There are some stories in the New Testament that puzzle me. Today, I read a second account of one of those stories.
The Gadarenes was a region on the other side of the lake, that is, the Sea of Galilee. This is the area where Jesus grew up, his old stomping grounds. Much of the first part of the book of Mark says things like “by the lakeshore” or tells of the time when he stood in a boat to have some space from the crowds. Looking at a map, it’s directly south of Bethsaida. This area appears to be sort of independent.
The story begins in Mark 5. As soon as Jesus gets out of the boat, an “unclean” man emerges from the graveyard. He lives there. He is a rover, unrestrained and wild, unkempt and filthy. Mark 5:3 says “no one could bind him, not even with a chain”. He cried out day and night, wandering, cutting himself with stones. He was a true wild man. He saw Jesus from afar, ran to him and worshiped him (Mark 5:6). The demons inside of him recognized Jesus: “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” At this point, Jesus had already commanded the spirits to leave the poor man. Jesus asked the name of the demon, who responded, “Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.” The demons begged Jesus not to send them far away. The demons implored him to be sent into the herd of pigs grazing nearby. Jesus assented and the demons left the man and entered the 2,000 pigs (!) feeding on the hillside. They immediately plunged down the hillside into the lake and drowned in the water.
The herdsmen fled to the town and spread the news (Mark 5:14). Looky-lous came to see the commotion and carnage, not unlike today. They saw the changed man and Jesus.
What hit me is that the crowd was not excited about Jesus liberating the haunted man. There was no rejoicing or party for the freed man No. They started pleading with Jesus to leave their region: to “go away and leave them alone” (5:17). Ouch. Jesus did. The newly whole man begged to go with him. Instead, Jesus tells him to spread the word about how God changed his life. So he did.
Why couldn’t the people of Gadarenes/Gergasenes/Gederenes get excited about Jesus’ arrival in their midst. Well…he changed things. He messed up the status quo. He killed a whole herd of pigs, for Pete’s sake! He’s a troublemaker. How will that farmer ever recoup the cost? And we like a little local color with our crazy people. Makes us feel halfway normal, too, and a mite superior. Luke 8:35 says they were afraid. The Kingdom of God is here! So they sent it away.
Are we doing that? Do we run from the new and astonishing things God does in our lives and the lives of others because it makes no sense to us? If we bring the Kingdom of God with us where we go as Christians, do we question at times why we aren’t more welcome