Horror stories aren’t my thing. Apparently the Gerasenes didn’t like them either. They go to great lengths to distance themselves from anyone like this possessed man who runs to Jesus. Without a health facility for the mentally ill, they send this man to live on the margins. He’s left in a Gentile cemetery, across the lake from Galilee, where tombs are cut into the mountain along the water’s edge. In effect he’s buried alive because his culture blames demons for every physical ailment and disease, from epilepsy to mental illness. One Jewish rabbi estimated that seven-and-a-half-million demons were believed to reside in unclean places like graveyards; drowning was considered the primary way to destroy these evil spirits.
Mark wants no one to miss the disturbing scene. When we look for Jesus, we often find him on the margins of culture, addressing those who have been excluded. Jesus Christ, unafraid of becoming an outcast himself, actively seeks and cares for the sick, possessed, and homeless. He feels compassion for this broken man who calls himself Legion. A legion in the Roman army contained 5,000 people. This man’s mind is so pulled apart that he feels like a mob.
In this already peculiar story, something even stranger happens. The unclean spirits beg Jesus to send them into a herd of swine feeding on the hillside. Suddenly 2,000 pigs stampede into the lake (another reminder that this territory isn’t Jewish). For anyone watching, this is a spectacle. For the man Jesus heals, it’s visible evidence that he is cured.
We’re familiar with the Gerasenes’ “out of sight, out of mind” approach to overwhelming problems. But Mark wants us to know that following Jesus means addressing situations we’d like to ignore. Acting with Jesus’ compassion is a needed gift for our needy world.
What situations have you ignored that Jesus wants you to look at today?
God, draw me to those places that need your love and compassion. Give me the courage not to look away, but to let you show me how to respond. Amen.