Jesus now goes to the Gerasenes, which is “opposite Galilee” (8:26). Jesus has not just gone on a sailing trip, but has arrived to deal with the demoniac. This man was being tortured and traumatized by demon possession. Note again that the New Testament does make a distinction between demon possession and illness. This man was not merely ill, though we are sure that his demonic possession made him sick; there was at root a devilish cause to his circumstances and behavior.
The demon on seeing Jesus recognized him and begged to not be tormented. How is it that someone who has so tormented a poor human being can itself beg for clemency? What trickery is this! For Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man, and the unclean spirit is as it were “playing for time,” bargaining to see if there is any alternative way out of the situation.
The demon’s name, which Jesus now asks for, is “legion,” indicating the multiple possession of this man—and, by using the well-known Roman name for its cohorts, symbolically representing the occupation of Israel by the Roman legions. What would Jesus do? Fight physically and militarily against the occupying forces, or was there a spiritual solution? Jesus commands the legion out of the man and into a herd of pigs. They are unclean, and a value of one human is far greater than many pigs.
The people come out to see what Jesus has done. They are afraid, recognizing Jesus’ power, and beg Jesus to leave them. How extraordinary! Faced with not just his power, but his grace and mercy, rather than turn to him themselves for healing, they ask him to leave them. We can be like that too: Sometimes the Word of God comes too close to us, and we would rather put our fingers in our ears, as it were, and block the Word’s access to our minds and hearts. But it is foolish, for the purpose of the Word is to heal and save.
The man who has been healed has the right attitude: he wants to be with Jesus (8:38). The right attitude, but not yet the right commission. Jesus instead urges him to stay. “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you” (8:39). There are missionaries who are sent from their homes, but all ministry begins where we are even then. The one who is being called to evangelize a far distant land had better start by evangelizing their neighbors. And it is often the case, bar a missionary or particular call, that we are best fitted to reach those from whom we were saved, our kin, our culture, our kind. Would you today “return to him” and tell “how much God has done for you”?
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