They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they 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 found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. – Luke 8:26-39
This familiar water is recounted in Matthew 8:28-34 where I reflected on it in a post called rushing into the lake. The main message I gleaned from the Matthew passage was that there is an unseen spiritual world all around that can give rise to all manner or storms and squalls that we ignore at our own peril. The story is also told in Mark 5:1-20, although in both the Mark and Luke accounts there is only one demon possessed man and in Matthew there are two. In the post I wrote about the Mark passage, called Diluted with Demons, I wondered if the soul of the man had been diluted or replaced by the impure spirits.
In this account Jesus steps on the shore of the lake and He is immediately accosted by a naked man who lived among the tombs near Gerasenes. When he saw Jesus approaching this man dropped to his knees at Jesus’ feet and said “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”. Each of the previous versions of this story contain a similar quote so it seems this was an important part of the story. The spirits clearly knew who Jesus was, the Son of God on earth. I think the demons that were possessing this unfortunate man had this clarity because they were on the same side of the “window” that Jesus represented between the spiritual and the secular worlds.
This passage includes one detail that is not emphasized in the other accounts, “he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.” The interesting part of this is “solitary places”. Why did the demons drive this man into solitary places? Is there something about isolation from other people that served the purposes of the demons that were diluting this man’s soul? Perhaps they knew that through community this man could have been cared for by others in a way similar to the way Jesus is caring for him here.
Jesus transfers the “legion” of demons into the herd of pigs “the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.” In a way they were returning to the “spiritual sea” from which they came. I am not sure how the spiritual realm to which these demons returned relates to the undiscovered country that Jesus is the bridge to for all those that are willing to “sit at his feet” like this man. The response of the people to this miraculous healing of mind and body is received with fear and rejection “they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”
What were they people afraid of? Perhaps they thought Jesus was somehow demonic because He could command the demons. I do not know. Whatever the reason they did not embrace this miracle with grace and understanding. They told Jesus to leave. So Jesus got back in the boat and was ready to head out. Then comes the hard part of this story for me.
The formerly demon-possessed man asks to go with Jesus in the boat: “The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” I can almost feel the disappointment this man must have felt when Jesus rejected his request to go along in the boat. Jesus of course knew that it was more important for this man to be a witness where he was than to become a disciple in the boat, but it is still a hard thing to hear. I am pretty sure there are many places we need to go that are equally hard like into prisons to care for the captives there, into places of poverty to share our provisions, or perhaps into developing countries to share our science of sustainable clean water.
Casting Crowns has a song I really like called “set me free” which I am pretty sure is about this story. It really captures the captivity this man was facing and the freedom he found. Here are some of the lyrics:
It hasn’t always been this way
I remember brighter days
Before the dark ones came
Stole my mind
Wrapped my soul in chains
Now I live among the dead
Fighting voices in my head
Hoping someone hears me crying in the night
And carries me away
Morning breaks another day
Finds me crying in the rain
All alone with my demons I am
Who is this man that comes my way?
The dark ones shriek
They scream His name
Is this the One they say will set the captives free?
Jesus, rescue me
Set me free of the chains holding me
Is anybody out there hearing me?
Set me free
As the God man passes by
He looks straight through my eyes
And darkness cannot hide
Do you want to be free?
Lift your chains
I hold the key
All power on Heaven and Earth belong to me
Set Them Free by Casting Crowns
Prayer: God set us all free from the things that bind us to this world and keep us from being in the places You need us to be.