Psalm 22:19-28, Isaiah 65: 1-9, Galatians 3: 23-end, Luke 8: 26-39
There are very few references to swine in the Bible. In Leviticus it warns that they are unclean and it is forbidden for Jewish people to eat pork. There are very definite practical as well as religious reasons for this. Pork goes off very quickly and one can get very ill from eating it unless it is very fresh. When I first went to live in Africa, my father said to me “Never eat pork in the tropics”. I abided by this, but I suppose that was even more true and important in the days before good refrigeration.
So I ask myself, why on earth was there a convenient herd of swine on the hillside when Jesus wanted to cast out the demons? The only other significant reference to Swine in the Gospels was in the parable of the prodigal son, where he longed to eat the food that was given to the pigs.
Well, perhaps the point is that in both these stories, we are outside the Jewish world and in places that were not entirely civilised, shall we say. The land of the Gerasenes was on the other side of the Sea of Galilee and the people were not Jewish. And the prodigal son was away in a foreign country. Having left his home and family behind.
So perhaps the references to the swine were, apart from anything else, really to show that the prodigal son and the man possessed by demons were away from their home places. Outcasts, in a bad place and very down on their luck.
Focussing on the man referred to in the Gospel passage. His encounter with Jesus transformed him and that is what we can take out of all this. An encounter with Jesus transforms. We see this in the Galatians passage too – once we are in Christ we are transformed. We are different.
The power of Jesus to transform is life changing and awe inspiring.
In the Galatians passage Paul makes reference to how, before we gained faith, before we were freed by Jesus from the dominion of sin, we were all in a form of prison, just as the man with demons was in a prison within his own body. But in Galatians we become aware of a loving God acting as an all-encompassing protector looking after his people.
Paul seems to be saying that, before faith in Jesus came, God gave the law to keep people from straying into dangerous territory, so that they would be prepared for the faith which would afterwards come —faith in Jesus.
We have become so used to doing what we want to do when we want to do it that we might sometimes find it slightly strange to be subjected to religious laws —but this law is actually for our protection, just like a fence around a playground would stop children straying into a road or getting lost. Instead of restricting them, the fence liberates them so they can go about their play at ease and protected.
So it was with the law. God gave it for the people’s protection.
Paul is saying that God gave the law as a guide for the people of Israel, as a way of preparing them for Christ. The law gave them a moral framework.
When Christ came, he changed the emphasis from the impossibility of salvation by merit to salvation by the grace of God through faith in him.
So this is it with the Christian faith. We need to abide by moral laws. We cannot just live a life of immorality or criminality, because our faith has saved us. Laws will not save us, it is our faith in Jesus that does that. But also, because of our acceptance of the wonderful gift of salvation, we should and would want to live as Godly lives as possible to please our Lord.
When Paul talks about putting on Christ, he uses this clothing metaphor to describe a transformation that God has wrought in our lives. While clothing might seem merely external, as contrasted with an internal change of heart, Paul uses this as a way to describe a truly changed person. And just as the man who had been demon possessed puts on clothing, people who have put on Christ are new people—redeemed people—forgiven people—people whose external demeanour and actions reflect the fact that God has given them a new heart.
Paul goes on to say that, in Christ, all the barriers that divide one person from another person are rendered null and void. In John chapter 17 Jesus prays for unity among believers. This something we can all hope and aspire to.
Therefore, in conclusion, our acceptance of the saving Grace which Jesus offers us has transformed our lives and we should make sure we play this out in our behaviour in the World. Salvation and transformation are wonderful gifts which we receive through faith and acceptance of God’s grace. And what could be better than that!
Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay