Based on the reading from Mark 5:1-20
The story of the encounter between Jesus and the Gerasene Demoniac is rich and full of meaning in a variety of ways. With that in mind, let’s dive in.
We’re told that “They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes.” (Mark 5:1). So what happened right before this? Mark 4:35-41 tells us of the beginning part of the journey across the lake. They are in the boat making their way across and a storm brews while Jesus is asleep. The disciples are afraid and express this to Jesus who wakes up, rebukes the wind, and we are told “there was dead calm.” Maybe it’s a hint of what they are going to come across when they get to the other side of the lake. Maybe it’s the Gospel writer telling us that evil doesn’t just look like uncontrollable chaos, but also looks a bit unexpected too. The passage and the chapter end with the disciples in great awe, saying “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). Yes indeed, who is this? We’re about to find out that Jesus doesn’t just have authority over nature, but other things as well.
When we turn to Chapter 5, Jesus and the disciples land on the other side of the lake, finishing their journey, and “immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.” (Mark 5:2). It’s another storm. Mark paints a picture in which this man who is possessed is uncontrollable – much like the wind and storm at sea. We’re told that nothing could bind him, and no one could subdue him. And we find out the demons who are possessing him are named Legion. Legion means many. In a literal sense, he was possessed by many demons. Legion can also be seen to represent the Roman Empire, who controlled the region and so much of the Mediterranean. Up to this point, there was nothing that could contain the empire and no one strong enough to subdue it. All empires are alike – they live by a creed of the ends justify the means, the strong survive, and might makes right. All of these creeds are in direct contrast with the way of Jesus. And empires see themselves as a type of god that will last eternal. But the reality is that the way of empire is not sustainable, it is based on violence and death, and far too many think they can just avoid it rather than deal with it directly.
But Jesus doesn’t buy into the beliefs. He confronts Legion, orders Legion out of the man, and sends Legion into a herd of 2000 pigs which rush to the water and die. The man is freed from his torment. We are told he was in his right mind and sitting calmly and clothed. His humanity had been restored to him like a nation that is freed from an oppressive conqueror. Something that had been denied by Legion, the tombs, and the people in the nearby town who just gave up on him and turned their backs on him.
And the people came out to see what had happened. And instead of rejoicing, they become more concerned with the lost profit (the 2000 pigs who died) and they beg Jesus to leave. Evil systems work that way – even when the thing that kept the evil system going is gone. Evil systems ingrain a way of operating and seeing the world that benefits the system, not the people in it. Evil systems become institutionalized where the concern for maintaining things the way they are becomes more important than living, liberating people, or seeing the image of God in others. And more often than not, money (profit) and evil go hand in hand. While the man has been freed from Legion and from living in the tombs, it seems as though the tombs still have a hold on the people. Tombs stay consistent and maintain things the way they are. But Jesus frees us from the tombs. He frees us from the status quo. He frees us from the systems of violence and uncaring. He frees us from what so many would prefer to just stay in because they know what to expect – such status quos give us a false sense of control of our lives and surroundings.
Once the man is freed, he pleads to go with Jesus, but Jesus tells him no. Healing is more than just an individual affair. Jesus restores the relationships that were also damaged – sending the man to his friends to proclaim what Jesus had done. It’s Jesus dropping a pebble in the water with the man being a ripple effect, disturbing the status quo which Jesus has revealed as not really benefiting anyone. Jesus isn’t causing a chaotic storm on the waters. He is changing the dead calm into new life though. Jesus has comforted the afflicted and with sending the man out, now cured and in his right mind, Jesus is afflicting the comfortable.
Questions for Reflection:
- What are the Legions or empires of our world today that are unsustainable, based on violence, and exist because many think we can just avoid them?
- What are the systems that benefit from maintaining a status quo and plead for Jesus to leave?
- What is Jesus calling on us to be and do in the midst of these systems?