What scared you as a child? Was it the boogey man hiding under the bed or in the closet? Or going up into the dusty, creaky old attic? Or maybe it was the dimly lit, dank-smelling basement? At the age of 8, my family and I lived in a 100 year old house outside Catskill. It was both creepy and interesting for a boy. If there was one place I was not going though, it was the attic and the basement. Every night there were strange noises coming from the attic. And my bedroom was next to the attic door.
I can imagine in the Gerasenes, no one wanted to go to the tombs. They were scared. There is a man possessed by a legion of demons. He horrifies his neighbors by howling among tombs. The diabolical powers provoke him to appalling self-abuse, power that makes it impossible to restrain him. If you are a first century Jewish listener such things reek of religious impurity. In the Levitical tradition contact with corpses defiles. But this is more than about purity laws.
The man with the unclean spirit appears to suffer from multiple personality disorder.
He runs to Jesus and submits to him while shouting angrily at him. Asking with suspicion and disgust what Jesus has to do with him. He confuses healing with torment. He referres to himself in both the first-person singular and plural. Grab the white coat. Open up the padded room. We have our first contestant for crazy.
We could see it from another angle. The man is possessed by a legion of demons. It’s not his mind that needs healing but his spirit. Either way, Jesus receives this hideously tormented figure. Ready to heal but something unexpected happens. The unclean spirits begin to bargain with Jesus. Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man. But the legion does not want to be sent out away with nowhere to go. Instead legion offers another option to be sent into the swine herd. Jesus agrees. And upon the legion entering the swine, they run down the hill and into the sea and drown.
What one thinks are early evangelists, the swine herders go and tell the people in the city and the country all that had happened! Of course, the people have to come and see for themselves. With their own eyes see Jesus and the very man who had been possessed now sitting, clothed and in his right mind.
This seems to be a good place for the crowd to erupt in praise and celebration. Don’t we like to hear stories of healing? Reconciliation? Redemption? And especially the defeat of a legion of demons. But they don’t.
They are afraid. They beg Jesus to leave. They don’t want him there. Mark is not that detailed in explaining their reasons for begging Jesus to leave. It leaves open the door for us to wonder about their reasons. Were they afraid because of Jesus’ power to expel the legion from the man and heal him? Or were they more angry because this healing episode cost them money?
I am under the belief that they didn’t know Jesus and were afraid for their own lives. If he can command the legions to leave one man causing an entire herd of swine to run off a cliff then what might he do to us? I lean this way because of what happens at the end of this encounter.
The man wants to follow Jesus. Hallelujah. Another follower. But Jesus doesn’t agree. But it’s not NO. Instead, Jesus’ answer is the third box…OTHER. He sends him home with a task. Go home to your friends. Tell them how much the Lord has done for you. Tell them what mercy God has shown you.
There is a town that has no idea what to believe about Jesus, and they are afraid. Go straighten them out with the truth about this Jesus. He’s not here to harm you but to heal you. He’s not here to lash out but to love.
I wanted this to be my role as I went to college and thought about a career. Throughout college I wanted to be the Gerasene demoniac. Not the guy in the tombs, possessed by a legion of demons. But the one who had been healed now serving Jesus back in his home town. But God’s call was not for me to check the OTHER box (for as much as I wanted to). It was to actually follow him into a more professional kind of ministry.
For so many who are not called into this professional type of ministry, it doesn’t mean that your call and responsibility is finished. For most God wants us to be the OTHER. To be the local evangelist – the one who is a living witness of God’s love and mercy – The one sharing stories of God’s marvelous deeds, the one living with the joy of the Lord and exuding the love and grace of God. And doing it – not in far off lands or in various churches – But in our home; with our friends; neighbors; those at work. Our spouse. Our children. Our parents. Our other relatives. It’s the girls and boys entrusted in our care in recreation sports or scouting.
I think most assume that since Jesus didn’t call them into professional ministry, they are off the hook. They get to return home and go back to what they were doing. Not so fast. Sometimes the answer is OTHER. It’s being a witness right where you are.