I hate these thistles. They choke everything out. I’ve seen goats eat them, but then they get sick. These weeds are worthless. Nothing grows around them, and my sandals don’t like them one bit. So I took my herd around to the other side of the hill when I saw them — and I was they scared me.
I knew these two men. We all did. Screaming, clawing at the air, they were as bad as the lepers on the other outskirts of town. Their families had long since walked away from them. They had no friends. Scabs covered their bodies and they hadnt bathed since the last good rain – and that was a long time ago.
This was Gadarenes, one of the great cities of Rome. Our streets were paved and tall columns graced our pathways. Solid rock arches served as entryways to our theater. Chariots rumbled past and members of the legion marched on patrol. For the most part, we were happy and taken care of. But these two fools kept us on edge. Some called them crazy. Others – the Jews – said they were possessed.
My partner and I were pushing our herd away from the tombs – the Jews always nervous having them wander around their dead. Then I saw him. The Galilean. I had heard about him. Everywhere he went, wonderss, crowds – and trouble followed. The Romans were uncertain about his popularity. The Jewish leaders were threatened by him. I heard from a friend that last night he had actually walked on water, calming that massive storm that soaked everything in town.
Rumors or truth?
I heard about bread appearing out nowhere, dead men rising, and blind men seeing. We hear a lot of rumors – and I don’t know what to believe. But there he was, right in front of my eyes. And instead of heading into the theater or the synagogue where the crowds would quickly gather, he made a beeline for the graveyard, where these two fools were waving at imaginary birds in the air, swatting away the the circling swarm.
I yelled at the Galilean, telling him him to go back, but he never even looked at me. He moved forward with a resilient love. We were all so afraid of these men, but Jesus‘ face had none of that fear – just compassion. So I stopped – and for a moment, I understood what others were saying. There was something about him.
One of the men yelled at Jesus. “Are you coming to torment us? What business do you have here with us.” Jesus didn’t stop. The two men looked at each other in a moment of sanity and their faces spoke volumes. Was it fear or relief?
The other said, “Just cast us into these swine,” sweeping his hand toward the herd of pigs – my pigs — feeding on the hillside. I didnt see what transpired, but suddenly my herd was running in circles. Then they bolted – all together toward the cliff. I gave chase, hitting my stick on the ground and clapping my hands. In a moment, they were gone.
And the two men were leaning in against one of the tombs smiling and talking like normal men. Jesus put his on a shoulder and held the palm of the other man. In an instant, they were restored.
Have to say something
I ran back town and told everyone what had happened. They were skeptical, for I was just a pig herder. But out of curiosity a few of the people ventured to the edge of town and saw the two, who were now lucid, laughing and talking as if they had always been normal. The word spread like wildfire and it seemed as if everyone had come to see what happened.
Jesus was standing next to the men and a few brave people went and talked to them. But soon the questions were being hurled – “Who are you that demons obey you?” Rather than a miracle, some saw it as a divination. And before long, the insults got so bad that they took Jesus to the ouside of town.
“Don’t ever come back,” said Jethrop. The others nodded in agreement. “Or we’ll make you pay.”
And that was that.
That was 30 years ago when I lost my pigs. That was the day I lost my livelihood, but it was also the day that I started following Jesus. I went to visit that hillside a few days ago. And the thistles are growing even higher now.
While following Jesus around, I heard about the teaching he gave about how “good seed” was wasted if it wasn’t used in good soil. “That the thistles would choke out the seed.” I saw it in my home town. They could have accepted the miracle, and like me, accepted the miracle maker. But for the most part, the seed from from that encounter was rejected.
I wonder if 2,000 years from now the thistles will still be there?
This was inspired by my visit today at Gadarenes in the country of Jordan. It’s adjacent to the old Decapolis city of Gadara (modern-day Umm Qays), with its spectacular panoramic views overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The hillside was completely covered with thistles. And yes, those are cows. To subscribe to all my adventures and future thoughts on faith and life, please click here.