On keeping pigs

Scotts_2016 Posted by Keith and Lyn Scott on Mon, 14 Aug 2017 | 2 comments | Bookmark: digg this Post this to del.icio.us Post this to Facebook

The lectionary came up with Luke 8 a while back – the stilling of the storm and the Geresene pigs. Some of our students come from deep rural communities. They were puzzled. The loss of a herd of pigs would be a disaster to a whole rural community, never mind one small farmer. “I have animals”, said one student, “and I would be very upset if that happened to me”.

Death, chaos and fragmentation
The story is written in very vivid language. The man clearly suffers from some deep and powerful psychosis, and has done for a long time. We read that he dwells ‘in the tombs’.

We went to Malta a couple of years ago and saw the Roman (and Jewish) catacombs just outside the old capital, Medina, some of which date from around the time of Jesus. They are effectively underground, hollowed out as the quarry workers cut limestone blocks out of the ground as building material for the city. People went in and out regularly with bodies and or ashes, but also to share one last meal with the beloved deceased. They are dark, more than slightly eerie, and must have smelt pretty bad. They are, very much, the place of the dead, a reminder dug into the rock of the inevitable progress of human disintegration from life into death.

There is also uncontrollable violence. The man himself has suffered brutal violence. He has been tortured in the past, chained, shackled and guarded. His response of rage is so powerful that he shatters the chains and is driven like a storm into the desert. As in the stilling of the storm, the uncontrolled forces of chaos and ‘un-creation’ are at work. The fearful disintegration of mind and personality are both a mirror and a climactic extension of the tumult of wind and sea.

Unshared spaces
As the land of the city state of Geresene was, according to Luke, on the ‘opposite side’ to Galilee, one gets a sense of two communities occupying ‘unshared spaces’, living separately from one another, in self-chosen ‘apartheid’ and having as little to do with one another as possible. The lake both linked and divided them physically.

Lyn and I have lived in communities of ‘unshared space’. For three years we were in West Belfast, not far from the ‘peace line’. One’s whole life came to be overshadowed by that wall. It marked where one went and where one did not, by choice, go, or at least did not go without a frisson of fear. It was a far from easy or healthy community. Those were the dark days of violence, and death sometimes came and went across that wall. Violent confrontation was depressingly frequent. Fragmentation and entropy were all too familiar there and individual mental illness was certainly one of the marks of that communal ill-health.

The pigs are not simply an economic resource, they are kept in defiance of the Jews ‘on the other side’ for whom pigs and pork are unclean. A means of insult and of keeping those despised others at a safe distance, polluting the land so that they will no longer even walk upon it.

A message of healing and hope
In Galilee, Jesus has already proclaimed his mission: to bring healing and hope to the world (Luke 4). He has used a passage from Isaiah that is popular because it seemed to speak of vengeance and the destruction of the despised ‘other’. Jesus has changed this into a message of hope for all, including (or even especially) that same despised ‘other’ with whom space was not willingly shared.

The Galileans had driven Jesus out of their town because he has taken what they like to think of as ‘their’ scriptures, upon which they base their whole way of life, their sense of identity and being, and he has made them into a challenge of everything they believe and hold dear, a challenge to their whole reason for being. They are outraged and utterly unwilling to pay the real price of healing and hope. They remain content instead with lives lived in conflict with ‘those on the other side’ in their unshared space. The people of the Decapolis are equally unwilling. They may be more polite than the Galileans, but Jesus is still asked to leave.

Here then is an answer to the question of the pigs. There is a price to be paid for healing.

The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught that grace is free, but not cheap. There is a cost to pay if we want to find healing in a contested world where so many ancestral voices speak temptingly of war, hatred and exclusion. These are the voices that make us who we are, people whose nature and being have been forged in an endless cycle of conflicts from generation to generation.

In these fraught days, threats of ‘fury and fire’ are exchanged freely and without a thought to the consequence. It has never been more important or more urgent that we should to come to our true self, the self given to us in grace and mercy. The self founded upon and made in the image of the reality of the God who is Trinity, who is love. The one who empties the divine self to encamp amongst us, polluted and sinful as we are.

“If anyone loves his life in this world he will lose it, if anyone hates his life he will find eternal life.”

So Jesus taught. So we must do.

This is an abridged version of Keith’s reflection on Luke 8. Read the full version here.

Keith and Lyn Scott

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Sandy and Steve said Tue, 15 Aug 2017 07:40AM
Good to hear of all your exploits, Lyn and Keith! We trust that the practical problems will continue to be manageable.....with the help of others!! Blessings to you both, as you continue vin our thoughts and prayers! Sandy and Steve xx
Paul Ferguson said Tue, 29 Aug 2017 09:19AM
Keith and Lyn, Thank you for this encouragement. It is great to hear that you have settled well and that the "journey" has been the right one for you both. You might be out of sight but are not out of mind and are in our prayers

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