Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Who was he, this person whom Jesus deliberately crossed the lake to seek out? Someone’s son who had gone missing? Even that’s probably more than we should deduce from the actual text. We can speculate (wildly) but that’s not to the point and to do so only helps us miss the point. He could have been anybody. Perhaps that’s why Luke records this incident, someone being held captive feeling the weight of Roman occupation in the local Legion.
Here he was, possibly an illegal alien, somewhere in Gentile territory, being sought out by a Jew whom he recognises with the only title he knows to use. A pagan title which appears to announce that the gods are walking the land. Given this title it’s not surprising that the local population ask Jesus and his followers to leave.
Then there is the problem of the pigs. What threat to stability does it pose when the local herd is lost, some of which may have been used for sacrifice by the local Roman Legion? Some of the population would not have been happy in the ensuing political situation. Does Luke record this incident because the local political situation becomes a recurring theme for the apostles?
The Son responds to the title used but then teaches the man to recognise God, the Lord, not some high god over a pantheon of gods, and having done so sends him out to begin telling the story of faith. Perhaps that’s why Luke records this incident. It announces that Christ’s mission to all the world has begun. It could have been anybody being sent, and it will be anyone who responds to Jesus.
Lord, it is said that the two things which should never be discussed in polite society are politics and religion, teach us to be like Jesus: unafraid to cut across the grain of correct thinking and make splinters in the flesh of those who would sandpaper smooth the awkward questions and answers. Amen.
The Rev’d Ruth Browning is a retired minister and member of Thornbury URC