About a week ago I (Sarah) announced to Nate that every year on Halloween I would read the story of the Gerasene demoniac to my kids. Since my oldest daughter was at a sleepover at my sister-in-law’s, I’m going to read it tonight.
Every time I read this story, I try to approach it as it’s the first time, to imagine what it must have been like to witness this event! I hope you find this as fascinating as I do.
After Jesus calmed the sea from a threatening storm, he and the disciples arrived on shore at night. Mark states they were immediately met by a man who was demon possessed, a man so crazed he couldn’t be restrained by chains and lived among tombs. Imagine the noise, he was screaming and howling and bloody from bruising himself with stones. I don’t know how often the people of the town attempted to chain him, but I doubt it went well. I can only imagine it would have been an ugly, bloody mess.
Because he wondered among the tombs and on the mountains, I wonder how much fear he induced in the people living in that area. Did children wake up at night listening to his screams? Did parents fear for their safety? Did their schedule for burying the deceased depend on whether or not this guy was present in the cemetery on any given day?
I imagine he was quite disruptive. As I think about it, I think of the frequent screams of my former next door neighbor. She had a serious mental illness and was prone to hallucinations. My bedroom was closest to her house and I would awake in the middle of the night to the sound of her screaming and slamming doors. She was always awake at night and routinely turned lights on and off while screaming at the top of her lungs. During seasons of warm weather I would open my bedroom window, and once in a while she would stick her head out of a window of her home, look at me, and scream. Thankfully, while she was terrifying to a child, she was also harmless.
Now picture this guy encountering Jesus. You would expect him to attack, or maybe even run. Instead, upon seeing Jesus, he ran toward him and bowed, shouting at the top of his voice. And Jesus stood his ground!
I always wonder how the disciples felt. I imagine the of the scariest, most animalistic and evil voice fathomable. I know I would be hiding behind Jesus or in the boat cowering from terror. I don’t even like scary movies or spooky situations. I remember in college, a friend took my roommate and me on a drive through “haunted” battlefields. According to local legends, there was witchcraft and all sorts of evil things going on in the woods. Then we saw it – the tree where someone had committed suicide years before. On the tree was written “You die first,” and you could see where the rope had carved a notch into the tree as the person hung. This was in the early 2000’s, so of course there was no cell phone reception in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. The area was so dense with trees – I had never seen landscape like this before in Indiana. My roommate and I didn’t sleep for a week.
I’m sure that had I been with Jesus that day, I would have been hiding, looking for a makeshift defensive weapon, and weighing various exit strategies. I imagine the fear as the demoniac asked Jesus, “What do you want with me?” I picture the disciples’ awe as Jesus commanded the spirit to come out of the man. I wonder if Jesus was afraid at all or if he just nonchalantly commanded the spirit to come out. It had to have been so tense when Jesus asked the spirit for its name. I wonder if Jesus knew what he was dealing with; how did he react to learning there was an entire legion of spirits? A footnote in my Bible mentions a legion was a military term for about 5,000 or 6,000 troops.
It must have been strange to hear the spirits beg Jesus to enter about 2,000 swine nearby. I do not pretend to understand why, upon seeing Jesus, this legion of spirits would do this. I wonder what exactly the author means by begging. Did the spirits have an inkling that Jesus might do something far worse? Did they weigh alternatives and decide the swine would be their best option? Reading the story, I am amazed by the sheer power of Jesus, I wonder what the other options could have been?!
Imagine the large herd of swine running off a cliff into the sea and drowning. I imagine a powerful a stampede, bigger, stronger animals trampling the weaker in desperation to get off the cliff. How close did the pigs actually come to the disciples? How badly did the ground shake? What would the noise of 2,000 pigs infested by nasty, evil spirits running to their death sound like? How many people woke up in the middle of the night?
Evidently quite a few. The herders ran to tell people what had happened and they ran Jesus and the disciples out of town. I imagine at daybreak, the collateral damage of 2,000 drowned pigs in the bay was the biggest news in most peoples’ lifetimes. That must have smelled for weeks! It probably drew many scavengers. The bones must have washed up for months.
I imagine the first thing the people saw were all the bloated pig corpses floating in the water, their hoof prints scattered all over the land, and the second thing they saw was the former demoniac, sitting with clothes on and acting completely normal. He was proof of the change that took place! The people, seeing their loss of business and livelihood from the pigs’ destruction, begged Jesus to leave. I image, “Get the hell out of here!” was probably a mild version of the choice words used. While I don’t know the exact financial loss of 2,000 pigs, it was undoubtedly a heft sum, enough to turn a town upside down financially.
It’s no wonder the man wanted to go with Jesus and his disciples. He had experienced love, probably for the first time, through Jesus’ intervention. Jesus was willing to mess up an entire town to save one person. Jesus asked the man to stay behind and tell everyone what had happened. Jesus stated, “Go home and tell your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” The man went from demon possessed to missionary, and everyone was amazed by the story.
Every time I read this story, I am overwhelmed by Jesus’ love and the value of a single human life. I wonder how the disciples still did not understand who Jesus was after witnessing this event. I wonder how many people from Gerasa went on to be followers of Jesus, members of the early Church? Most of all, I wonder what would happen if we practiced this level of presence, this level of fearless love, in the lives of the broken people around us every day.
**Cover picture painted by Sarah Sparks 10/31/2015**