Demons & Pigs | Michael Van Dusen | June 23, 2019
Sunday’s gospel (Luke 8:26-39) opens with the words that Jesus and his disciples had sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee.
The Gerasenes lived southeast of the sea of Galilee. They were alien to the Jews and there were some occasions of conflict between them, so when Jesus went there he seemed to be putting himself and his followers in danger.
Perhaps he wanted to let his disciples know that there is no place that God does not belong including the land of the Gerasenes and the area of the tombs. Another way of saying this is, perhaps, that there is nowhere that God cannot be found.
When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs outside town. Jesus’ disciples probably sensed that they were in an unfriendly area, surrounded by graves, especially when a man came screaming at them. They likely felt a mix of fear that there may be more such men, anxiety about which way to go, uncertainty about what to do. They may have also questioned Jesus’ purpose in going there.
When the demon-possessed man saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied.
Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
Apparently, the man was also a menace to the local community, which was why they had tried to chain him.
The demons were impressive. There were a lot of them. At the time of Jesus a Roman legion was about 1000 men but earlier it had been as many as 5,000. The demons also had massive physical strength to break chains, and great psychological power over the man’s behaviour.
Despite this power over humans they feared Jesus. They understood that he was Son of the Most High God.
Jesus reacted calmly to the possessed man. He wasn’t angry at the man but showed concern for him in wanting to rid him of his demons. He seems to have seen the man as the child of God and worthy of care, regardless of his present state. Jesus saw beyond what possessed him.
Jesus commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man…And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. A herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
These are strange moments in the gospel. First, Jesus asks the demons what they want and he seems to grant their request, then has the pigs drown themselves in the abyss. The pig herders would not have thought much of Jesus. He had ruined a significant part of their livelihood.
Other strange moments come from the reactions of the people. Having freed the community of the menace from the demons, the townspeople feared Jesus and asked him to leave. One might have expected that they would have welcomed him… except for the pig herders.
Jesus own response to the man whom he had released from the power of the demons is also a bit surprising. He begged to go with him. But Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”
So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him…becoming one of the first missionaries.
Perhaps Jesus knew that the man would live a fuller life within his own community rather than being an outsider, following Jesus. In this respect the story of the man is like the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, who went and told all her townspeople what Jesus had said to her in John 4:4-26.
In the time after Pentecost, the recollection of this story by the disciples must have informed them of their mission to the whole world. There is no place they should fear to go to tell how much Jesus has done for them.