“…Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Luke 7:22)
This was the answer Jesus gave when messengers from John the Baptist asked him if he was “the one who was to come.” It is a succinct, compelling summary of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Even before His work on the cross, His mercy and power were on full display in the blessings and healings He performed for the sick and hurting. The gospels are filled with stories of praise and swelling faith among those who witnessed these miracles.
And then there’s Mark 5.
In this chapter, we see Jesus and his disciples in the region of Gerasenes. Here, they came face to face with a man possessed by an evil spirit. “This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.” (Mark 5:3-5)
After a brief interaction with the demons, who called themselves “Legion…for we are many,” Jesus gave them permission to leave the man and go instead in a herd of pigs nearby. “The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” (Mark 5:13b)
Now, much has been said about this episode, particularly from animals rights’ groups about the cruelty in what amounts to swine suicide. And, while there’s nothing wrong with feeling compassion for these animals, I believe focusing on their death causes us to miss the larger issue.
Satan hates God. As such, he also hates man because man has been made in the very image of God. To him, the human body is a weapon he can use to attack God, making it grotesque in an attempt to pervert God’s creation. There is no good in him at all; Satan’s only goal is to steal, kill, and destroy.
One important thing to note was that the demons could not take possession of the pigs without Jesus’s permission; even they are under God’s rule. Because man is made in God’s image, they could not have their way as easily inside the man as they could inside the pigs, but their intention was the same. By allowing the demons to enter the pigs and have control, Jesus was saving the man while also showing the bystanders (and us) Satan’s true nature and objective: destruction.
Then, just like today, word traveled fast, and “the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind…” (Mark 5:14b-15a)
But the really interesting thing about Mark 5 is the part that comes next:
“…and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man–and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.” (Mark 5:15b-17 emphasis mine)
Jesus had just healed this man, performed a miracle…and the people were asking Him to leave.
To be fair, the owners of the swine herd were now out a substantial bit of money, for sure. Their livelihood had just plummeted off a cliff. There was a real, practical, financial concern to take into consideration.
But there was also a healed man sitting right in front of them. A man from their village, someone they might have known before his affliction, now before them, whole and healthy. A lost cause, a man cast out and abandoned, a fellow human being given up for dead now alive.
And yet, somehow, all they could see was the empty space where their herd was supposed to be.
But it wasn’t just about the money. The crowd of onlookers were more afraid of a free man than a possessed man. Because this free man didn’t make sense.
Their fear of the demons was so great that they cast this man from their presence, barring him from the village. No one was strong enough to subdue him; no one was strong enough to heal him. The demons possessing him had the upper hand over everyone who tried.
Except for Jesus.
Everything they knew about the powers of good and evil was shattered. No one can defeat evil such as the kind inhabiting this man. No one…except this ordinary man standing before them, a Nazarene, a carpenter’s son, a nobody.
And it terrified them. These people were more afraid of an unknown God–a God who was not working inside the mold they had created for Him–than a known enemy. So they asked Him to leave.
How my heart breaks for these people, who stood face to face with Christ, and yet still misunderstood His heart. Who chose what was familiar and comfortable–as dark and malicious as it may have been–over the unknown, yet infinitely better presence of God. Some elevated money; others, their own understanding. But both groups missed out on fully experiencing the manifestation of the living God in their midst.
Truly being in the presence of God has a price. For some, it may be our time. Others, our money. Far more often, however, it costs our pride. It’s a humble choice to admit our fears and limited understanding and to surrender our doubts. To step in faith, not because I have all the answers, but precisely because I don’t.
The people of the region asked Jesus to leave…and He did. The light was too bright, the cost too high, the fear too great. For them, darkness seemed an easier burden to bear. Seeing what Satan could do was less troublesome than wondering what Jesus would do.
Darkness and light both have a cost. Which one are you buying?