They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes, and when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 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. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 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 you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
Mark 5 begins by telling us that Jesus is in the region of the Gerasenes, or Gadarenes as some Bibles read. This geographical note tells us that Jesus was in Gentile territory with people who were culturally more Greek than Semitic (thus, all the pigs).
Upon his arrival, Jesus is greeted by a man who was in need of healing. In today’s world, we would say Jesus was met by a man who was struggling with mental health. However, in biblical times, mental health struggles were often attributed to sin and/or demons, as opposed to nature or nurture.
The description of the man’s condition is hard to read. In just a few verses it is clear that this man was suffering, trapped and isolated by his own pain. However, despite his pain and confusion, this unnamed man has incredible strength, and calls out to Jesus.
Jesus responds by seeing him–truly seeing him. He asks for the man’s name, and the man responds by naming his pain: “Legion.” This name was likely a numerical reference to a Roman Legion, which had 4,000- 6,000 soldiers, thereby indicating how deep his suffering was.
Jesus then does something interesting, something that appears rather “un-Jesus like.” Jesus casts the demons out of the man and into a herd of pigs, who run off a cliff and die. It is often tempting for us to get caught up in this detail, wondering why Jesus would sacrifice pigs, or why Jesus would transfer the demons instead of simply getting rid of them? I don’t have an answer for those questions, but I fear that if we spend too much time in that space we will miss the point of this story, which is that Jesus sees our pain and offers healing. Jesus saw Legion. He felt his pain, and he immediately offered healing. The method may not make sense to us, but at the end of the day, Jesus saw this man’s isolation and pain and ended them on the spot. That is holy, and that is good news.
There are several takeaways in this text. The fact that this miracle story happens in Gentile territory is significant. In everything Jesus does, he constantly spreads the narrative of love wider, inviting outsiders in. This story is a classic example of that, and reminds us that no one is left out of God’s grace.
A second takeaway is that Jesus’ grace and healing exists even for the broken. This man likely had not tithed or been a model citizen. He was isolated and feared, and still Jesus offered healing. For those of us who can relate to being disconnected from God, this is good news. Jesus’ grace sees us and calls us by name.
Finally, this story reminds us that healing is not easy. The villagers saw the demoniac “in his right mind,” and were terrified. Change can be scary. Healing can be hard. However, at the end of the day, this story reminds us that Jesus longs for our wholeness, and that transformation is worth pursuing.
This text challenges us to think about healing in two ways our healing and healing for our neighbor.
Legion names his pain. From that, Jesus is able to offer him healing. This passage leads one to wonder if the first step to our healing is to recognize the places in us that are hurting. Are you grieving? Are you drowning in the frantic pace of your life? Can you name it? If so, that might be the first step to change.
We also are challenged to notice the people in our community that, like Legion, are crying out. In some situations that will be obvious: the woman on the street corner, the friend who just lost their job. In other instances it will be discreet: the couple grieving a miscarriage, the couple whose marriage is on the rocks, the person drowning in loneliness. No matter who it is, the text challenges us to see one another’s pain and to reach out. No one should be left alone in their hurt.
About the Author
Rev. Sarah Are is the Associate Pastor for Youth and Young Adults at PHPC.