Mark 4:35 to 5:20
Jesus himself embodies the kingdom of God: he is the revolution, the restoration and the revelation of God’s Kingdom. Jesus himself is the source of life in all creation. The disciples have heard how this Kingdom is to be revealed and how it will grow. They have heard that in its very nature it cannot be hidden. Jesus has alerted them to the possibilities in resurrection. In him and his word are the form and fruit of the kingdom, just as in a seed.
Who indeed is Jesus? The life within him commands the waves of the sea; he brings order to the chaos embodied in the monster of the storm. Yet he is a man who needs to rest and sleep. In the rage of the storm and the vulnerability of his resting, Jesus calls his disciples not to be afraid… ‘Have you still no faith? And they were filled with great fear…’
What of the poor man in the graveyard. A different monster raged here. The story is set in an unbelieving land, with a man living amongst the dead, tormented by anguish, so much so that he was harming himself. These were chaotic and oppressive times. This man was clearly overwhelmed by them and no one could bind or subdue the monster.
And he saw Jesus and immediately recognised him and ran to him, declaring the answer to the question the disciples had asked; Jesus is the ‘Son of the Most High God’!
Jesus spoke to the demon within the man and the man was fearful that yet again he would be tormented; yet again he would be the subject of ineffective and cruel attempts to exorcise him of the unclean spirit within him.
But Jesus spoke to the man, asking him his name and the tormented man declares himself to be Legion. The Legions were the terror squads who kept the land in service to Rome. Their subjection of the region had been violent and decisive and they had overrun the land. The oppressive spirit of Legion had taken over the mind of this poor man, becoming his identity. The man knew in the naming of Legion, the Kingdom of God in Jesus would act to cleanse him. He expresses no doubt. The man would be delivered as the Kingdom can’t be subdued; the unclean had no power; the clean would make the unclean clean. He had recognised who Jesus is and evidently had faith in Jesus.
Next comes a part of the story that is a bit perplexing to our sensibilities. The man begs that Legion not be cast out of the land. The Legion begs that they may enter pigs. Jesus gives permission and two thousand pigs rush into the sea and are drowned. The man is delivered and begs to remain with Jesus. Jesus says no. In an interesting bracketing of these two stories, the people are filled with fear and beg Jesus to go away.
What are we to make of this conclusion? There must be a purpose in the story and the drowning of the pigs wasn’t a random act; the drowning of the pigs was part of the healing of the man. The spirits were unclean and the pigs were unclean. Why were the man and Legion so concerned about remaining in the land and why did the Legion ask to go into the pigs? Jesus gives them permission then the Legion drives the pigs into the sea. Why? Why did Jesus turn the man down as a follower? He became an apostle to the Gentiles. Does the placing of this story after the parables Jesus has just taught give us a clue?
My feeling is that this all to do with the healing of the man and its enacting is a practical parable of the coming Kingdom.
I wonder if the land detail is to do with the loss of dominion to Rome and the casting into the sea of Legion echoes the demise of the Egyptians in the Red Sea.
Further, I can only speculate that the pigs, as much as Legion were factors in the torment of the man. Neurocysticercosis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cysticercosis ) is a very common brain disorder caused by a parasite whose life cycle depends on humans and pigs. In our modern times the only effective treatment is the mass slaughter of the pigs in the same way as in the UK we slaughtered all our infected cattle when Foot and Mouth hit our shores. The parasite’s life cycle has to be broken.
With our modern wisdom, maybe we can be amazed at the wisdom of Jesus. In fact science might support Jesus’ actions. We are permitted to allow for the context of the story to interpret the voices coming from the man as demons. Personally I think Jesus spoke, heard and gave permission to an entity that was not the man; a demonic moral being or demonic beings called Legion.
Whatever, Jesus healed the man, and the monster of his oppression was cast into the sea. This is what the disciples and the people saw and they were afraid at Jesus’ power.
Jesus saves us from oppression so… it’s now your job to put these stories into your context!