending the pigs. Is this the necessary backdraft of the winds of change? Is this punishment on an animal that God detests? How do the keepers get new capital to resupply the herd? Or how to they pass the news to their employers? And how do they cope economically with the loss of employment?