Vengeance Is Mine, sayeth The Lord
Luke 8:26-39 / The Healing of the Gerasene Demoniac Part II
Romans 12:19/Deuteronomy 32:35
The Gerasene Demoniac, Part II: What about all those pigs? Evidently everyone wants to know: why did Jesus send the demons into the nearby pigs instead of into the abyss?
The easy answer is that the demons, named Legion because they were so many, asked not to be sent into the abyss, but “send us into that herd of pigs” instead. Jesus, being all compassionate, complies.
As always in the world of Biblical interpretation, there is another way of looking at things. When asked their name, the demons reply, “Legion!” The name would carry a particular resonance for the first readers of Luke’s gospel – for it was the Roman Legions who in the year 70 ce had leveled Jerusalem, including the Temple, and most all of Israel/Palestine. There were those still living when this gospel was written and edited who had stood among the ruins, who had witnessed the still smoldering embers of the Second Temple – the center of the Jewish universe, and the center of the Christian narrative.
It is hard for us to imagine the impact that had on the ancient psyche – to see the place that had been the center of Israelite worship lying in ruins at the hands of the Roman Legions. We might recall what it felt like, and still feels like, to remember the destruction of the World Trade Towers in New York City. Now imagine all of New York City and an area about the size of New Jersey completely leveled. And consider that the parts of NYC near the center of the destruction on 9/11 are the modern day centers of worship for world capitalism. This is the scale of destruction the Roman Legions had exacted upon their Israelite colony. Add to this the reality that for decades the people of Israel had been waiting, hoping, praying for a messiah to deliver them from the Roman occupation.
Strange historical factoid: the ensignia symbol for the 10th Roman Legion was the Boar. That’s right, a wild pig. With all this as background, now let us imagine we are among the first audience in the late first century to hear Luke’s gospel read out loud. Chapter Eight, beginning at the twenty-sixth verse. Jesus sends the demons into the pigs, the pigs hurl themselves headlong into the sea and drown. Legion, the Tenth Roman Legion, is hurled headlong into the sea! This is just what everyone had been waiting to see happen! Serves them right, we say. It’s about time, we say. If only, we say.
But we are meant to remember. A central principal of the Bible is the theological understanding that vengeance is God’s alone. Some 20 years or more before Luke, Paul had written as much in his Letter to the Romans, chapter 12: “…for it is written, Vengeance is mine.” Recalling what had been written in Deuteronomy (the book Jesus quotes the most ) chapter 32: “…