“Hail to our Heroes, the Pigs!”

June 30, 2021
Memorial of the Protomartyrs of the Holy Roman Church
Reflection on Gospel today (MT 8: 28 – 34)

Babe is one of my favorite films where the main protagonist is an animal. Produced by an Australian film company, Babe is about a very intelligent pig. Fearful of becoming food for the table, he earned his master’s favor by learning to guard the sheep of the farm like a real sheepdog. This was put to the test however in the climax of the story, when in a competition for sheepdogs the veteran sheepdog got sick and unable to join the contest and was replaced by Babe. To the horror, of course of the whole of Australia. But to make the story short, amazingly, surprisingly, magnificently Babe won the contest. The movie ends with his master-farmer looking at him lovingly and uttering, “That’s all, pig. That’s all.” As if to say well done, my good and faithful servant.

I remember this story because in our Gospel today, a herd of swine or pigs figures in Jesus’ confrontation with evil spirits. It was to them that the evil spirits, with Jesus’ permission, transfer. We know how the Jews looked down on them already. Indeed, this story further debases them, if not reinforce local superstitions about them. Many biblical scholars have tried to explain this pig-detail in this Gospel passage and many have easily embraced these old Jewish biases against unclean creatures with hooves that you cannot eat. However, in my own research, I find out that in this story, the pigs actually come out as heroes, like Babe. They in fact provide us with valuable lessons in handling evil.

Specifically, the pigs serve as heroes for the following reasons. First, the pigs save the community or the village long pestered by these evil spirits by providing these an escape hatch or an alternative abode.  Remember at the end of the movie Exorcist, the priest-exorcist offered his own body to the evil spirit in exchange for the innocent girl’s. That was heroic, and so was the similar act of the pigs in the Gospel today. Secondly, the pigs resisted the evil spirits. That is to say they fought them. Which is something we cannot say to their humans. Ironically, the villagers detested Jesus’s exorcism and so they drove him away; they’d rather live with the evil spirits than rid the village of them. As exorcists now would say, we have actually welcomed the evil one in our midst; he comfortably inhabits our homes, communities, and institutions because we ourselves have opened our doors to him. Thirdly and finally, as the final act of heroism, the pigs jumped into the sea and into their death, sacrificing their very lives in the thought of destroying the evil spirits. Again, this scene is reminiscent of the end of the movie Exorcist which was based on a true story. The pigs then come out as heroes of our Gospel story. They serve as counterpoint to the human attitude towards the evil one and in this offer us valuable lessons. The evil spirits or evil forces in our lives or in our world must be resisted, and many times, in the process, we must be ready to sacrifice, and even offer our very lives.

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