Thursday, September 16, 2010

Us Silly Plebes

J. R. Daniel Kirk has a post about how everyone misinterprets the Gospel event of Jesus vs. Legion in Mark 5 and Luke 8. Specifically why the townspeople, after Jesus sends Legion into suicidal pigs, ask Jesus to leave.

"Clearly, they were peeved about the loss of revenue, the death of the pigs that were their livelihood–all that disruption of the village’s life-capital. Right? Not so much."

Reading this narrative in context, Kirk argues, shows that the men asked Jesus to leave because they were afraid of him not because they were angry about losing their herd. As he explains:

"The whole story is set up as a power confrontation between these great forces. The people of the town are depicted as lacking the power to control this mighty force.

And when they come upon the scene at the end, what is described is not only the transformation of this man, but his posture before Jesus: seated at his feet. Tamed. Controlled. Freed."

I'm one of those people who misinterpreted the story and assumed that the townspeople were upset over losing their herd and missed the whole bit about fear at Jesus' might. I knew the story showed Jesus' control over demons, but not it's relation to the reason the villagers were afraid of him and wanted him to leave. I did not make this mistake because I think business failure is the greatest tragedy that can befall someone. My problem was poor exegesis when I should have read the chapters in context. I guess I missed the forested mountains for the mole-trees. I assumed that because pigs were unclean animals, Jesus driving the demon into them and their subsequent drowning was a slam on the villagers' sinful lifestyle and they did not take it kindly. This felt kinda flimsy at the time and even more so now that I've heard a better explanation. Kirk points out that in Luke the story is placed between two demonstrations of Christ's power: quelling the storm at sea and healing Jarius' daughter (and a bystander along the way). I did not have to study Jewish customs of the first century, what I should have done was read the passage before and after!

One of the joys I have as one of the average Joes who reads seasoned pros is when I learn that something even Pastors often preach on is wrong. I don't take joy in the fact that we have misinformation from the pulpit, I just enjoy improving my understanding of what the Bible actually says.

I've written before about what guides our theology (the protestanty, Bibley kind) though it ended up more "how to keep negative influences out of your theology." My favorite method was to use strong exegesis while praying for the Holy Spirit's guidance. I should have added "actually read the text carefully." Maybe I'll try to start there next time.