“Free At Last”
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Posted by Elk Grove Presbyterian Church on Sunday, November 22, 2020
Mark 5: 1-20
5 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 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. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 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; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
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Now the disciples have just witnessed Jesus calming the storms and it is late in the day, most likely just getting dark and as they step their feet out of the boat upon the solid ground, and they look up and see this crazed looking man coming out from the tombs. Now what you and I don’t know but the local people would know is that this area along the lake shore is very rocky and has many natural caves all along the shore. The caves are where the bodies of the dead are laid to rest. It is an isolated area and I imagine a little alarming to see this man walking out from the tombs. It’s a little eerie to hear about demon possession isn’t it? It reminds me of some scary movies I’ve watched in the past.
The images of this man are downright disturbing! I have been in the presence of individuals who were mentally unstable…one never knows what to expect, feeling the need to be on guard, but the description of this man is beyond anything I have ever witnessed. Clearly, this man is a threat, his strength could cause great bodily harm. But the local people, they knew this person didn’t they? Don’t you find it interesting that he is not known by a name? I guess they don’t really know him enough to call him by his given name. Their fear has kept them at a distance, far away from any personal contact. This is what they know about him, he is strong! They tried to confine him with chains and shackles only to discover he had this great strength and could break out of all the attempts they made to try to control and contain him. So, in this state of wildness, he was condemned to live alone in the tombs, away from the people, living among the dead. And really he probably felt he was dead too. Dead to the world outside of the tombs! This passage presents a bit of a conundrum to us this morning. Whether you believe a person can be possessed by an evil spirit or not, I think most of us believe evil does exist (sometimes hidden, sometimes overt) and evil is at work in this world. But without question this man certainly was not mentally well. He was not in his right mind. The people were afraid of him, and right so. What I find equally interesting is that the people who witnessed the cured man (now in his right mind) ask Jesus to leave! They’re also afraid of Jesus or maybe the right word is “threatened” by Jesus. Really? Jesus cures the demon possessed man and they want him to leave? I guess Jesus is a little scary for them too…able to heal what seems unhealable…able to bring order out of a chaotic mind. Jesus who can set a person free! Transforming the mind and restoring one back into the community again…for this no longer demon possessed man…it is new life, a new beginning!
This reminds me of a story about a desert father found in a book titled “Western Asceticism.” This desert father was seeking a new life too and a new beginning! This religious man decided living in a community wasn’t the best for him, you see he had an anger problem and people were always making him angry. He decided the solution to his anger was to move to the desert and live alone. I’ve always be interested in these people called the desert fathers or mothers…those people who practiced an isolating type of spirituality. They left their life within a community to live alone in the desert thinking they would be closer to God and not distracted by worldly things. They believed in extreme self-denial, avoiding all forms of indulgences…many lived in small huts, or caves out all alone by themselves. But this retreat to the desert is a bit different…here is how the story goes: he said, “I will go and live somewhere by myself. And since I shall be able to talk or listen to no one, I shall be tranquil, and my passionate anger will cease.” He went out and lived alone in a cave. But one day he filled his jug with water and put it on the ground. It happened suddenly to fall over. He filled it again, and again it fell. And this happened a third time. And in a rage, he snatched up the jug and broke it. Returning to his right mind, he knew that the demon of anger had mocked him, and he said, “Here am I by myself, and he has beaten me. I will return to the community. Wherever you live, you need effort and patience and above all God’s help.” (amen to that) And he rose up and went back. Does this story bring a little tinge of familiarity?
Oh yes, I can follow that thinking…people are irritatants, troublesome. Are you with me here? We would be so much happier if we just didn’t have to be around people! But the gem of this ancient story is that the monk could not find freedom within himself. He was still a slave to his inner demons. We all have demons that live within us don’t we?…hopefully not to the extent of the demon possessed man but still those nagging mental struggles that keep us chained down and shackled to false thinking about ourselves and the world around us. Yes, everyone else has a problem and not me! Whatever happened is your fault not MINE!
What I like about this story is that I think we can all find a piece of ourselves right there with this monk. Thinking if only people would leave me alone, life would be wonderful…thinking all the problems we experience in life comes from the outside, intruding upon our perfect inner life. There is an endless list of ways we might define the demons in our own lives. But I believe the demon possessed man, as crippled as he was, as detached as he was from his world around him, can teach us something very important this morning. Scripture tell us that when he saw Jesus, even from far away, he ran and knelt before him, shouting, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Even though out of his mind, he recognized Jesus and knew that Jesus alone had the power to release him from the demons within.
How does this truth speak to us this morning? Do you believe that Jesus has the power to change our lives? To help us face and crush whatever demons live within us? Or perhaps you want to say to Jesus, “you are too scary, go away, leave me alone, I like the way I am, no need to change.”
The desert monk realized that the spiritual work for him meant he had to look inward. The demon possessed man in a fog of confusion just needed to recognize Jesus and come kneeling before him. In different ways both men were freed at last…free to face and defeat the demons within. There is no limitation to Christ’s ability to work in our lives but first we must recognize our need to change, we must want to change, and we must ask to be changed. The living Christ is just waiting for us to recognize him, to come to him and kneel down before him! In Christ we are free at last! Amen