11. THE MADMAN AND THE PIGS
James and John and a dozen other people were waiting for us with one of those little fishing boats; it wasn’t even twenty feet long, and I looked at it dubiously.
James said, “Don’t worry, we won’t be fishing, so there’s plenty of room.”
His kid brother added, “When the Master called us, he said we should be fishers of men. We’ll start with you, Matthew Levi. All aboard, everyone.”
It was barely past midday, and the weather was fine, so I suppressed my concerns and stepped into the shallows and got a hand up into the boat. It seemed to ride low in the water, but not unmanageably so.
We headed down the length of the lake, perhaps fifteen miles, towards its further shore. There were other small boats out, and the fishermen claimed to know who most of the people were, and to be able to point out Andrew and Rock’s boat with Jesus in it, an hour or two ahead of us.
The late summer sun, and a light wind, and the slap of small waves, and clean, refreshing water… I am always receptive to a couple of hours like that. We talked; people asked me about my background, but the edge had been taken off their curiosity by my weeks in Capernaum, and I entertained them with random stories of Damascus. It allowed me to ask, in turn, about Jesus. Where was he from? What about his family? How long had he been a preacher?
He was from Nazareth, they said; but they added that he had actually been born in Bethlehem, not even in Galilee, but the other side of Jerusalem. His father had been killed in the second uprising that Judas of Galilee led against the Occupation. His mother was still alive, though, living with her other grown children in Nazareth.
Jesus had always been religious, they said. When his parents took him to the Temple in Jerusalem for Passover right when he turned twelve, he had spent all the time he could in the Temple courtyard and on the steps, soaking up learning from the priests and rabbis who are there to educate the people. They have to teach the pilgrims the correct way to prepare themselves and their sacrifices according to the Law. Whenever his parents couldn’t find him in the days that they were there, they always knew to look in the Temple. And he didn’t just ask questions – he would argue with the priests even then, and tell them when he thought they were wrong, even the great Rabbi Hillel! People still remembered him there, they said, as having been a young prodigy.
And when his father was killed later that year in the uprising, he had understood the evil that the Westerners brought to the land promised to the Children of Israel, and he had begun to strengthen himself in his knowledge and service to the Lord. He had lived with the Essenes. He had taken the Nazarite vows of abstinence – for the hundred days, not for life, of course, as anyone could see from his drinking wine.
Had he joined the Zealots, I asked. Some said Yes, but others said No. When I looked at Judas directly, he ignored me.
“I would have thought he had a natural affinity with them,” I said. “But they’re very strict, aren’t they? Maybe if he’d tried joining them, they would have thrown him out for healing someone on the Sabbath.”
Those who detected irreverence in my attitude looked disapproving, but John the Theologian agreed: “And the Master would have been right and they would have been wrong, and he would have told them so, just as he did this morning in the Synagogue. He knows the Law!”
“Is John the Baptist a Zealot?”
“No, he doesn’t follow one school, he’s a prophet. Like Jesus, he speaks for all of Israel.”
“Well,” I said, “but I’m sure that all well-intentioned people, whether Zealot or Essene, Sadducee or Pharisee, believe that they are speaking for all Israel… that doesn’t stop them from being identified with a particular school, or viewpoint.”
“Then the Baptist’s school is the School of the Prophets.” John the Theologian may only have been a young teen, but he was a quick and assertive arguer.
As well as sailing south along the lake, we were also heading towards the Heights behind the eastern shore. After a couple of hours, we reached the furthest southeast shore of the lake, and found Jesus and another dozen of his followers waiting for us. I was surprised to see Mary the Magdalene and the other wealthy ladies among them, so I chatted with them while Jesus and Judas walked off to one side.
“I didn’t realize you were coming with us,” I said.
“Yes, isn’t it fun? It feels a little dangerous in these boats, but I have complete confidence in Jesus!” – “I’ve known him call a wind when it’s needed, and calm the weather when it’s too rough!” – “You can feel God’s protection when you’re with him,” they enthused severally.
“So will you hike around the countryside with us? Sleep rough and eat dry bread?”
“Of course, my dear, we would do anything for the Master!” – “We’re quite used to dry bread by now!” – “But we won’t be with you for terribly long.” – “Only as far as Gadara.” – “There’s a wonderful market there that we can’t get to very often.” – “We’ll be going back to Tiberias after that.” – “They’re expecting us back at Court.” – “We look less suspicious if we’ve bought some new jewelry and a little something for our men!”
By Venus!, I thought: they’re on a shopping expedition, and they call it serving Jesus! I wondered why he tolerated it. But then, as the conversation turned to the details of what they might find, it became clear that they would be leaving some of their present jewelry with the Master as a donation.
The boats had come in to an uninhabited stretch of the coast where they could be left in safety, and, as there was still an hour or so of daylight, Jesus told us take the opportunity to wash so as to be clean, and then we went inland and began to follow a steep track up to the Heights above the lake.
I knew there weren’t any towns up there. “This isn’t the way to Gadara,” I said to John. “It’s quicker to go along the lake, then inland along the valley to the south.”
“We’re following Jesus.”
“And also, we didn’t have any food in our boat.”
“The Lord will provide,” he answered, as I had feared.
The path got steeper and steeper, until after an hour of walking we were making our way up a nearly vertical ravine, with the dust and loose stones from those ahead causing annoyance for those behind. Suddenly we came up onto the flat land at the top. We had come up the western side of the Heights – and it would be just as steep going down to the south, if we were going to follow a trail to Gadara and the Decapolis.
Several tombs had been dug into the land just off our path. Out from between these came a wild looking man in rags, with unkempt hair and beard, and part of an iron manacle dangling from one wrist. He babbled furiously as he came, sometimes stopping as though arguing with himself, before coming on again; and he spoke in different voices, and in different languages. He was addressing Jesus, who turned to look at me.
“It’s partly Greek,” I volunteered. “And in Greek, he’s asking you not to cause him any trouble, but just to go away quietly. But in Latin he says that he is the chief swineherd for the Roman Army, and not only will they slaughter us if he gives the word, but he can destroy all of us by himself if he feels like it.”
I doubted anyone would have made him chief of anything at all. But now the wind shifted and brought a strong smell of animals, and I noticed that there was indeed a huge herd of pigs nearby, hundreds, perhaps thousands. They were contained on one side by a fence that stretched hundreds of yards, and on the other side by the edge of the cliff to the south. Meanwhile the man was still shouting, and waving his manacle like a weapon.
Jesus pointed at him and began his loud, angry chant: “I adjure you, all demons that enter into the body to cause pain and suffering, I adjure you, whatever sins have allowed you to enter, I adjure you, in the name of the Lord, ‘He who removeth iniquity and transgression’, O demons, whichever of you are present, to come out of this man! What is your name, man?”
The man clearly understood Aramaic, but he answered in Latin, “My name is the Legion, for we are many.” Again, I translated.
Jesus’ anger increased further at the name. “I adjure you, demons of the Westerners, I adjure you, demons of the Greeks, I adjure you, demons of the Occupying armies, to come out from this child of Israel and leave him pure. In the name of the Lord God of Israel, you are forbidden to disturb him by day or by night, awake or asleep, whether he has sinned or not. Leave, and enter into the beasts of filth, the pigs; leave, and return no more!”
The man screamed and collapsed on the ground, tearing at his chest and face, then lay still. Jesus meanwhile, furious and vibrant with energy, shouted at us to get inside the fence where the pigs were. We rushed to obey, almost panicked by his anger, and he herded us in, then shouted to herd the pigs. He pointed here, there, we ran to spread out, then, following his lead, we rushed forward, yelling as he yelled, Judas Sicariot and Simon Zealot with their knives out, the ladies screaming along with the rest of us.
The pigs’ quiet wandering around was replaced by fear as the line of us ran towards them, and the closer ones turned and ran from us. As we kept coming, yelling, screaming, panic told hold of the whole herd, and grunting and squealing they turned and ran from us, and we chased after them faster and faster, and within seconds the herd of two thousand was running at full speed towards the cliff edge – and straight over.
And that was it. They were gone. We pulled up from our dash before we too went over, and looked at each other in a mixture of glee (the fishermen and the Zealots) and shock (myself, the women, the Essenes and Pharisees and Sadducees), and walked or crawled to the edge to see the masses of dead and dying creatures that had tumbled hundreds of feet straight down the precipices and ravines of bare rock, ending up on the rocks and in a small lake below. We looked at Jesus. His chest was heaving, and all he said was, “Pigs! Filth! Westerners! Demons!” Perhaps those were all the same in his mind.
Meanwhile the actual swineherds, a half-dozen of them, had come out of some hidden area in a small grove of trees. They took enough of a look at what the noise was all about to see that some large gang was slaughtering their charges, and they tucked up their robes and went running off down a trail to Gadara as fast as they could. And that was something that all of us could laugh at, which was good.
Jesus turned his attention back to the madman, and spoke and was answered normally in Aramaic. The sun was starting to set, and Jesus told him to go and wash himself for evening prayer, and to rejoin us. The man went off to the grove of trees.
Judas and Simon had put their knives away again, and followed the madman to explore where the swineherds had been. They called us over, having found a small stone hut large enough for the women to sleep in, and a couple of days’ worth of bread, cheese, olives and wine, as well as a sausage. Jesus ordered the sausage thrown over after the pigs. Nobody wanted to touch it, so I speared it with a stick, carried it across the field, and threw sausage and stick over the cliff together.
We watched the sun set in red and orange behind the hills of Galilee across the lake. Then Jesus led us in prayer. We sat down near the hut to eat. Jesus said a prayer of thanks to the Lord for having again provided food.
“But what if He hadn’t provided food?” I asked.
“Why wouldn’t He? This is the Covenant that He has with Israel – that we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength, and He will protect us. If we have dedicated our lives to His service, how should He not provide us with what we need in order to follow His commands?”
It seemed to work for Jesus. Of course, I wasn’t prepared to get into a discussion as to whether or not such a god and such a Covenant actually existed.
The next morning we set off towards Gadara, going down the swineherds’ steep trail to the south. The remains of a small wagon was jammed in a vertical gully, having fallen three hundred feet from a path it should never have attempted. No matter how the trail twisted down the cliffs, we always had dozens or hundreds of dead pigs below us, until the ground began to level out and curve away.
We had barely reached the valley floor when we met a large group of men coming from the town. There were more of them than of us, and they looked angry; also, they all walked with solid wooden staves, whereas only a few of us did. We stopped, facing each other, on the road. One of them started slapping his staff in his hand in a threatening manner; but at this, Judas grinned and pulled out his sica and mimicked him, so that he stopped.
They started speaking in Greek, so that all our people looked at me, remembering my translating the day before. The Gadarenes also looked to me, therefore, as they spoke.
They had come, of course, about the destruction of the herd of pigs. This was for provisioning the Roman army as well as the towns of the Decapolis, and the loss of livelihood for them was enormous. Why had we killed the pigs, and how were we going to pay for them?
I answered in Greek but repeated everything in Aramaic, to be sure that everyone understood: “Look at this man; do you recognize him?” I made our madman, ‘Legion’, step forward, and they were amazed to see him looking sane, with clear and alert eyes, with calm and controlled movements. “He was full of devils, as you surely know. The devils were cast out of him, and they went into the pigs. You have seen what the devils did when they were inside a man; what would you expect to happen when they are inside pigs? Wouldn’t you expect them to behave in the same chaotic way, but made worse for being in animals?”
The madman’s sanity had made them all pause, and my words provided an explanation.
I trusted I knew Jesus’ message well enough to keep going: “As for the loss of your livelihood: either you are Jews, in which case you’ve got no business tending pigs; or else you are not Jews, in which case you’ve got no business being in the land given by God to the Children of Israel.
“In either case I say to you: Repent! Repent of your sins, cleanse yourselves and reform your behavior, for the Kingdom of God is at hand! For both the Jews who sin against the Covenant with the Lord, and the Gentiles who oppress the Jews in the Promised Land, will face eternal punishment on the Day of Wrath.
“The loss of your pigs, those demon-ridden eaters of filth and garbage, is nothing compared to losing your soul, and spending eternity in a lake of hellfire! Rather, praise the Lord for having provided you with an opportunity for salvation!”
And, I am happy to say, there was a chorus of ‘Amen’ from some them as well as all of us. It was my first attempt at preaching, and I was quite proud of it.
Not all of the Gadarenes believed my account or were swayed by my forecasts, but the doubters didn’t have solid support any longer. So instead they told us that they were going to have to bring the legionaries out to see what was going on here, and we better not still be in this part of the country when they returned. Then they left.
Jesus said that I had spoken well, and the others agreed. Then our ladies suggested that there wasn’t much point in their going to Gadara, was there; they thought people would just be upset with them; so they wondered if they could be sailed over to Tiberias and dropped off?
Our Gadarene asked Jesus if he could come with us and follow him; but Jesus told him No. Instead, he wanted him to return to his home and family, reassure all those who loved him and worried about him that he was now cured; hold fast to his faith as a Jew, unpolluted by the Greek and Western devils; and preach the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God. That would be the best service that he could do for God, or for Jesus, or for himself.
And we parted ways with the Gadarene, and returned along the valley to the boats.