Welcome readers! Please subscribe through the buttons on the right if you enjoy this post.
(Read this series from its beginning here.)
Social violence becomes collective as members choose someone they can come together against. They find unity in agreeing on who they are against. Victims of this violence can adopt their society’s estimation of themselves. In our context this can take many forms:
Non-White people internalize White supremacy to survive,
Women internalize the patriarchy, going along to get along,
The poor and/or working-class people champion the cause of exploitative capitalists,
LGBTQ people internalize the repulsion and bigotry of cis-heterosexist, heteronormative society.
Jesus arrives in the story as someone outside of this man’s community coming to set him free from his own self-hatred.
The story doesn’t end with this man’s isolated experience, though.
“[Legion] begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.” (Mark 5:10-17; Emphasis added)
In this Hellenized, mostly Greek region (Gentile with very few Jews), pigs were a farming commodity. Here the author zooms in to focus on the economic dimension of Jesus’ politics. If the larger community embraces this man’s liberation from internalized oppression, what will this mean for them? If they honestly estimate the Roman occupation, that will change everything, including their economic structure. Economic change is emotionally unsettling even when it’s more distributively just: it’s challenging what some people need for survival on one hand, and what others have hoarded for security and anxiety management on the other hand.
Jesus began by restoring the man, but the story quickly redirects us to the man’s surrounding society. His liberation of the man from internalized oppression threatens the unity and peace that the privileged of society had found in Roman occupation. Jesus turns their way of life, their stability, on its head and forces them to see the man as a fellow human being, like themselves. Jesus un-objectifies the man, de-dehumanizes him, un-degrades him. Jesus lifts this man up and returns him to a place of belonging in the humanity in the sight of a society that had found unity and coherence by purging him to the tombs. Jesus challenges the entire arrangement of this society.
The story doesn’t end well. The people choose economic and political security over the liberation Jesus pointed to. This applies to us today as well. We’ll discuss that next.