26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 And when He came out onto the land, He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs.
There isn’t an exact location given for this event. The region it happened in was the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee in the area known as Decapolis, a predominantly Gentile area with Jewish settlements and communities within the cities.
It’s been a very long night. The disciples set sail right into a storm. They labored heavily against the storm. They were afraid for their lives. In desperation, they wake Jesus up and ask Him to do something. Jesus causes the storm to disperse. And now, they finally see the eastern shore. It’s been a long, awful night and they’re coming down from their adrenaline high, so they feel exhausted. They set foot on the shore and the only thoughts they have are of securing their boat and sleeping.
And now a crazy, naked, potentially violent man runs screaming up to them. (Or two according to another gospel account.)
We’ve all had one of those days.
It’s easy to lose sight of others when we’re having our own bad day. It’s easy to wish they’d just leave you alone and go away because you’re too tired from dealing with your own problems to listen or help them with theirs.
Ever have that sort of day when things at work went poorly. Your boss yelled at you. Your project hit a delay. You had to deal with quarreling employees. And then you hit your commute. Traffic jams as far as the eye can see. The freeway is a parking lot.
Finally, you get home and all you want to do is sit down for 15 minutes and forget about your rotten day. But the second you step inside your house, your spouse and/or kids want your immediate attention.
Or you’re going through some pretty heavy personal problems. It’s grinding you down. You’re worried about the future. You’re worried about life. And now someone else comes to you and interrupts your worrying with problems of their own. They need help.
It’s pretty easy and so understandable to slip into self-centered thinking at that point and tell them to get lost, in a nice Christian way, of course.
It’s easy to do because in that moment of thinking about ourselves, we don’t think about just how rotten that person’s day might have been.
And crazy, yelling, naked guys were having a very bad day on top of a very bad life. Fortunately, like the disciples earlier, there was someone nearby who could help.
It’s good to know that Jesus always has time for us. And one of the things for us to take away from this story is that life happens to others at inconvenient times for us. As disciples of Christ, we may be called upon to listen, help, or just give support to others during times when we’re tired or barely holding on ourselves.
28 Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.” 29 For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times; and he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard, and yet he would break his bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert. 30 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss.
We’ve talked about demons before. It’s possible that some people who were assumed possessed were often simply mentally ill, but in the bible there are certain stories presented that, if accepted as accurate, do attribute a malevolent entity’s interference with a particular person’s suffering.
Traditionally, demons are thought to be fallen angels who followed Lucifer in his rebellion against God, but I don’t believe that to be definitive. Angels, from the biblical stories, have bodies of their own. They have a shape. They can appear to be as men and speak and communicate with men. If you take Genesis 6 literally, it would seem that angels could even interbreed with mankind. So it would seem odd that fallen angels would possess a man and beg Christ to be cast into a herd of pigs so they could remain in a body of some sort.
Whatever the nature of these creatures are, they are malevolent towards humanity and they are antagonistic towards Christ, even as they recognize His authority over them. They’re not fighting Him to stay in the man, they are begging Him to let them stay within the area in a body. They probably assume that Jesus isn’t going to let them go and possess another human being. They do assume that Christ is going to torment them, possibly sending them off to some sort of hell. So they opt to beg Christ to let them inhabit a herd of pigs nearby.
Jesus asks for the creature’s name and is given Legion. A Roman legion had anywhere from 4500-5200 soldiers, so when Luke says a lot of demons were tormenting this man, a legion gives us an idea of A LOT, but not necessarily a literal number.
32 Now there was a herd of many swine feeding there on the mountain; and the demons implored Him to permit them to enter the swine. And He gave them permission. 33 And 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.
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran away and reported it in the city and out in the country.
Why would Jesus let the demons go into the pigs? He must have known what was going to happen. Did Jesus hate pigs? Well, if Jesus is the Creator, then He either made the first pig or knew that a mutation down the line would come up with the tasty critter, so He probably didn’t hate them.
Were the herdsman Jewish and therefore this was some sort of punishment for owning and tending to an animal that was unclean under the Mosaic Law? Considering that in about 5-10 years or so, Jesus would be giving Peter a vision in which He encouraged the apostle to kill and eat a bunch of unclean animals as part of a point, it doesn’t seem like Jesus would be getting all Old Testament on some pig farmers.
Was Jesus just trying to make a spectacular demonstration of His power and authority? Given that the townspeople knew crazy, naked guys and later when seeing them clothed, in their right minds, they were in awe, I’m guessing He probably didn’t need to do something as spectacular as a herd of cliff-diving pigs.
Was Jesus having compassion on the demons? And if so, was He more compassionate to them than the pigs because they were sentient? Or were the Gentile townspeople sort of seeing these demons as gods to be feared? And if so, might such a demonstration of power over these feared ‘gods’ show the Gentiles that Jesus had supreme authority over any such pretenders.
No idea. Not a clue. Maybe? Either explanation seems possible. Pick one or come up with your own.
But Jesus was being compassionate to the crazy, naked guys. Who now were no longer crazy, nor naked.
35 The people went out to see what had happened; and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they became frightened. 36 Those who had seen it reported to them how the man who was demon-possessed had been made well. 37 And all the people of the country of the Gerasenes and the surrounding district asked Him to leave them, for they were gripped with great fear; and He got into a boat and returned. 38 But the man from whom the demons had gone out was begging Him that he might accompany Him; but He sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.
There were two reactions. One was fear. The other was love. Fear begged Jesus to leave. The townspeople didn’t know what to think of Jesus. He had command over these things that they feared. He healed men who could not have been healed or even contained by the townspeople. Presented with this miracle, the townspeople can’t deal with it and just want the Lord to go away.
The men, who were healed, on the other hand, want to become disciples themselves. They beg Jesus this time to let them come with Him. Jesus tells them they have other work to do. He wants them to stay here and be His witnesses to their communities.
And they’re faithful in this. Luke tells us they witness of Christ’s deeds and compassion to them in this city. Other gospel writers tell us that they took their message to the whole of Decapolis. That is a pretty great result that came out of one bad night and taking the time to have compassion for a human being in need.