Forming Faith Blog

Pigs and Chains (Mark 5)

In this odd and possibly uncomfortable story, Jesus proves that his authority extends beyond illness and nature to the spiritual realm, at the cost of a community’s economy.

man in brown jacket guiding the pigs on the road
Photo by Shiwa Yachachin on

This week marks the third Sunday after Epiphany, and our tour through Jesus’ life and ministry in the Gospel of Mark is well underway. Within our Narrative Lectionary faith formation resources, we have just finished the theme “God’s Kingdom Announced” and are now moving into the power of this very kingdom. This story from Mark 5:1-20 connects most clearly with the one from Mark 2 by demonstrating more of Jesus’ authority.

Odd Visit

To me, at least, this is an odd and uncomfortable story. It’s odd in that Jesus seemed to cross the Sea of Galilee (in a storm no less) into gentile territory just to perform this miracle. Then he crosses back to Galilee. Perhaps he did stay longer, but the Gospel writer decided that this was the only event that mattered.

Can We Address the Demon in the Room?

The story makes me uncomfortable from the basic fact that I am uncomfortable with the concept of demons. Some people try to explain away Jesus’ exorcism miracles as healing mental illness. But the events of this week’s story don’t allow for that. So, as we do in general, my focus is on teaching the story as it is, not to focus on any historical accuracy of it. It’s up to you whether you address whether demons are real or not.

Identify the Visitor

I am curious if the people of the Gerasenes had heard of Jesus, whether tales of this Jewish miracle worker had made it across the sea. But it is clear that someone (or someones) knew who he was: the unclean spirits. Just like in the synagogue (Mark 1:24), these spirits knew more about who Jesus was than anyone (besides possibly John the Baptist). They didn’t just know that he was the Jewish Messiah; they knew he was the Holy One (Mark 1:24), the Son of the Most High God (Mark 5:7).

Polite Demons?

Another odd part is how the spirits act. I don’t know if “polite” is the right term, but I think at least “formal” fits. They address him using a formal title, and they “adjure” Jesus (NRSV), which means to make an oath. They want Jesus to make an oath before God to not torment them. They are clearly aware of Jesus’ power and authority and afraid that he will use this to torture them. From our vantage point, we know that this is not what God’s kingdom is about and not how Jesus wields his power.

The spirits even ask if Jesus would allow them to possess the herd of swine for some reason. And for some reason Jesus agreed, even though it is likely that he would know what would happen next.

I Can See the Headlines

The text says that the townspeople were afraid of Jesus, but can you imagine what the headlines would be the next day (if they had newspapers)?

“Jewish Visitor Destroys Local Economy”

“Jesus Cares about Demons, Not Hardworking People”

Yes, Jesus’ actions save the life and sanity of the formerly possessed man. And yes, the people were likely afraid of Jesus because of the power he demonstrated with this miracle. But if the miracle-worker in this story were anyone but our Messiah, what would you think?

Faith Formation Connections

As I mentioned above, the goal of our faith formation resources is to teach the story. And aside from bringing up the topic in our Small Group discussion guide and Youth lesson, we don’t challenge participants with the economic devastation that Jesus caused or question the reality or unreality of unclean spirits. These are topics that you as their faith formation leader can decide what to do with. The story itself is a dramatic one and well suited to acting out. It’s also important to emphasize how much Jesus cared about the man and his power and authority over an entire army of tormentors.

But your older youth and adults might very well catch these difficult aspects of the story, so I recommend you prepare to address them, even if that’s not part of your lesson plan.

In all of God’s blessings,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the fun game “Who Am I?” from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th, NL) curriculum.  

Order Faith Formation Resources

You made it through Christmas and are in Epiphany! But have you ordered faith formation resource for the winter? Purchase and immediately download the Winter quarter for the Narrative Lectionary, the Revised Common Lectionary, or even classic Sunday school Classroom curriculum for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th (check our blog post for a special discount)? Our faith formation resources are easy-to-use, theologically sound, and effective.

Looking for a resource for intergenerational events, a whole-church series (say, for Lent), or even something new for Sunday school? Check out our Learning Together series! These five-lesson units are available on six different topics, one of which is FREE! The other five are quite affordable with variable pricing starting at $25 for a program with 1-10 participants. Perfect for children’s and intergenerational ministries, family or churchwide events, and even a whole-church Epiphany or Lenten series. A new unit will be announced soon! Follow us on Facebook, subscribe to our e-newsletter or blog to be the first to know.

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