Luke 8.26 – 39
26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As 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. 28When 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”— 29for 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.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32Now 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. 33Then 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. 34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then 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. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then 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. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“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.
Jesus and the disciples continue to sail across the Galilee, and land in the country of the Gerasenes. Our guide in Israel pointed out the area where some believe this to have been – there are hills that come down close to the shore of the sea, and areas not far up those hills that have caves which were used for burial. We tend to picture a cemetery with tombstones and mausoleums when we read this story, but at that time most burials were in caves. This man was living in the caves with the dead because his mental illness prevented him from living among people. Scripture tells us he was possessed by many demons, who identified themselves as “legion” when Jesus asked the man his name. But these demons clearly knew that Jesus was more powerful than any demons, and expected him to send them off into oblivion. They begged Jesus to allow them to enter the swine that grazed nearby instead; Jesus gave them permission, but the trick is on the demons, for they so maddened the pigs that they rushed into the water.
Now, to understand this story, again we must look at context – Jesus has crossed over into a Gentile area, where they might have kept pigs. But pigs do not graze – pigs root, so Luke has not even seen a lot of pigs feeding. To the Jews hearing the story, the destruction of a large number of “filthy” pigs was a turn of events to bring laughter – sort of like our reaction if we are watching a movie and a drug dealer’s stash is destroyed in a great explosion. But to the Gentiles who lived in that region the destruction of a large number of pigs was the destruction of their livelihood, not to mention an awful lot of bacon! We, being Gentiles, tend to see it from their perspective.
The point, however, is that the man was healed, sitting at Jesus’ feet dressed and in his right mind. The people of the village do not see, or note, this; they had long ago written this man off as crazy – they’re not going to be bothered with him now! But they are frightened by the sort of power that could “send” demons into a herd of pigs. Instead of worshiping Jesus because of this “sign” of his power, they are fearful and ask him to leave. And Jesus gets in the boat and leaves. Notice, throughout the gospels, Jesus never stays in a place where he is not welcome!
When Jesus comes to us, he can drive out our demons, whatever they may be (fear, anger, hate are demons as surely as the supernatural). But Jesus will not come in if we do not welcome him – he will get in the boat and go on his way. We want to be in that boat with him! The man whom he healed wanted to go with him; but Jesus gave him another mission – go and tell his community about what Jesus had done for him – and he did that.