They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. – Mark 5:1-20
I think these people spend more time on or near the lake than anywhere else. In this passage they are again traversing the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. Here they encounter someone who could best be described as a “messy person” with all sorts of problems. This man with “an impure spirit” had been exiled to the tombs, apparently because no one wanted him around. He was clearly a scary person for those who came into contact with him. He was apparently very strong and powerful as he could not be chained or subdued. He also seemed to know that he was somehow “broken” and was also cutting himself with stones. I think in our modern society this man may have been confined to a mental institution and medicated. That is not to imply that people with mental illness are possessed with evil spirits, but this man’s soul was clearly broken. It was apparently diluted with demons.
It seems that the soul of the man had been diluted or replaced by the impure spirits. So much so that when asked what his name was the impure spirits answered for the man, “my name is legion – for we are many”. The impure spirits plead with Jesus and He sends them out of the man into a herd of pigs who promptly commit suicide by running into the lake and drowning. This was probably both surprising and strange for the people tending the pigs. They had just lost their livelihood to this exorcism of demons for a man that they probably had little care or concern for in the first place. But Jesus cared for this man who had been cast aside and left for dead by his own community. The community cared for the lost pigs, Jesus cared for the lost soul they had exiled.
They came and saw this man miraculously freed of his demons and instead of being thankful they were afraid. What were they afraid of? Was it merely a fear of losing pigs? Were they afraid that this man was only faking it and was not really healed? Were they afraid of the power that this Man who healed him wielded over demons? Faced with such evidence they were left with only two conclusion: 1) this Man commanded demons because He was God; or 2) this man commanded demons because he was the “head demon”. It seems they chose the latter based on their actions.
Then something happens that left me a little confused, and at least initially, disappointed. This man who had been healed wanted to go with Jesus in the boat and Jesus said no. It seems odd that Jesus would refuse someone who wanted to follow Him, but I suppose there was a limit to the number of people that could fit in the boat and I am not sure even if there was room Jesus would have allowed him to go with them.
This seems harsh on this man so recently healed, but Jesus has a plan for him. He knows that returning to his own people and sharing about the one who healed him was more valuable that another disciple in the boat. He wanted this man to thrive where he was planted and to provide his unique witness to God’s power among the people he knew. His transformed spirit could remain connected no matter where he was if that is what he chose.
So what is the take home message here? I think there are several things I have learned: 1) no one is lost beyond hope, no matter how broken or “diluted” their soul seems to be; 2) we should all be wary of “soul dilution” in big or small ways; 3) we should rejoice and not be afraid when we see God working in miraculous ways in our lives and the lives of others; 4) Following God can look different for different people and that is OK; 5) God may need us to be a witness to those we know at the expense of following Him in more overt ways like religious practices and traditions; and 6) bearing witness of our changed lives to other people is more important than “riding around in the boat” with Jesus.
Prayer: God help us to reach out to those around us with love and understanding, even when they are scary and messy.