04 June 2007

When Pigs Drown

We had our circuit pastors' winkel this morning, which I enjoyed and appreciated, as usual. I like the fact that we can discuss and debate, and even argue amongst ourselves, in a way that really helps to sharpen us all.

Our sermon study today was especially good, I thought. It dealt with St. Luke 8:26-39, the Lord's exorcism of "Legion" from the Gerasene demoniac. It's one of my favorite Gospel stories, anyway, and the colleague who led the discussion did a nice job of opening it up for us. He highlighted the prominent baptismal motifs in the text, which, in this case, are like a sweet fastball down the middle of the plate.

Thinking out loud with my colleagues about upcoming Gospel pericopes almost always primes the pump and greases the wheels of my brain, so that I'm able to discover things that I've never seen or thought of before. What a joy and blessing that is. It's like the exegetical equivalent of a child in a candy store.

Anyway, the thing that really struck me today was the significance of the pigs into which Jesus sends Legion when He exorcises all those demons from the poor Gerasene man. Elsewhere we are told that demons, when they are cast out, go looking for waterless places; and here, Legion has wanted to avoid being sent to the abyss. But of course, the pigs go tearing into the lake and drown. Yes, I believe this is about Holy Baptism ("guilty as charged"). The Lord permits the devil to have a bit of leash with us, as one of the ways in which He (the Lord) calls us and brings us to contrition and repentance, and thereby drowns and destroys our old Adam and the unclean spirits in us, our legion of sinful thoughts and evil desires.

What I had never considered before is the next time that pigs show up in St. Luke's Gospel, in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son is brought to his senses and the beginning of repentance when he finds himself feeding pigs and envying their slop. The Lord kills in order to make alive; He humbles in order to exalt. The demoniac is cleansed; his nakedness is clothed; and he is seated at the feet of Jesus as a hearer of the Word, a catechumen, a disciple. The prodigal son is likewise recalled to the inheritance of Holy Baptism. He is returned to his father and clothed in the best robe (which is the righteousness of Christ).

I taught my young catechumens the story of Jonah this afternoon. I suggested that there are more pleasant ways of being brought to repentance than that reluctant prophet experienced. I mean, think about it. He was swallowed alive by a great fish, and spent the next three days and nights inside of that creature; which has got to be similar to, and maybe even worse than, being buried alive. Then he gets vomited up on the shore. Still, I'd rather be fish bait and puke than left to die in unrepentant sin.

When the Lord permits us to be driven to the verge of despair, to find our place among the pigs, and to be plummeted headlong into the deep, it is not for the sake of tormenting and destroying us, but in order to save us from our sin, from death and from the power of the devil. We don't like to be up to our necks in the deep water, much less to be in over our head, but Christ preserve us from the waterless places where Satan roams. It's not for nothing that our Baptism indicates the dailing drowning of repentance! We are swallowed up, in order to emerge and arise with Christ Jesus in His Resurrection from the dead.

Repentance works because Jesus has already gone through it for us. He has spent time with the pigs, in order to cleanse us from iniquity. His nakedness has covered our shame. He has been crucified, dead and buried, in order to calm the raging storms of sin and bring His peace into the devilish chaos of our lives. When we are put to death with Him, then we are raised to live with Him forever, fully clothed and in our right minds.

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