When reading the four New Testament accounts of Jesus, one regularly comes across the phrase “the other side.” This isn’t some mystical reference to the afterlife; it turns out “the other side” is the “other side” of the Sea of Galilee.
The west side of the sea was what the ancients saw as Israel proper. The east … not so much. Yes, some Jews lived there. But it was less prestigious, if you were a 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 of Galilee. Because it is one of the few cliffs along the sea in the region, there is a high degree of certainty this is where one of the most subversive New Testament accounts takes place.
In the Gospel of Mark, we read Jesus’ ministry took him to the “other side,” where He and His disciples came across a man possessed by demons. The demons, speaking through the man, begged not to be “tormented” by Jesus.
Jesus asks the name of the demon who is possessing the man and the response is “Legion, for we are many.” Jesus then lets the demons leave the man and enter a herd of pigs – which then ran down the bank, flew over the cliff, and died in the rocks below.
What makes this subversive is that the Roman Legion was literally set up not far away. This was Rome’s main military outpost in the region to suppress Jewish dissidents. And don’t forget; pork was a mainstay of the Roman military’s diet.
Word that Jesus sent demons named Legion out of a Jewish man and into a herd of unclean beasts, which in turn committed mass suicide, would not have endeared Him to the occupying Romans or their local sycophants.
Tyrannical regimes never have a sense of humor – but our loving God most clearly does. More importantly, He’s willing to come to the “other side” to save us where we are.
As Israel was occupied by the Romans, all of us are held captive by sin. Through Jesus, our sins – like those demon-infested pigs – are dashed on the rocks and washed away.