Rev. Katherine Todd
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As 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. When 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”— for 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.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now 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. Then 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.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then 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. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then 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. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “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.
“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
This story is of the man possessed by a legion of demons is wild. It is alarming. It is quite understandable that the townspeople witnessing this thing Jesus did, asked him to leave. They were afraid.
Here, this man who they had known to be possessed – who had been naked for years, living in tombs, – who had been chained and under guard (for fear of him, I imagine) but who would break free of the chains and go into the wild… THIS man, was sitting at Jesus’ feet, and in his right mind. They knew THAT man, the crazy, naked, scary man,…but THIS man, sitting, clothed, of sound mind, he was brand new to them!
And it happened with such wild demonstration.
When Jesus was speaking with the demons, he had asked what the demon’s name was, and the demon replied “Legion” for many, many demons lived inside this man.
And then the dialogue continues. The demons beg Jesus not to cast them out or torment them. Instead, they ask to be sent into a nearby herd of pigs. And we are told that Jesus allows them to enter the pigs, at which point all the pigs at once are possessed and rush down the steep bank and into the sea.
Can you imagine?
Possessed pigs…the sounds alone must have been entirely shocking. I imagine there was an enormous amount of squealing! And this uniform self-harming action of rushing off the cliff and into the sea – how entirely shocking. Never before had any of them seen anything like it. Never before had any of them heard anything like it. Surely the Legion living in that-naked-man-to-be-avoided had entered the pigs; for why else would they all and instantly be compelled to hurdle themselves into the sea to drown? And why else would this man – so long possessed – have his wits and will about him,…for the first time in years!
They had indeed switched places.
With a word, Jesus’ word, demons had moved into the herd of pigs.
Note how destructive evil is. What a terrible, terrible waste. What a terrible, terrible loss of life. And what mercy Jesus shows this man, long suffering from demon possession.
I imagine that few, if any, still saw this man with the loving compassion that Jesus did. I imagine only the man’s parents, if they were still living, could still think fondly of him. Fear or even mercy might have possessed some to eve put this man out of his misery. But Jesus knows a better way. When Jesus spoke, demons and all nature – heaven and earth – had to obey.
Now, I wish Jesus hadn’t granted Legion its wish to go into the pigs. I wish that because the loss of life was enormous! And yet, had it not happened, I wonder if we would have understood the enormity of this man’s possession. Would we be telling this story centuries later? Would we have even been able to conceive of what Legion even meant?
This story reminds us that the world that we see and perceive is only a small portion of the entire picture. Book after book of the New Testament speaks to the Spiritual realm and spiritual forces, but I sense we are not at all comfortable speaking in these ways now. In fact, it seems we often do not really believe in a spiritual realm at all.
And while many of the ailments once labeled demon possession are now likely called something else, the fact remains that there are forces of evil and harm at work in this world – just as there are forces of goodness and light. And there are many shades of gray in between.
And our stories are part of the arch of much larger stories. The temptations and demons we face are not unique to us alone. And our choices and struggles do not impact only our own life but the lives and wholeness of entire communities. We are part of something much bigger. Our choices can magnify the light or the darkness around us. And the harms that befall us also impact our communities, for better, or for worse. This man’s possession was causing havoc all around him and had been for many years.
While the townspeople were scared by the power they witnessed that day, what a gift to have this man restored to his right mind. What love that Jesus chose to save this one. As a shepherd leaves the 99 to save 1 lost sheep, so Jesus showed compassion for this man. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that it’s not the will of God that one of these little ones should be lost.
And this gives me great comfort to realize that even when I’ve burned all my bridges, even when I’ve exhausted my support network, even when I’ve destroyed trust…
OR when hardship upon hardship has befallen me, when calamity has been my bread both night and day, when evil has had its way with me, and I can no longer be found,
Christ still sees me.
Christ still knows me.
Christ is still seeking me out,
as the shepherd his lost sheep,
for God doesn’t want to lose me.
And God doesn’t want to lose you.
For you are precious and honored in God’s sight, says the Lord.
Could we ever deserve such love?
Can we ever earn such mercy and compassion?
To be seen and known for who we are and who God has made us to be
…underneath the layers of what has befallen us and what we’ve become…
To be seen and known for all that we HAVE become…
And still loved, just as we are…
To be loved so much that we are disciplined – so we will learn to walk away from the evil that enslaves us and toward the good that nourishes us…
To be so loved as to be rescued from the evil this man could not be free of…
What love is this!?!!
What love is this?!