Today’s passage is from Luke 8:26-39 (ESV):
Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon
26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
Between the preceding vignette where Jesus calms a sea and this story of the demoniac, we get—in two brief encounters—a summary of the story arc of salvation history, from Genesis to Calvary and even down to our time, as we persist as a pilgrim church in a foreign land. “In the beginning” Jesus “was the Word” (Jn 1:1), and out of a sea of chaos, Jesus created the world: “the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters” (Gen 1:1-2). He is master over the sea, the abyss, the nothingness, and he demonstrates this power when he calms a raging storm as he and his disciples are crossing the sea from Galilee, a Jewish region, to Gerasenes, a Gentile region. In this mini-tale, Jesus relives the act of creation.
Upon arriving in Gerasenes, Jesus demonstrates his mission on earth, in fleshly form, through an encounter with a demoniac. This man is soooo far outside the Jewish social unit it’s not even funny. For starters, he’s not Jewish. Secondly, he’s possessed by a legion of demons, such that he is unfit to be a part of the Gentile community. Then, as though being possessed weren’t enough to make him an outcast, he also lives among the tombs, which would make him ritually unclean according to Jewish law. On top of all that, he lives in close proximity to swine, which is yet another mark in the unclean category. As far as Jewish society was concerned, the demoniac was as good as dead. And because of all the causes for ritual impurity that surrounded him, for a good little Jewish boy like Jesus to associate with this man would ordinarily be akin to social death. But Jesus was glad to make this sacrifice—to die, as it were—so that this man could have life and have it abundantly, so that he could be restored to sanity and given a mission and purpose within his community. In a preview of the Great Commission given to the apostles after all mankind’s salvation from the grips of evil and restoration to sanity, Jesus instructs the restored man to “return home and recount what God has done for you” (Lk 8:39). He goes from being a maniac to being a missionary and a model of discipleship. Although Jesus’s post-exorcism plan for this man’s life is not what the man had in mind for himself (he wished to join Jesus’s band of disciples), the man sees that Jesus is good and trustworthy; he sees the breadth that Jesus is willing to traverse for him; and he trusts that Jesus knows what he’s talking about. So the healed man obeys, putting aside his plan for how he was going to be a follower of Christ and pursuing Jesus’s plan for his new life instead.
We can learn a lot about the efficacy of Calvary in destroying death and demons by studying precisely how Jesus accomplishes this transformative feat in the case of the Gerasene demoniac. When the man sees Jesus, “he cried out and fell down before him” (Lk 8:28). The legion of demons possessing the man acknowledges who Jesus is, but not out of reverence or obedience. On the contrary, they know that Jesus is Lord and that they do not possess the power to outright disobey him, but they want to bargain with him. Jesus is happy to comply; he sends them into the swine, as they wish, but this plan on the part of the demons boomerangs: the swine, a symbol of ritual impurity, plunge themselves into the sea, representative of primordial chaos. The demons thought they could bargain their way out of being cast into the “abyss” (Lk 8:31; Gen 1:1), but their plan was a failure. They destroy themselves together with the source of “ritual uncleanness” all in one fell swoop. At the feet of Jesus, evil, which cannot comprehend the self-sacrifice of a man willing to submit himself to any suffering for the sake of another, self-destructs in its attempt to save itself. By contrast, the exorcised man, who gladly takes up the task—however daunting—that Jesus gives him of preaching to the Gentiles in his community, is returned to life, the evil taken out of him by none of his doing. This happens to him in spite of the fact that, by all appearances for a bystander at the scene, the man begged to not be saved. And yet, he is saved anyway. Jesus knows what we need; he knows we have everything to live for, even as we try our best to blow up our own lives, to keep God out, and be the kings of our own destinies.
Satan thought he had won when he orchestrated the crucifixion, but he was wrong! Just like the demons attempt to save them themselves from the abyss, Satan’s plot to kill God and save himself boomeranged back on him, destroying him in its flight. Like the possessed man, the participants in the crucifixion, the crowds jeering Jesus and demanding his execution, by all appearances begged not to be saved; but Jesus died for them too: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). By his sacrifice for us, who did not deserve or even want his sacrifice, Jesus makes it possible for us to be free from enslavement to sin and follow him in obedience instead of following sin all the way to the sea of self-destruction. In fear and thinking we know best, we can bargain with Jesus as much as we like, but to do so is only to our own detriment.
Jane Thomas ’15 is a former Ichthus editor and a Fulbright scholar studying the gut microbes of wild howler monkeys (A. pigra) in Mexico.
For further reading on Luke’s Gospel, see The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke by Joel B. Green.