The story of the Gerasene demoniac again shows Jesus subduing dark powers with a word of authority. This time the dark powers demonstrate their destructive nature as they seek to distort and destroy the image of God in humanity. In the first part of the story, the nature and power of Christ's word over the powers of darkness is revealed. In the second part of the story we witness the demoniac's response of faith, as compared to the crowd's limited response of amazement and fear, a response similar to that of the disciples when confronted by Jesus' stilling of the storm, 4:35-41.
v1. After the storm on the lake, Jesus and his disciples come ashore in the region of Gerasa.
v2-5. The demon-possessed man lived in caves nearby, caves that once served as tombs. The people in the villages nearby had tried to subdue him with chains to protect themselves from his lunacy, but they had failed. He now wondered aimlessly, flaying himself with stones in an attempt to end his torment. He was in a state of total ruin, his personality possessed by dark powers. Mark has taken great pains to describe his state of loss.
v6-8. Jesus is immediately confronted by the demonic and in response commands the evil spirits to "come forth out of the man." The demons takes up a defensive stance, obviously aware that they now confront one more powerful. First, there is the act of kneeling, then a raised voice, a claim that Jesus has no right to interfere with them, a precise description of Jesus' person (the knowledge of a person gives power over them), an invocation in God's name (interesting that demons would invoke God's name in defense), and a plea that Jesus not torment them. The title "Son of the Most High God" is probably a divine title rather than a messianic one; the demons knows well where Jesus comes from.
v9-10. Jesus halts the exorcism and asks the demon's their name, but receives an evasive reply. To give their name is to hand power over to Jesus. The term "Legion" is probably a desperate attempt to resist Jesus; a kind of "we are many." Recognizing that the gig is up, the demons beg that they not be sent from the world of human affairs to the confinement of the abyss, the dark primeval bog prepared for Satan and his minions.
v11-13. To be cast into the pigs seemed, to the demons, the best of some rather bad options, but the trouble is that they spook the pigs and so end up in the very place they didn't want to go. A tricked devil story like this would be very funny to a first century audience.
v14-15. The existence of a herd of pigs illustrates that this is a Gentile area. The herdsmen ran to the surrounding villages in terror to report the events. Soon a great crowd gathers and is filled with fear by what they see: the pigs are gone and the once lunatic demoniac now sits quietly at Jesus' feet.
v16-17. The sane state of the demonic is one thing, but the loss of the pigs is another. God's powerful presence in the person of Jesus fills the people with fear and they "began to plead with Jesus to leave their region."
v18-20. Mark compares the faithless Gentile crowd with the faith of the demoniac. His desire to "go with" Jesus is a formula for discipleship, a discipleship with an interesting brief. First, for the demoniac, following Jesus will involve witnessing to his family and "throughout the entire area of the land of ten cities". Second, unlike the Jews who must not speak of Jesus' "mighty works", he is to go and "tell" since the Gentiles are not likely to assume that Jesus is a warrior messiah. Third, he is to tell all that Jesus has done, rather than who Jesus is. He is to speak of the one who "had mercy" on him.
Again in Mark's gospel we see the powers of darkness overcome by a word of authority. The dark powers may resist the dawning kingdom of God, but in the end, their only choice is to flee in terror. God is gathering a people to be with him for eternity and so the prison doors can no longer resist his kind intention.
Given the state of human affairs, it is likely that we may not recognize the vulnerability of the secular city. In truth, the church, with its word of authority, the gospel, has Babel on the run. As Jesus promised, "the gates of Hades will not overcome it", will not overcome his church. This fact is easily seen in the brief Jesus gave to the once-possessed demoniac. The story gives us a clue to how we may similarly confront the powers of darkness, and drive them to the abyss.
i] "Go home to your family." When the apostles left their boats beside the Sea of Galilee, they forever instilled a sense of guilt, or at least second-rate discipleship, in we mere mortals who fail to follow their example. It is a nice change to see this new disciple following Jesus in his own community, within his own social environ.
ii] "Tell them." A word of power has no power when sentenced to silence. Again, we are reminded that the kingdom of God confronts the powers of darkness with a declared word; the kingdom of God is realized through the preaching and teaching of the word of God.
iii] Tell "how much the Lord has done", tell of his "mercy". The gospel concerns the consequences of Christ's death and resurrection - the free offer of life eternal. Let us declare his kindness and mercy.
1. Secular society ("the secular city", "Babel") entraps the citizen. What are the controlling elements?
2. Consider how the demoniac's brief overcomes this control.