They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes.* 2And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4for 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. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7and 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.’ 8For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ 9Then Jesus* asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ 10He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12and the unclean spirits* begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ 13So 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.
14 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. 15They 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. 16Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17Then they began to beg Jesus* to leave their neighborhood. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19But 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.’ 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
After Jesus had calmed the storm, he and the disciples arrived at the other side of the lake. Ancient manuscripts differ over the actual name of the region – other names listed in some manuscripts include Gergesenes or Gadarenes. When we drove round the Sea of Galilee, an area was identified that people think is the likely location of this event. It is near the shore, but there are rather steep hills, even cliffs, dotted with caves. The caves were used as burial sites, or tombs, in ancient days. I thought that made a lot more sense than the image I had in my head of a man hiding among tombstones! One could certainly live among those caves, if one was not afraid of the dead buried there!
And so – Jesus and the disciples landed their little boat, and this man comes screaming down the steep slope from the tombs above. He is obviously insane – or as is phrased in the scripture, possessed by demons. The disciples are frightened. The man trails pieces of broken chains; he has, at some point, been chained but has broken the chains. The disciples fall back, but Jesus stands there and looks at him, with a sadness in his eyes. Suddenly, the man stops and falls at Jesus’ feet. And the demons speak – like all the demons Mark has discussed already, these demons know who Jesus is, and know that he has power over them. They beg Jesus not to torment them. Jesus’ response is to speak to the man, to ask his name. But the demons answer, “My name is legion, for we are many.” The man is possessed, not by a single demon, but by many. Regardless of how many or how powerful the demons are, Jesus is more powerful. God is more powerful even than the evil in the earth today. But these demons continue to argue with Jesus, to bargain – they ask if he will at least just allow them to go into the pigs grazing near-by. In order to understand what happened next, we have to think like 1st century Jews for a moment. The spirits we have been talking about were unclean spirits; to the Jews, the swine, pigs, were unclean and without value. It would seem logical to them that unclean spirits would enter the unclean pigs. What surprised everyone, obviously including the unclean spirits, was that the pigs were panicked by the spirits and ran off the cliff into the lake and were drowned. The man was cured, but the pigs were lost, and while they were of no value to the Jews, they were of value to the Gentile people of the region.
We will continue this discussion tomorrow!