The Good Swineherd - Poem by Keith Johnson
As a farmer’s boy in Cheshire back in the 1950s
I read the Bible extensively with the Scripture Union
But some unlikely things bothered me
[Gentile that I was, gathering crumbs under the table]
Like the Gadarene Swine going over the cliff:
And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:
because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.
And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, and cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.
For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.
And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.
And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country.
Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding.
And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine; and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand,) and were choked in the sea.
And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done.
And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind; and they were afraid.
And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine.
And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts.
And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him.
Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.
And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.
Now Gadara was at the very edge of the deep cleft
Of the Jordan Valley and the last staging post
For trading caravans from the Fertile Crescent and beyond
Before they wound their way down to Galilee and Nazareth
And thence to Caesarea or Ptolemais-Acre and the Med.
And we neglect I think that Jesus was caught between two cultures
And that he would have visited the Decapolis cities
Smelling pork roasting and bacon frying
Perhaps even listening to a mendicant Buddhist teacher or two
Preaching the virtues of tolerance and compassion.
As for me, I always loved pigs and it seemed so sad to me
Sending those beautiful animals to the Devil -
So here I had to differ with the quiet young man
From Nazareth with his mesmeric admonitions
Wanting me to forsake all and follow him.
Years later I had to farrow four sows
Over the space of a week and my sometimes midnight
Midwifery resulted in 42 healthy piglets
That I sold at 12 weeks old and lost money on -
Having been far too generous with the weaner nuts.
And we had four saddle back gilts that I became very fond of
Though they didn’t prosper on a concrete floor
And needed to be run free – notwithstanding
My going over the Larkey’s paddock to the big oak
On Cornhill Drive to collect acorns for them in a bucket.
Years later again, I found myself on mission in Bangladesh
In the Chittagong Hill Tracts as we toured a Hill Tribes village
And my excitable young Bengali guide asked me a tough question:
‘That animal you see there – What is it? ’
And I found myself telling him to his consternation that pigs were not halal – haram
Where I came from and that I had once been a pig-farmer.
Now my charismatic young Yeshua tell me something:
Why the Good Shepherd and not the Good Swineherd?
Does it simply boil down to the fact that pigs
Like humans are inquisitive, gregarious, awkward and indolent
And resent being herded with the camels in the desert scrub?
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