February 3, 2020 (Monday) - Training, Jesus Style - A Reflection on Mark 5:1-20

They came to the other side of the sea, 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 sea, and were drowned in the sea. 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.

As you probably know, one of the things we do is run Schools of Discipleship where we help people become better disciples of Jesus. The year-long program has been extremely successful, and the latest official count is 138 Schools in 14 countries. Many of the students find the course very challenging, and some are so daunted by it they are often tempted to quit. Reading today’s story, I couldn’t help wonder how they would have dealt with JESUS’ discipleship program.

Let me tell you what happened. After a long day of preaching, Jesus went down to the shore with his apostles and told them, “Let us go over to the other side.” These words had special significance to the Jews. “The other side," of the Sea of Galilee was the Decapolis, which was a place to be generally avoided, not only because it was pagan country, it was also known to be filled with strange magic. The apostles would undoubtedly have been disturbed.

On their way, they are hit by a severe storm, and they would have superstitiously believed this was because some evil force was stopping them from reaching their destination. Terrified they turned to Jesus, who glared at them, before he stilled the storm. Then he rebuked them for a lack of faith. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And, now, their faith was going to be tested further, because on “the other side” they were going to meet a man totally possessed by demons.

There have been several mentions of demons being cast out by Jesus in the gospels but none as descriptive as this. And this is strange, because Mark is usually very concise in his narratives. The reason he describes this in so much detail is for two reasons. One, he wants to let us know about the reality of possession. Two, he wants to give us an idea of how terrible the state of being possessed is. Living in a graveyard, this man would continuously cry out as he gashed himself with stones.

Rattled by the storm, the apostles would have been terrified, and I can see them picking up sticks or rods to protect themselves. And I imagine Jesus would have glared at them again. “Afraid again?” Then he delivers the man with spectacular simplicity, letting them know that he had authority over the forces of darkness too. And was giving them the authority! Anyone who believes himself to be a successor to the apostles have to know they are given the authority too.

We need exorcists in the church today, and not one or two. We need thousands of them. So, any priests watching (or reading) this: please offer your services to your bishops. They will be gratefully accepted. And send pigs flying!