Luke 8: 26 – 39 Jesus restores a demon-possessed man
They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!’ For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’
‘Legion,’ he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.
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This narrative is found in all three of the synoptic gospels. Matthew 8: 28 – 34 and Mark 5: 1 – 20 are the accounts that parallel this version in St Luke’s gospel. Note that the accounts are similar but not identical. The places given are different, and St Matthew has Jesus healing two demoniacs, not just one. That doesn’t make the story untrue. Witnesses seldom give exactly the same account of an incident. (Note, though, that it is quite difficult to account for the differences if we believe that the bible is literally true in every detail).
Let me start with a confession; I’m very uncomfortable with the whole concept of demons.
In first century Palestine the concept of demons was a way of explaining illness, both physical and mental. As a metaphor for the way illness damages and destroys they make a lot of sense. However, nowadays we understand the physical mechanisms by which most illnesses are caused, and by which they harm the sufferer. There are actions we can take to prevent, minimise and heal illness. We no longer need the concept of demons to understand and talk about illness; indeed, such terms would be counter-productive.
I’m not, of course, saying that sin doesn’t exist, because self-evidently it does, however human weakness, greed and aggression seem more than adequate to account for it.
So, I’m viewing this miracle as a healing rather than an exorcism.
The suffering man was out of control. He was naked. He didn’t live in a house, but lived in the tombs. The townsfolk had been moderate in their actions against him; they hadn’t killed him, merely chained him up and guarded him. Given his obvious strength, shown by breaking his chains, he must have been a terrifying individual.
Jesus healed him. He restored him to a state in which he could return to society. When curious townsfolk came to see what had happened, they found the man “sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind”.
That is an astonishing miracle. The man’s mind wasn’t made perfect, it was made ‘normal’. I ask myself the question “What does normal mean?” And at least one facet of the meaning of normal is right there, in the text.
“The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.”
Whereas before his healing the man had been terrified by Jesus, now he was able to respond to him with love and obedience.
How absolutely wonderful that this is ‘normal’ for humankind!
Thank you that you have created us to love Jesus. Please help me to love him better every day.
In Jesus’ name, Amen