When reading the four New Testament accounts of Jesus, one occasionally comes across the phrase “the other side.” This isn’t some mystical reference; it turns out “the other side” is simply the other side of the Sea of Galilee. This is where one of the most subversive accounts of the New Testament takes place, but it is easy for modern eyes to miss.
The west side of the Sea of Galilee was what the ancients saw as Israel proper. The east… not so much. Yes, some Jews lived there. But it was less prestigious, especially if you were a first century Jew, because the land there was given to Roman soldiers as a reward for military service. In the Jewish perspective of the day, it just wasn’t the right neighborhood.
It was in that “wrong neighborhood” where I found myself and companions staring down the steep embankment of a cliff and into the waters of the sea. Because it is one of the few cliffs along the sea in the region, there is a high degree of certainty this is where that most subversive of New Testament accounts took place.
In the Gospel of Mark we read Jesus’ ministry took him to “the other side” where He and His disciples came across a demon-possessed man. The demon, speaking through the man, begged not to be “tormented” by Jesus. When Jesus asks the demon’s name, the response is “Legion, for we are many.” Jesus then allows the demons to leave the man and enter a herd of pigs – which then ran over the cliff to their death on the rocks below.
Too many modern pastors go straight for the spiritual aspects of this passage, skipping past the delicious, practical subversiveness of it.
You see the literal Roman Legion was set up not far away. This was Rome’s main military outpost in the region set in place to suppress Jewish dissidents. And don’t forget: pork was a mainstay of the Roman military’s diet.
So when word that Jesus sent demons named Legion out of a man and into a herd of unclean beasts, which in turn committed mass suicide, it would not have endeared Him to the occupying Romans or their sycophants in the ruling elite of Jerusalem.
Tyrannical regimes never have a sense of humor – but our loving God most clearly does. More importantly, God is always willing to come to the “other side” to save us where we are. We must never forget that Jesus came as a liberator, even if not exactly in the way people envisioned.
The subversiveness continues. As Israel was occupied by the Romans, all of us are held captive by sin. Through Jesus, the sins that enslave us – like the demon-infested pigs – will be dashed on the rocks and washed away.