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. (Mark 5)

Sometimes Scripture surprises me. It’s never been immediately clear why it is that these people could see a miracle, like Jesus setting this troubled man free, and be afraid. Why they could hear of the demise of a legion of demons, and ask Jesus to leave.

It’s because I am not a first-century Palestinian. If I were, I’d probably grieve over the drowning of thousands of hogs; my livelihood. I’d probably fear over the sight of the boogeyman himself sitting in close proximity to all the people I loved the most. 

I guess it doesn’t take that much imagination to peel back the gauzy filter we have put on these stories—the one that makes them simple and always comforting—and see them from the perspective of actual humans who were, just like us, trying to get by in the world. It’s not that hard to see all the times Scripture points to the complexity of community. The conflict that inevitably arises when the status quo gets challenged. The difficulty, for everyone, in following Jesus, who seems so uninterested in making everyone feel comfortable. 

It’s not that hard to recognize myself among those who dismiss Jesus outright after seeing what he does.

When Jesus announced his ministry, he said he came to give freedom to the oppressed. What’s striking in this story is that the same act which makes good on this promise — freeing the man of his demons — sparks overwhelming fear for the others. Jesus has flipped the script. Nobody likes that. Well, actually, the ones who have been writing the script in such a way that they stayed safe, separate, and sanitized don’t like it. The ones who’ve been dehumanized and imprisoned by the script, they’re more invested in seeing a change. 

I wondered whether we do this, too. Whether there are times when someone’s freedom sparks fear in us, because we have been invested in their oppression. And so we, too, ensure the one doing the liberating is not welcome to stay in our neighborhood. 

I wonder if there are times we miss it, the Spirit’s work of bringing freedom, because we’re so invested in keeping safe, keeping our livelihoods, keeping apart. If we’re so focused on the fear of what someone else’s freedom will mean for us. 

What would it have looked like if the people of Gerasa had embraced this freedom, celebrated it, saw it as a miracle? What would it look like today for us to be more invested in the Spirit’s work of liberation—spotting it, engaging it, celebrating it—than we are in protecting the ways of life that have made us feel like chains, tombs, walls were our best, safest choice?

Photo by Aida L on Unsplash

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

12 Comments

  • mstair says:

    Big profound idea here … easy to miss … Christ’s Kingdom allows all “types” in … some of them – I’m not very comfortable being around …and am currently “avoiding” … I better get out there and get used to them … we’re going to be together for a really long time…

  • Craig Heerema says:

    Thank you, Kate.

  • Steve Van't Hof says:

    I appreciate this Kate. Thank you.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr. says:

    According to Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh in their Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels on this passage, “Jesus frightened them, perhaps implying by his act a disruptive threat to the established Roman order in the region.” Reminds me of #BLM in our context today.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Kate, for your take on the phenomenal stories of the Bible. You have to remember these stories, like the one you sight, are legendary tales rather than actual objective events. They are no different than the many miracles recorded by other religions, whether ancient (like Christianity, Muslim, or Hindu) or more recent (like Mormonism). Reason and common sense dictate these are less than factual events, as well as the responses of the characters involved. If these stories were true and actual, then so are the many miracles of every other religion, as recorded in their God inspired Scriptures. But it is interesting to wonder what our responses might have been in such a given situation. I think, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” still wins the day, at least in theory. Thanks again, Kate.

    • Thanks for affirming the golden rule. Hoping that someday you may witness Jesus miracles similar to this one, as many of us have. “Reason and common sense” compel us to accept what we see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears and feel in our own bodies.

      • RLG says:

        Thanks, David, for relaying your experience of witnessing Jesus’ miracles. I think what you may experience is a subjective sensitivity to the story or Bible account, much in the same way a person can be moved emotionally and subjectively by a moving scene in a moving movie, whether of a true or fictional account. So you could feel an attachment to one or all of Jesus’ miracles, whether they were actual or fictional (legend), just as a Mormon or Muslim can feel (or experience) the miracles their religions. So I understand, David, that the miracles of Jesus are real to you, just as the miracles of the Koran and the Book of Mormon are real to the Muslim and the Mormon. Thanks for your perspective.

  • Harry Weidenaar says:

    The story doesn’t end with the locals begging Jesus to leave. It ends with Jesus sending the restored demonic back into his community to share his story. A person with an experience is more compelling than a person with an argument. The man turns out to be a monster missionary, doing the work of a legion of preachers, The result is that the story ends with the statement that all the people in the Decapolis were amazed. If I remember my history, this area became a hotbed of Christianity, and years later, sent a bishop to the council of Nicaea that drafted a creedal statement we still use. When we use the Nicaean Creed in worship, we feel the touch of freedom thanks to the people of Gerasa.

  • Helen P says:

    One of my favorite Bible stories…and one where change and a miracle upset the status quo. It’s in the interest of the principalities and powers to keep the man in his less than human condition. Dehumanization is one of the first things power and authority want do with their enemies. If Jesus could change the demoniac what else might he change?
    It’s a familiar tale especially today.

  • Thomas Goodhart says:

    Thank you, Kate! I always appreciate the story you tell and the questions you ask. Grateful for your voice!

  • Love it, Pastor Kate. Your articles are always stellar. Keep it up.

  • Debra K Rienstra says:

    There’s a wonderful poem by Richard Wilbur that makes this same point: in rhyme!
    https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/matthew-viii-28-ff/

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