Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Pig Litmus Test

Ive found a great way to judge the daily condition of my heart, and I stumbled on it quite accidentally. Several months ago, I read the story in Matthew chapter 8 where Jesus cast a legion of demons out of man and into a herd of pigs. Many times I've read that story and thought it was so great that Jesus would save that man's life by casting out the demons. There were even times when I read and loved the fact that Jesus sent the demons into swine -- was that a slight jab at demons or materialism?

I've read the story at other times and saw it from the perspective of the people in town. What a display of inexplicable power! They knew that this guy had been absolutely nuts. He even lived in the town cemetery as he was unfit for living around other people. Then, miraculously, he's perfectly normal and the entire herd of swine goes mad and jumps off a cliff. It's no surprise they were scared and even a little understandable how they wanted Jesus to leave town.

However, when I read the story last time, I had an entirely different perspective: I felt sympathy for the owner of the swine.

I thought about how it was great that everybody got to be see this man so miraculously healed, and generations of children since then have loved to read the story of the pigs throwing themselves into the ocean. However, somebody paid the price. Matthew doesn't talk about him, but somebody in that little sea port owned those pigs and that man's healing cost him quite a financial loss.

Yes, this is shallow. Yes, one man is much more valuable than a herd of swine, a mine of gold or the Crown Jewels of Britain. But when I read that story that day, I understood the frustration of the swine's owner. I imagined him, dressed in a nice biblical robe, ready to explode over this tremendous loss, while everyone else was just so happy about the bigger picture.

Then, several days, ago, I read the story again, this time to my children. As I read it and we discussed it, I realized that, once again, I was happy for the man's healing, and fine with the pigs diving into the ocean.

What changed?

I realized that my reaction to the story was based on my heart. Several weeks earlier, I was tired (well, I still am), overwhelmed by several big financial hits (a major plumbing job and car repair at the same time) and stressed with trying to provide all for my kids that I want for them to have. In addition to that I have constantly weighing on my mind that we are not in a home that is easy for two of our daughters to live in. Steps are a part of every aspect of our house, and it makes life much harder for one daughter and really difficult for our youngest. Beyond even all that, a recent visit to our daughter's orthopedist emphasized to us that there are no practical surgical options for her legs at this point. If she's going to walk, it's going to be through therapy in combination with serial casting and a lot of work on our part.

I projected onto the owner of the pigs, exactly what I was feeling. Everyone gets to witness the miracle, and I get to pay for it (through the hard work I do to educate, provide for and deal with the physical aspects of their disabilities -- ie carrying our daughter up and down steps, or waiting while she crawls, sitting her on the toilet because she can't fit her wheelchair in the bathroom, stuff like that -- in addition to the sacrifices we all make for 7 people to live on 1 income).

Since then, the "crisis" has past. So, I'm feeling a lot more balanced about things and when I read the story of the pigs, I can celebrate the healing of such a sick man. I realized that I can use this story as a sort of litmus test for where I am.

Who do I really identify with in the story? Do I identify with the man who was healed? If so, then I understand the amazing gratitude he had for Jesus. Do I identify with the townspeople who asked Jesus to leave? If so, perhaps I'm overwhelmed by his power and misunderstand his purpose. Do I identify with the owner of the pigs? If so, perhaps I'm tired, self-centered and need to pray about my attitude.

I keep thinking that all these healings that are included in the Gospels are about so much more than the healings themselves. Jesus was always very intentional in what He taught, so it would follow that He would be intentional in what He lead the Biblical authors to include.


truthfinder said...

If it makes you feel any better, that swineherder was a lawbreaker: raising pigs was definitely NOT kosher!

Deb said...

No, because my point isn't what the pigherder's morality was, it was that everyone else got to enjoy the miracle of Jesus healing and he was the one who paid the price. In addition to that, it was never said that he was jewish or under jewish authority -- considering it was a seaport, he could've been almost any ethnicity or religion.