This is week three of our 5 Marks of Jesus series for the new year. Two Sundays ago, we watched Jesus forgive. Last Sunday, Caitlan showed us how Jesus teaches. Today, we see Jesus heal.
Let’s pray, then listen for the word of the Lord from…
Scripture Mark 5:1-20 (NL) - Heal
5 They came to the other side of the sea, to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] 2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 The man lived among the tombs, and no one could restrain him anymore, even with a chain, 4 for 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. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him, 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with ME, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure (command, beg) you, by God, do not torment me.” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 Then Jesus[b] asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 The man begged Jesus earnestly not to send them out of the region.
11 Now there on the hillside, a great herd of swine was feeding, 12 and the unclean spirits[c] begged Jesus, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13 So Jesus gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out (of the man) and entered the swine, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, stampeded down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.
14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the countryside. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and they saw the man (who was always) possessed by demons, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion, and the people became frightened. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the man possessed by demons and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they (all) began to beg Jesus[d] to leave their neighborhood.
18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might come with him. 19 But Jesus[e] refused and said to him, “Go home to your own people, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy God has shown you.” 20 And the man went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone was amazed.
This poor guy, bless his heart. Who knows when things first went sideways for him. As a child, or a youth, maybe? Were there signs back then for his parents, teachers, friends that showed anyone who loved him he was struggling with something? Did they ask? Could he answer? Did he feel safe enough to try and tell them what he was thinking and feeling, when he couldn’t really find the words for it inside himself? Were there family or cultural expectations that made him fake a smile, go through the motions of so-called normal, even though he didn’t feel normal at all. And if so, did he have to become two people, one inside, battling and screaming for someone to see him and hear him, to listen to him, and to love him, and the shell of a person on the outside he began to wear every day like a stuffy costume so others would accept him even though he didn’t feel alive wearing it for them.
Bullies and bigots have a sixth sense that suss out folks like this fella. I wonder if other kids at school picked on him, insulted him, shunned him. I wonder if parents and grandparents, teachers and coaches tried to yell or discipline the problem out of him. I wonder if preachers, pastors judged him as broken, sinful, lazy, disobedient, and therefore beyond God’s grace.
If so, and each one of those seems possible, probable, this kid would have to create more than TWO personas, a whole diverse shell of personalities and behaviors for each space and each audience. Before long, he’d be managing so many ways of being in the world, his God-created self would fade into the shadows, would sink down so deep into the depths of him, he couldn’t remember what it feels like to be himself, couldn’t even remember his own name, all if it now buried beneath the legion of culture-appeasing, identity-smothering characters.
Shalom means more than peace. It means wholeness, oneness, completeness, fullness, and this blessed creature wants Shalom, and has wanted it, needed for what feels like his whole life. He is not whole and one but divided and many. There is no sense of fullness, but emptiness. There is no sense of completeness, but loneliness. And therefore, there is no peace.
His community had a solution. Remove him. Banish him into the caves, and shackle him there if necessary. That solution would do nothing for HIS pain, but would at least remove the sight and smell of him from polite society so they could continue their careers and chores, their feasts and festivals without having to face his brokenness. They called it safety and security, but it was more about control, comforts, and customs. Why should the many sacrifice their time and treasure for the sake of one.
They’d tried this “lock him up” approach over and over, only to find he has become capable of breaking chains and shattering shackles so at least his body can be free, even if his heart and mind are not. And he roamed, and they scowled. We call them civilized societies, even though they condition us to avoid “those people”, to stare straight ahead, don’t slow down, don’t make eye contact, don’t engage, and by all means, do not give them anything. That will only encourage them.
When Jesus and the disciples enter the region, Jesus sees the man, slows down, and connects with him, engages him, speaks to him and to all his artificial shells. “Come out. Let go.”
To the man, this command sounds familiar. How many times had communities or leaders sent him away, locked him away? The man, or maybe the spirits, or both adjure Jesus not to send him, them, away. I had to look up the word “adjure”. It means “obtest”. I had to look up obtest. Somehow, in one word, it means both to command and to beg, to order and to plead, like when we need someone to tell us the truth, and we say, “Swear it! Swear it on the life of your daughter!” There’s an insistence, and a desperation. That’s how he talks to Jesus, begging, demanding this Jesus of Nazareth be different.
Jesus doesn’t mind, and doesn’t appear threatened, or afraid. Jesus sees all of him, the beautiful person and the brokenness, and Jesus loves him, and not the “love the sinner, hate the sin” kind of love. Jesus loves him with a real raw love that stands beside him as he is, no stick of judgment and no carrot of expection. Jesus loves him right here, right now, and loves him enough to imagine shalom for him, and to give something considerable of himself to help this one find a hint of wholeness where he is and to point him on a path toward even more.
When the personas, the spirits beg not to be sent away, Jesus replies, “Okay, you don’t have to go away, but you can’t haunt him. So, the pigs? Sure, fine by me.” The Bible makes sure to tell us there were 2000 swine, and all of them jumped into the water. 2000. That’s how many ways this one had had to divide himself. That’s how many scars this one carried from birth childhood, through puberty and young adulthood, through bullies and broken friendships, through bad people or bad luck or bad choices.
And then, he becomes himself. I wonder, when was the last time he was himself? Ever? Did he feel something old, holy and true, as if he found what he had lost, or did he feel something new, strange but comfortable, as if he had finally found what he had been looking for?
The people from town, they hear what happened and they come to see for themselves. They see the man they had tried to handle with rejection and chains. He is healthy, whole, and they are frightened. Not amazed, or confused, or curious, or skeptical, or even grateful. First, they are frightened. Are they afraid this man might snap back again? Are they afraid he might remember how poorly they treated him and hold it against them? Are they afraid, in this person’s healing, there might actually be a God who sees and cares and heals, and if so, that same God saw them ignore and reject and inprison.
The witnesses and swineherds share their story, and make the connection between Jesus and the man, and the 2,000 swine over the cliff and floating, and the people shift from fear to revulsion. Before, they just wanted the man gone. Now, even though healed, they want the man and Jesus gone. To them, one man’s healing is not worth such a large expense. If this Jesus hangs out here, among us, in our town, and is willing to spend so much of our investments and resources on one sick, struggling, suffering soul, then we will be inundated with sick, suffering, struggling souls and Jesus will take even more of what we have to heal people. So they say, Go away Jesus.
Jesus and the healed man do go away. The townspeople return home or to work, glad Jesus didn’t stay any longer, or else they might have lost even more of their income or wealth or possessions to… improve the hospital, or build a homeless shelter, or open a daycare for needy or abused children, or launch a crisis counseling center… All that money, and for what, just to heal a few people?