Jesus had been teaching in his “home” territory of Galilee. It is in this region, throughout the gospels, Jesus spends most of his time teaching and preaching. But then he does something strange, he gets in a boat and heads across the sea into Gentile territory. The scriptures never tell us why, we do not know what Jesus was thinking, or what his intentions were when he crossed the sea. In fact we do not even know what he intended to do, because once he got there he is detained before he gets anywhere and is asked to leave before he can even move much past the shores of the sea.
While he is crossing the chaotic waters of the sea, a storm arises. The sea swells, the wind kicks up, and the waves overwhelm the small boat. As the storm rages on all those who are in the boat begin to fear they are in danger. And just when all is lost, Jesus’ speaks and the wind, and the waves to cease. He speaks the storm out of existence. Jesus has power over the storm and the sea. And all those in the boat now know he has authority over the powers of all chaos, and destruction, which is what the sea would have represented to all those who bore witness to Jesus’ actions that day.
As soon as he gets out of the boat, a man intersects his path, basically blocking his way. The man is naked and is clearly not in his right mind. We are told that he had been living among the tombs; that he was possessed by a myriad of demons and is so unsafe that the people of the town have kept him chained and is being constantly monitored by guards. This man is living outside the community. He is cut off from friends; he is cut off from family; he is cut off from himself. He is imprisoned both mentally and physically. He is not to be trusted and must be kept constantly under surveillance and chained least he do something to disturb or disrupt the community.
This man inhabits the grave, he is among the tombs. He is a Zombie; not quite living and not quite dead. He is one of the living-yet dead; one of the dead yet still alive. He lives yet he is walking among the dead. He is living in death.
If there was ever a symbol of oppression, enslavement, and dentation; of someone who is cast out, unwanted, or sent away, in this gospel this man is it. This man is all of these, he is oppressed inside and out. He is enslaved to the demons within and is chained by those around him. He lives under guard. Nobody wants him near him, he is not allowed within the walls and he is cast away. He might as well be dead, and in fact the dead are the only ones who will allow him to live among them, because, being dead and all, they have no say.
The man calls out to Jesus, naming him as the son of the Most High God. That is the demon sees Jesus for who he truly is. Jesus is not merely a rabbi, not simply a good teacher, he is more, so much more. He is the son of the one and only living God who stood on the watery chaos before all time and spoke the universe into existence at the dawn of all things. Jesus just proved he can speak a storm out of existence and then suddenly this man, this demon, declares he is the one who spoke all things in to existence. All those on the boat just bore witness to the authority Jesus has over the powers of chaos and destruction and then here comes one who declares Jesus is the one through whom all things were spoken into existence. Even the demons, in gentile territory know who Jesus is and the power and authority with which he comes.
Jesus asks the demon his name and they declare themselves to be many. Calling themselves “legion,” which is a unit of measuring the amassed enemy forces of Rome. They are not only declaring their numbers but they are declaring that they see themselves as a force standing in opposition. In case there is any confusion as to their goal and their purpose here, they present themselves as enemies of Jesus, as well as the man whom they inhabit.
Jesus commands them to leave and they set to bargaining. “Do not send us into the abyss,” they say. The word they use is interesting it is not only the word used for the place of the dead, Sheol, the pit of the old testament writings, but it is the word used to describe the chaotic waters of pre-creation; the chaotic forces of “the watery deep” over which the Spirit of God hovers before the beginning of all things. It is also the very word used just a few paragraphs before to describe the wind and waters of the sea which have just obeyed Jesus. So the demons ask to not be thrown into the “the deep,” the waters (which obey even Jesus) and ask to instead be allowed to go into this nearby herd of pigs. Which they promptly use to, now get this, throw themselves into the sea.
Jesus has control over the waters, has control over the demons, can allow them to go where he chooses, and in the end has control over where they end up. Jesus ultimately has authority over all things. All that frightens, all that destroys, all that sets itself against him, all that declares itself to be an enemy him and those who follow him or come to him for wholeness and healing, Jesus has authority over it all. There is nothing with more power; nothing over which Jesus cannot exercise control or over which he does not have authority. Jesus has it all under control . . . literally.
So now enter the swineherds; they saw what happened and are none too happy about it. Jesus in the very act of setting this man free of all that bound and enslaved him, has ruined their economics. Jesus has disturbed the status quo, and “GDP” of that region. In Jesus’ economy, bringing one person to wholeness and healing, setting the captive free, restoring a person to community and allowing them to live into who they were created to be, is more important than the “bottom line” every time.
These swineherds, don’t see things quite the same way. Jesus has disrupted their lives and their way of life and this makes them afraid. Their power and their privilege is being threatened and they must sound the alarm. They go into the city and the country to let everyone know what kind of funny business is happening down by the lake near the tombs. They return with a crowd, armed with torches and pitch forks, not really but they come with the same intent, that is to drive out this man who is threatening their way of life, who sees the freedom of this one man as more valuable than the economics of the region. They intend to send him away. (As if they have the power or authority to do that to one who has power over the forces of chaos and creation.)
When they arrive, they find Jesus teaching and the man has been set free of his demons. He has been cleansed and made whole. He has been restored to sanity, restored to himself. For the first time, perhaps in his whole life he is truly alive. He is clothed, in his right mind and he is sitting at Jesus feet. That is his is sitting in the place of a disciple, listening and learning.
When we first see this man he is a symbol of oppression, enslavement, detention, of all who are outcasts, tossed away, treated with fear, and abandoned in our society, he is now a symbol of redemption and holiness. He has found wholeness and healing, community and acceptance. He is free. He is has been released to be himself. And best of all he is sitting at Jesus’ feet the place of one who is willing and ready to learn, of one who is a disciple. His life has been transformed, turned upside down, no turned right side up, by Jesus and by sitting as a disciple, he is committing to be one who will learn from the one who can do this for him. This is what holiness looks like people, this is what we Nazarenes want for people, for ourselves and for everyone who lives in our world; wholeness, healing, restoration, redemption, complete abandonment of all that once was and a deep commitment to the things of Jesus and all he stands for – holiness, of heart and life.
The swineherds and all who returned with them see this, and as if watching Jesus cast a legion of demons into a herd of pigs and then seeing that herd of pigs throw themselves off a cliff into the sea was not scary enough, apparently seeing a once raging lunatic, in his right mind, unshackled from all that once bound him, set free from all that enslaved him, sitting peacefully in his right mind, listening and learning from the Jewish rabbi from across the lake, is the most frightening thing they have seen all day. And they insist that Jesus leave immediately. Jesus, not being one to stay someplace he is not wanted gets in his boat to sails back across the sea.
The man begs to go with him, to continue to listen, to continue to learn. Jesus is the one who set him free, this is the one who made him whole, who restored his life, who rescued him and saved him from literal demons, he wants to go where ever Jesus goes. He will follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. He will follow Jesus along any path down which Jesus might go. He will even go across the very abyss that just swallowed up the demons who have been tormenting him, if that is where Jesus was going.
But instead of allowing this man to follow him, Jesus sends him away. Sends him back into his town, back to his community, back to all the people who knew him as the naked, lunatic who lived among the tombs, who needed to be watched and guarded, who needed to be chained and kept track of lest he bring his chaos into their lives. Jesus sends this man back to his friends and his family, to live among them. To show them what it means to be restored, to be made whole, to be saved by Jesus. Jesus sends him into his community to tell them what Jesus had done, to be a living reminder, a living proclamation, a living witness to the way which Jesus could change lives, to the healing which Jesus could bring, to the restoration Jesus offers.
In this passage Jesus stands against the forces of death and chaos. Jesus shows us that he can bring restoration and wholeness. Jesus declares his authority over all the powers of darkness and oppression in this world, pushes back all the enslaves, and all that is an enemy to light and love, to wholeness and healing, to freedom and restoration. In this passage Jesus stands for all that is right and good, stands for freedom and against oppression, Jesus pulls close those who are marginalized, who society pushes away, to all those who are told to keep out, to stay away, you are dangerous, to all who are chained and imprisoned, who are forced to live lives of surveillance and guarded least they bring their chaos into our mundane lives.
The swineherds and the crowds, stand against all this. They are upset because Jesus commits this radical act of moving to restore this man to wholeness and community, to give him his life back and free him from slavery. Jesus has messed with their economics. They are fixated on the money and loss of income which has occurred because Jesus reclaimed this man’s personhood and his dignity. They would rather ask Jesus to leave than to allow Jesus’ radical inclusion to infect the rest of their community or the rest of their world.
When this man is faced with his own healing and the restoration of his own life, his first reaction to draw as close to Jesus as possible. To sit in Jesus’ holy presence as long as possible, to go where Jesus goes and be where ever Jesus is. And he is allowed to sit, learn, and to draw close but he is then send out, send back to his home, back to his community back to his neighborhood. He is sent out to bear witness to share the goodness he has gained with those around him. To bring wholeness, to bring love, to bring freedom and restoration to all the places he goes.
One of the hardest ideas for us to grasp a hold of as Chrstians is that holiness contaminates the brokenness of the world around us by bringing wholeness and healing where ever it goes, not the other way around. Too long Christians have held themselves apart lest the world around us infects us. But we come offering healing, we come standing for justice, we come shouting that the slaves are set free, that those who are sent away are embraced, that those who are cast away are invited in. We are here to unchain the captive, to bring freedom to the imprisoned. We are here to speak of the radical love of Jesus, who dares to love the naked, the chained, the imprisoned, the enslaved, the outcast, the foreigner, widow, the orphan and all those who are forgotten, ignored, and abandoned in the world around us. The brokenness of the world does not infect us. We are the contagion that spreads through the world infect it with wholeness and healing of Jesus Christ.
Jesus frees this naked, lunatic who lives among the tombs and gives him a place at his feet among his disciples. He brings the one who is cast out close. Jesus give him a place when he had not place. He then sends this man out to bear witness, to share with his friends and his neighbors what Jesus had done. No one is outside the love of Jesus.
We are called to bear witness to all Jesus has done, to declare what Jesus declares to go back to our cities, out towns, into our neighborhoods, sharing the radical love of Jesus with those who we meet by loving everyone, by showing the radical inclusive love we experienced in Jesus with anyone, with everyone one we meet.