It’s been several years since I read Patricia St. John’s Runaway, but one scene stuck with me clearly. The protagonist of the story met and talked with the Gadarene demoniac whom Jesus set free from Satan’s power. Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 8 tell us this man’s story.
This man had been possessed by evil spirits, apparently for years. No one could tame him. He had often been bound with chains, but he broke the shackles in pieces and escaped. He spent his life in the tombs and in the mountains, crying out in anguish and cutting himself with stones. The gospel of Matthew tells us that this man had a companion like himself, and they were so fierce that no one could pass by their haunts safely.
One day, right after Jesus had calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus came to the land of the Gadarenes. And these two men ran to Him, desperate to be freed. They had had their fill of playing with the darkness and found it was more likely to control them. And being on such intimate terms with evil, they also knew the Light when they saw Him. So they ran to Jesus and worshiped Him.
Then the demons used the men’s voices to cry loudly, begging Jesus not to torment them before their time. Jesus asked the demon his name. The evil spirit answered, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” Legion pleaded with Jesus not to cast him out of the country, but to let him go possess a herd of swine feeding nearby. About two thousand pigs composed this herd.
And Jesus said, “Go.”
When the pigs found demons inside them, they ran violently off a cliff and drowned in the sea. But the demon-possessed men were healed. The swineherds, shocked and horrified, tore off to the town and told everyone what had happened. Practically the whole city turned out to see this Man who had made sane a demoniac and killed a herd of pigs in the process. They found the former madman sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed, quiet, and sound in his mind. (His companion is not mentioned further; perhaps he had returned to his own town elsewhere to tell his family.)
But the countrymen of this man who had been freed did not rejoice with him. They marveled, but they begged Jesus to leave their region. After all, he had just cost them 2,000 pigs, which doubtless meant a serious financial loss. The man who had been demon-possessed wanted to be with Jesus, but the Lord told him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.”
So the man traveled all around his land, proclaiming what Jesus had done. But in the story, Runaway, the man says that although he keeps telling people and they always marvel, “They still prefer their pigs.”
It does make you feel a little sorry for the pigs. They didn’t do anything. They were minding their own business, eating, when suddenly something of horrid, unimaginable evil entered them, filling them with terror. So they ran and drowned themselves.
And yet Jesus, knowing full well what would happen to those pigs, didn’t hesitate. At once he permitted those unclean spirits to enter the swine. Two thousand pigs were worth one man’s soul.
In our country, pigs aren’t so important. But puppies are. I read a story in a magazine about a dachshund who had belonged to someone with a hoarding disorder. The dog had been fed so much junk food, that he became horribly overweight. He couldn’t even walk out of the house. A young woman rescued him, and with careful diet and exercise, he regained a normal healthy weight. Unfortunately, he still had so much loose skin that he tripped on it. Unless she could come up with the hundreds of dollars necessary for plastic surgery, the dog would have to be put down.
So she did fundraisers. And people gave gladly. It was a sweet story of a cute dog getting a second chance.
But it made me think. People, Christian people, are so eager to give to animal shelters–but not so many homeless shelters. Christians eagerly volunteer at pet rescue centers–but not so much at crisis pregnancy centers and soup kitchens. People are so excited to see an animal get “a new leash on life”–but not much to see a poor man in India give up alcohol for a decent life. Christians are concerned with the restoration of endangered species and protection of their habitats–but not so much with the restoration of lives destroyed by drugs and relationships split by pornography.
Do you know what could be done with the hundreds of dollars, about $800 if I recall correctly, that was spent on that little dachshund’s surgery? A child in a third-world country could receive food, clothes, and education for almost two years. Or twenty-six families could have a filter to clean their water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. Or at least six families in India could have a new vocation to make a good living and send their own kids to school. Or over four hundred homeless people in the United States could receive a meal and warm shelter this winter. Or dozens of girls could hear that they and their unplanned babies are valuable.
We could do so much for our fellow man. But sometimes we prefer our puppies.
Mind you, the Bible is clear that neglect or abuse of the animals in our care is wrong. Way back in Genesis, God gave mankind dominion over the whole earth and everything that lives in it. We are responsible to make wise decisions for our domain.
But when it comes down to the foundation of things, an animal is just an animal. It is expendable if a human being is at stake. And Jesus sacrificed two thousand–2,000!–animals for two human souls. To Him, the Creator of both humans and animals, it was worth it.
Perspective is paramount. People first, always. I’m not saying that a Christian cannot in good conscience give some money to help an animal like the dachshund. But if you would skip giving to the quadriplegic who needs a new wheelchair, and still give to the poor little dachshund, you might need to reevaluate. Or, if your heart bleeds for the animal that died needlessly, but not for the mothers who die of superstitious midwifery in Asia, you may need to ask Jesus to search your heart.