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Christian Art | The Man Possessed By Devils And The Herd Of Swine 

Mark 5: 1-20 – Week 4 Ordinary Time, Monday (Audio Bible KJV, Spoken Word)

1 AND they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
2 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,
3 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:
4 Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.
5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
6 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him,
7 And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.
8 For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.
9 And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.
10 And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country.
11 Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding.
12 And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.
13 And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.
14 And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done.
15 And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.
16 And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine.
17 And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts.
18 And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him.
19 Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.
20 And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.

Our Lord Jesus’ visit to this particular part of the coast of the Sea of Galilee is brief. In today’s reading, Jesus alights in an area which is largely non-Jewish, as is evident in the huge herd of pigs that is here. It seems quite alien territory. We are reminded of just how very different communities existed in relatively close proximity around Galilee (also known as: The Sea of Tiberias; Lake Gennesaret), and we might think of how between those different communities there would be distrust, dislike, silence, even outright hatred. It is very beautiful to see Jesus passing between communities, and especially outside of his own Jewish community. There is a lesson for all time here against sectarianism. We are reminded that Jesus’ message is offered to all, perhaps especially when we find ourselves in strange lands.

Today’s Bible reading presents us with a very graphic case of a man possessed by devils. The poor man is obviously well known to the people of the area, is outcast and seems beyond all hope. The violence of his possession is emphasised, and the strange cruelty of his situation – the attempts to chain him to subdue him. If we are thinking of possession as insanity, in terms of modern understandings, we may also think of the despicable treatment of the insane in more recent centuries.

The man is in terrible torment. He lives such life he has among the tombs, crying out night and day and self-harming. This is an extreme of illness – spiritual illness – and suffering, and in a strange land to boot. Jesus’ healing, therefore, is exemplary. The devils beg Jesus for leniency, they recognise Jesus, Son of God, and they know that for all they can torment this one poor man they are utterly powerless against Jesus. That’s how pathetic Satan and his devils are, and how as nothing they are when we have the Lord Jesus. They pick on the weak, as bullies do.

From a Jewish perspective, Jesus sends the lowest of the low, the devils, to go and occupy the bodies of the lowest of the low, the pigs, the swine, and they can all go and drown together. It is a scene of madness and mayhem – and it is purifying also.

Perhaps we feel that the land has been multiply cleansed, the symbolism of this episode being significant no matter Jewish dietary laws not having been passed to the Gentiles.

Perhaps it may be additionally significant that those who may have had a stake in the herd of swine wish Jesus to leave, this healing event thereby being represented as additionally strange, fresh and new, a saving intervention in seemingly hostile and barren territory, which nevertheless bears fruit through Jesus’ healing.

The man who was possessed with the devil is clean; he is healed; he is sane again. While he begs Jesus that he may follow him, Jesus actually commissions this man that he should go and tell people about what has happened to him. This is different from what usually happens, which is that Jesus asks people to keep things secret.

Perhaps this is something to do with this area in particular, perhaps to do with its being non-Jewish. The man becomes a witness to Jesus, and so, through the region of Decapolis, the seed of Christian faith is sown and germinates. It is a great testament to the fact that Jesus Christ will be taught to the whole world.

Concluding Prayer

Lord God,
who entrusted the earth to men
to till it and care for it,
and made the sun to serve their needs:
give us the grace this day to work faithfully for your glory
and for our neighbours’ good.
We make our prayer through our Lord.