Artist: Jon Wise
They came to the other side of the lake, 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 lake, and were drowned in the lake.
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 5:1-26
The demon possessed man was destroyed by evil.
His body, his mind, his relationships - utterly and tangibly ravished by the second-most powerful force in the universe. We learn in today’s reading that this is the kind of evil with the strength of an army - it cannot be bound. And yet when it meets the Son of God, it is feeble and desperate.
The evil we see here is real and mighty. And even though our lives may look a lot different than that of the man we meet in this story, we’ve all encountered the same kind of evil. It alienates us from our God, our community, even ourselves. Every aspect of creation is affected by it. It has overtaken our lives.
And then there’s Jesus, who beats it so effortlessly. The people who witnessed this exchange were terrified. Not of the demon possessed man - they were used to him - but of Jesus. How could a man conquer such a mighty force, with nothing more than his words?
This story can be read as a metaphor for Lent and Easter. During this season, we are asked to be deeply honest with ourselves and our community. We try to lower the facade of our beautiful lives, and dwell in the tombs. We try to think about evil and all of the ways that it has ravished our lives and this world. We remember all of the times that we, like the crowds in Jerusalem, have rejected God in favor of evil. We remember all of the times that we’ve embraced violence and destruction instead of joy and delight. And we fall down before Jesus and repent.
In Easter, we’ll follow Jesus out of the tomb and celebrate that he has set everything right and made all things new.
But this isn’t just a tale of good versus evil. There are also the pigs - 2,000 of them. In a strange decision, Jesus allows the evil to overtake them, and they’re ultimately destroyed. But that herd belonged to someone, perhaps a stranger who found himself in the unfortunate position of having a demon-possessed guy as a neighbor. His livelihood was probably built around those pigs.
This farmer was just a bystander - why did he have to suffer too? Jesus didn’t need to involve him or his pigs. What was he getting at here?
Maybe the moral of this story is twofold: The mighty God can conquer even the worst kind of evil just by talking to it. But, because of the depth of our depravity, it hurts us in the way that true healing does. It’s hard to let go - it’s painful.
What do we need to let go of in order to let Jesus overcome the evil in our lives? What do we need to let go of in order to let Jesus overcome the evil in our neighbors’ lives? And, will we?
This is an excerpt from our 2015 Lent & Easter Prayerbook. To download your free copy click here.