By Judith R Sizer
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him anymore, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.
As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
In this city, near the tech sector and the universities, we hear a lot about “disruptive innovation.” Disruptive innovations are new business ideas that create new markets, and gradually infiltrate and take over the old ones. Land lines to cell phones, snail mail to e-mail, Facebook to Instagram, and so forth.
During the gubernatorial election last year, the two main candidates spoke before an audience full of tech types. When Martha Coakley was asked about disruptive technologies, she responded, “[d]oes the use of ‘disrupt’ telegraph how you feel about these?” When the audience member described the underlying business concept, Ms. Coakley reportedly laughed and observed that she is “old enough that ‘disrupt’ was usually a bad thing.” “But,” she said, “I know that it’s a good thing. I’ve learned that.”
I feel for Ms. Coakley, who is, like me, a woman of a certain age. When I was growing up, disruptive behavior was generally not a welcome phenomenon. As for innovation, for those of us who were raised in the days of electric typewriters, the rate of change can seem bewildering. Our young people seem to take all of this technology in stride, but I’ll admit that I bought an iPad and then gave it away. It was shiny and smooth and spoke a language that was different from mine. I’ll admit – I was a little afraid of it.
And so we come to Jesus in our passage from Mark. He’s in the early days of his ministry, drawing great crowds. He and his companions land on the beach of a region populated by Gentiles. When he gets out of his boat, a man who is possessed by a “legion” of unclean spirits comes running up to him. The spirits clearly know that Jesus can cast them out, and they ask to be allowed to enter a herd of two thousand pigs nearby. Jesus gives his permission, and the spirits leave the man and enter the pigs. The pigs rush down the bank, leap into the sea, and are drowned.
The swineherds run off and tell everybody, and everybody comes to see what happened, and there are Jesus and the former demoniac, sitting there in peace. And how does everybody feel? Impressed? Thrilled? Grateful? No – they’re afraid. They beg Jesus to leave their land, so he heads for the boat. When the former demoniac wants to go with him, he says no – stay here and tell your friends what the Lord has done for you.
Jesus was, in short, a disruptive innovation. Mark, who is generally succinct, tells us in great detail how hard the demoniac’s life was – how he broke all of his shackles, and was “always howling and bruising himself with stones.” But the Gerasenes didn’t seem to be glad that he had been cured. Maybe they were comfortable with the idea that he was that crazy guy living up among the tombs, one of the marginal ones in their community. They could gossip about him, and feel superior to him, and isolate him. And those who owned and tended the two thousand swine probably weren’t too happy to lose their property and their livelihood. So the Gerasenes didn’t want Jesus around – they were afraid of him. What would he do next…?
This story has several lessons for us. First, we are reminded, yet again, that our savior was a disruptive radical who did things that frightened people and made them uncomfortable. He didn’t act by consensus, or consult everyone about their feelings, or take an opinion poll. He just did what he thought was right. This isn’t a nice, safe, predictable faith that we’re in – we can’t expect to stay cozily in our comfort zones. Jesus didn’t, and he doesn’t want us to, either.
Second, if we’re going to be disruptive innovators, we should prepare to be thrown out of town from time to time. When Jesus was asked to leave, he didn’t argue with the Gerasenes; he went right to the boat. At the end of his ministry, Jesus didn’t move along, and then he was murdered. But before then, he seemed to know when it was time to make himself scarce, beginning with his very first sermon in his own hometown.
And finally, with whom are we meant to identify in this account? Hopefully not the poor pigs. We may sympathize with the Gerasenes, so fearful and stuck in their ways. But it’s really the former demoniac whom we most resemble. He couldn’t control his demons, and was living a miserable life in their abusive thrall, when Jesus came along and cast them out. We can imagine him, sitting there with Jesus, “clothed and in his right mind,” so relieved to be himself again. But when the people in his community come, they kick Jesus out, and when the former demoniac wants to get into the boat and leave with him, Jesus says no, stay here and do the Lord’s work.
No wonder the former demoniac wanted to go with Jesus, but his job was to stay behind and bear witness, by the transformation of his life, to the power of God. We can’t get into the boat and go with Jesus either, because we have the same job as the former demoniac. We are meant to stay here where we are and ask for his help in struggling with our own demons. And we are meant to show, with our lives, how much the Lord has done for us. And then, as the text promises, everyone will marvel.
Thanks be to God.
Dear Lord, help me to find you in my travels this day.
Dear Lord, help me to do your work in the world this day.
Dear Lord, help me to find Christ’s peace.
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