They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
Mark’s story of Jesus is that he has come in God’s name to call time on Rome (Empire’s rule) and announce its replacement the Kingdom of God – the rule of God over creation. Satan (Beelzebul) and the demons play a key role in this. In Jesus’ worldview, Satan is the Strong Man (see 3:19-30) – the “power behind the throne” of Empire. The demons, like the Roman legions, are occupying forces that are too powerful to be resisted. His mission is to liberate Empire’s victims from all the ways in which they are enslaved by a system that binds, uses and ultimately destroys them.
Mark recounts the story of the Gerasene demoniac in this light. Look at the following points:
Jesus has just exorcised the storm. The word he uses is “Be muzzled!” – the same exorcist term for silencing the demons.
“The wind and waves obey him” recalls the story of the crossing of the Red Sea, where Moses commands them.
The Gerasene is a Gentile, whose life among the tombs is a living death.
The chains and leg-irons which bind him are those used by the Romans to bind captured revolutionaries (terrorists, in their book) and parade them through the streets before publicly crucifying them.
The demons name themselves as Legion, “because they are many”. There is no way Mark’s audience could hear this in any other way than a reference to the Roman occupying forces.
There were “about two thousand” demons – the size of a regional Roman occupation force.
The pigs “charge” down the hill. The term describes a charge by soldiers in military formation.
Like the pursuing Egyptian army of Exodus, they are “drowned in the sea”.
Jesus has come to liberate the world from everything that stops it becoming the Kingdom! From what powers do we need liberating?
May your Kingdom come SOON, O Lord! To the poor, The sick, The despised, The forgotten, The oppressed, The broken, The addicted, The hopeless, The Little People. Give us souls to yearn for it, Eyes to see it, Ears to hear it, And hearts to rejoice in its coming and presence! Amen.
Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road URC