2.27.2015 Friday of Lent 1 Mark 5:1-20 The healing of a demon- possessed man
Jesus Drives out Demons
A nameless man has been exiled to the margins of human existence. He's filthy. Naked in public. He can't control his speech. He's so violent that people can't come near him. All attempts to restrain him have failed. He exhibits the most common form of self-harm even today — self-mutilation. He suffers from demon possession.
This mad young man, in an unclean town, a town on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, in which Jewish people made their living by herding pigs. Jewish law tells us the pig is an unclean animal. But the town has found it profitable. To raise them and sell them to their pagan neighbors who were pork eaters.
The madman is untouchable. The people of the town had decided that he was good for nothing. His uncontrollable rages have brought them to drastic measures. They have put him in chains and chained him among the dead. In the town cemetery. Where his roaring would bother the living less. Even so, he manages to escape now and then and takes off into the woods. Why does he return? Because they go after him. Because there is nowhere else to go. Because hunger brings him back to the food, they will supply him.
"My name is Legion!" this homeless man screamed. "For we are many." Tortured in body, mind, and spirit, he embodied the scope of human suffering. For a Roman "legion" consisted of 5,000 soldiers.
And so, his community did what we still do today. They banished the man. To the safe and solitary margins of society.
When Jesus arrives by boat from across the Sea, there is no crowd waiting to greet Him. But Jesus and the disciples can hear the fellow in the cemetery. They go to him. By the end of Jesus’ time with him, the young man has been restored to sanity. He is calm. And he rejoices in his acceptance by them all.
But something else has happened. The demons and the madness have gone out of the young man. And, at Jesus’ direction, they enter into a large herd of swine. The swine, in horror at their own corruption by unclean spirits, run to the edge of the cliff. They jump into the Sea and are drowned. Now the people come running. They crowd around. Horrified at the loss of their valuable swine. And they are terrified of Jesus – so terrified they ask Him to leave.
They ask Jesus to leave. He abides by their request. But the man who was freed from his long and lonely days of isolation and terror went about telling anyone who would listen how much God had done for him. We bear the message of freedom from evil dark powers. But it is Christ who secures this freedom.
Jesus seeks not only to cure the "disease" -- the demon-possession; but also to heal the illness -- to restore this man to the community from which he has been estranged. He is to go home.
The man who sat at Jesus' feet and who learned from Him wants to go with them. And what are his options? He is standing on the beach with Jesus. The disciples in the boat are in front of him. The townsfolk who banished him to the graveyard are at his back. He wants to go with the One who healed him. He wants to be with Jesus. The One who wasn't afraid to come near him. The One who didn't walk on the other side of the street. He wants to go with his new teacher and Lord. He wants to learn more about the kingdom of God. He's ready to follow Jesus. There's room in the boat. And he'll leave without looking back! There's really no one to say good-bye to. But Jesus says no.
To others along the way, Jesus had issued the invitation, "Come, and follow Me." But to this one He says, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." This isn't simply a story of one man's healing. It’s a story of one man's calling. Jesus does bid the man to follow; but in this case, the following involves staying rather than leaving. Jesus does not reject the man's application to be a disciple. He accepts it fully. “I even have a first appointment all lined up for you,” Jesus says from the boat. “Your congregation is standing right behind you. Now, go and tell....”
Lord Christ, our eternal Redeemer, grant us such fellowship in your sufferings, that filled with your Holy Spirit, we may subdue the flesh to the spirit, and the spirit to you, and at the last attain to the glory of your resurrection; who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.