To fully grasp this story’s meaning, we must understand the place of the pig in the author’s time and culture. Even the most cursory look at Jewish dietary law brings to light the awareness of swine’s uncleanliness. In Deuteronomy, the law states that “the pig, because it divides the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you” (14:8). For the Jews who traveled with Jesus at the time, the Gerasene swineherds’ reliance on raising hogs could mark them as people with whom the disciples would not share table fellowship.
However, the author of Luke writes for a largely Gentile audience—people not bound by the dietary restrictions of Jewish followers of Jesus. This major sticking point for the early church plays out in the subtext of the healing story through the idea of cleanliness versus uncleanliness.
The demoniac’s place among the dead marks him as a pariah in his community as well. (Consider how we would receive someone who lived in a cemetery in our time.) Yet Jesus comes to him and heals him despite his unclean status. Jesus then sends the legion of demons into the swine who rush into the water. Jesus saves even those who live among what is unclean.
The reality that Jesus willingly ventures into unclean circumstances to heal unclean people offers us enormous hope. After all, we live with legions of voices and influences pulling us in every direction. Many of them are unclean as well. We may not recognize them as demons, but some of us are as tormented as the demoniac. But no situation lies beyond Jesus’ ability to heal, redeem, and save. The powers of sin and death can never defeat the surpassing power of Christ to bring wholeness.
Triumphant Lord, we thank you for your healing power. Grant us your peace. Amen.