Locals Troubled; a Madman is Healed. Hunch 33
They went across the lake to the Gerasene region. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came and met him from the cemetery. He lived among the graves, and no one could bind him, not even with a chain. He had often been chained hand and foot, but tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he raged, cutting himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!" Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" "My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people came out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man - and told what had happened to the pigs as well. Then they pleaded with Jesus to leave their region. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them what the Lord has done, and how kind he has been to you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
Mark's account was written for people like you and me who never shook hands with Jesus. But not only for us. The story he told was also for those who believed in Him and even for those who knew Him and had met Him. It was also for those who knew about John the Baptist, for those who repented of their sins and had been baptised in those days before the gutless Herod executed John. The Gospel story was put to paper also for the many people Jesus met and taught when He was visiting the coastal villages of Galilee.
At points, Mark's gospel seems to have been specially written for them; it's as if he was reminding them of what Jesus was doing before and after their own encounter with Him. So it is not so strange that Mark would put this story into his gospel also to enable the healed man and his family to be further encouraged after his terrible torment had been broken by the kindly Rabbi. They could see how they fitted into the larger story of Jesus' ministry.
Gerasa (or Gedara) was south and east of Lake Galilee, south and east of where Jesus grew up and where He did most of his teaching before He went up to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is further south and to the west of the lake. But Jesus' influence had also spread to regions on the other side of the lake; and this man was involved in that. He had been tormented with deep-down demonic troubles. He thought they had come to stay but Jesus freed him. He thought the demons were some kind of judgment; that's why he asked Jesus to back-off. But Jesus stayed around long enough for him to know God's gift of healing. Jesus reassured Him and made sure the evil spirits would not bother him again.
Jesus didn't need to shout so the whole region would hear. His judgment on the demons may have been decisive, but He didn't need to shout. The man had done enough shouting already. Maybe the pigs were used to it. Maybe from where they were grazing, a kilometre or two away, they became troubled when an eerie silence came up to them from the bottom of the steep cliff.
But the important point is that the troubled man was healed. The evil spirits were sent away; they would trouble him no more. Jesus gave the pigs permission to storm off down the cliff and they did and they were destroyed, the whole pile of them.
And that brought the locals out! They were terrified and no doubt very angry as well. They pleaded with Him to go away. Fancy that! This man was now well, but they preferred to be terrified, worried senseless by the loss of their pigs. They couldn't rejoice and thank God that this man had been healed. At least not yet …
Keeping pigs was something that Jewish people did not usually do. You'll remember the story Jesus told about the Lost Son who was so hungry and so sad that he was hanging out for another helping of pigs' mash. And long ago God's people had been forbidden to have contact with pigs. Whatever the evil was, that had induced them to keep pigs for the pork and ham market among non-Jewish folk in the Decapolis, Jesus confronted it head-on by taking away the troubles of this tormented fellow.
Mark makes a point of telling us that the evil spirits only entered the massive horde when Jesus allowed them to. Now that's a little scary, isn't it? But so is madness. And Jesus changed this man by healing him, and helping him not to be afraid. That day the man's life was changed when the evil spirits met their match shortly after Jesus' boat came into land near the cemetery. And presumably the economy of the region was free to find a new agricultural and horticultural direction.
The townsfolk could have no legal complaint about the pigs. They just wanted Jesus out of there. And He was willing enough to go. In Matthew 8:28-34 we are told that two men were living in that cemetery. In Mark's story we have no mention of this other guy. I wonder why?
It's interesting. The people asked Jesus to leave and He did. The healed man asked Jesus if he could come and Jesus told him to go home. In time, this man helped his friends and family and other people of that region marvel at God's power and love. They would get over the loss of the pigs. It is far more important for one person to be freed from torment to live for God than it is for an entire region to maintain a guilty life-style.
This man discovered Jesus knew what was best. He came to realise that he didn't have to fear going home. And it wouldn't surprise me that we meet up with him again elsewhere in the New Testament.