Everything in this cool-o story is an archetype: the scary location, nakedness, intimidation, and irrationality. They’re all barriers and obstacles to Jesus’ purpose in the world and God’s kingdom. It’s all of the dark archetypes vs. all of the light ones: an epic battle of domination. There’s another one, and filled with irony, in v. 1 that most people don’t know about: “They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes…” Some of the most famous hot springs in the world were here—hot springs of GREAT importance in medicine. Here was one of the largest, and even the emperor came here for medical care. Ah, but there’s more. Religion was intimately connected with the waters’ curative powers. There were temples here dedicated to the gods. You can TASTE the set up. Here in the world center of medicine and religious medicine is a man completely out of control, unhealable, and without hope because the hot springs and all the doctors in the world were powerless against what he had.
In strolls Jesus. What a set-up for an epic challenge. The man who’s storming the world with authority and power, where nothing can stand in his way, lands on the shore in the land of miraculous cures, medicinal healing power, and of temples to the gods, where there lives a man without hope—a man who none of this could help. He had been cast away as helpless, banished to the cemetery. Into this scenario steps Jesus, who needs neither healing waters nor divine temples to heal, help, and give hope. The powers of the universe are about to meet head to head.
No sooner does Jesus land, and the man is in his face. He has all the extreme conditions: demon possession, so uncontrollable he’s naked, and he lived in the cemetery with chains that he could break. It’s a wonder there wasn’t lightning and rain to finish off the horrid scene. He cried out when he saw Jesus, and I can just feel the shivers going up the spines of the disciples. He runs, possibly at first with hostile intentions. The onrush of the naked yelling maniac must have scared the disciples to death (yeah, just as they were gaining confidence, too).
Speaking of archetypes, the man falls at Jesus’ feet on first encounter. Hmmmm…
But he’s still totally defiant, shouting at the top of his voice like Goliath challenging the forces of Israel’s God. But this man is defensive, sensing the presence of a dangerous opponent (obvious by what he calls him.) The full address (Jesus, Son of the Most High God) is not a confession of Jesus’ dignity but a desperate attempt to gain control over him or to render him harmless, in accordance with the common assumption of the period that the use of the precise name of an adversary gave one mastery over him. Notice later that Jesus asks his name, in much the same philosophy. But instead of attacking, he pleads mercy and protection. Without a swing, he submits to Jesus’ authority and superior power. Hmmmm…
Why such pleading? V. 29 tells the tale: Jesus had spoken. That’s all it takes: a Word. Then Jesus asks his name, again, because use of the precise name of an adversary gave one mastery over him. (Maybe much like when your mom uses your full name?)
“Legion.” A legion was the largest unit of the Roman army, consisting of anywhere from 3,000-7,000 men. That’s why this was such an epic confrontation: one against 7,000. Jesus speaks a word, and the battle is over. They bow and plead and beg.
Another irony: there is a herd of pigs there. Um, Jews weren’t allowed to eat or even touch pigs. Hmmmm… In an action defined by its symbolism, Jesus sends them into the pigs—the unclean (religious definition). I think it’s a statement, again, of Jesus’ rejection of religion and Judaism. The pigs continue their destructive work in the world, but not in Jesus’ realm. “And they drowned.” A kingdom divided against itself will ultimately fail. The powers of evil combined with the trappings of this world and a false religious system is rushing down a steep bank to destruction.
Instead of falling on their knees in worship, the people react with fear and send Him away. The scary thing? Jesus doesn’t stay where’s he’s not welcome. But those who will follow him (the man), are given the privilege of sharing what God had done for him. Priceless.
P.S. — Just for fun, this is the 2nd in a series of 4 miracle stories, all of which are linked by a situation that is uncontrollable: the storm at sea, demon possession, uncurable medical problem, and death. Yet Jesus, God’s Son, the man who has God’s authentication, commissioning, and empowerment for messianic ministry (1.9-13), is able to overpower the uncontrollable.
P.P.S. — Another fun observation: In his social contacts, Jesus overturned Jewish categories of “clean” and “unclean.” Here are three examples that must have confirmed the Pharisee’s misgivings about Jesus. First Jesus sails into a region populated by Gentiles, healing a naked madman and commissioning him as a missionary in his hometown. Next we see Jesus touched by a woman with a 12-year hemorrhage, a “female problem” that has disqualified her from worship and no doubt caused her much shame. (The Pharisees taught that such illnesses came about because of a person’s sin; Jesus directly contradicted them.) From there Jesus proceeds to the home of a synagogue ruler whose daughter has just died. Already “unclean” from the Gentile madman and the hemorrhaging woman, Jesus enters the inner room and touches the corpse.
Levitical laws guarded against contagion: contact with a sick person, a Gentile, a corpse, certain kinds of animals. Or even mildew and mold would contaminate a person. Jesus reverse the process: rather than becoming contaminated, he made the other person whole. The naked madman did not pollute Jesus; he got healed. The pitiful woman with the flow of blood did not shame Jesus and make him unclean; she went away whole. The 12-year-old dead girl did not contaminate Jesus; she was resurrected.
Jesus’ approach shows a deliberate fulfillment, not an abolition, of the Old Testament laws. God had “hallowed” creation by separating the sacred from the profane, the clean from the unclean. Jesus did not cancel out the hallowing principle, rather he changed its source. He became the source of “cleanliness,” the source of holiness.
Sooooo cool. There is just so much in these stories, it’s awe-inspiring. Nobody could make all this up. Nobody’s that good.