We begin this story of Jesus encountering the Gerasene demoniac, not when Jesus steps on the shores of the country of the Gerasenes, but in the few verses preceding this incident (cf. Mark 4.39-41). The question still ringing in the air as Jesus steps from the boat is, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”
“Immediately,” one of Mark’s favorite words, “there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit” (Mark 5.2b).
Jesus and the disciples meet a man so distressed and possessed, they don’t even have a word for it. His madness is exponential. They don’t have a word, no, they have a number for this kind of unhinged. Legion. Who knows how many men are in a legion? That’s the point, it’s a lot of unhinged and dreanged.
notice the details
Notice the details Mark gives us: “tombs”, “unclean spirit”, “no one could bind him”, “he wrenched chains apart, “he broke the shackles in pieces”, “no one had the strength to subdue him”; “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.” This “man” had a serious problem that no doctor and no medicine could cure. That is, until Jesus stepped from the boat.
“And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him” (Mark 5.6).
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High?” It almost sounds like that question at the end of Mark 4 after the storm is calmed, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”
we know the answer
Of course, we know the answer. Jesus is the One who can still the sea, and he is the One who can heal this man. And, at that moment, the story switches gears from talking to the man to talking to the legion of demons possessing him.
And, that’s one of the interesting parts of this — where Jesus sends the demons. This is not really a story fit for animal lovers because he sends the demons to the pigs. Yet, for a people who thought pigs were unclean, it is an inconsequential detail. “Oh, a bunch of pigs died jumping off a cliff into the sea. Hmm.”
For the pig herders, though, it’s serious business. These pigs are their livelihoods. They told everyone they could find. They came to discover what had happened to their herd.
who is this?
When they arrived, they saw formerly-demon-possessed man “clothed and in his right mind.” And, I like this part: “And they were afraid.” Afraid. Are we surprised? The disciples were afraid in Mark 4.41, “And they were filled with great fear, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’” That question, “Who is this?” is just floating through this story, and that fear folks had when encountering the power of God in Jesus, well, it just sounds like they’ve encountered the presence of God.
Here’s the worst part: “And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.”
Here’s the best part: Jesus “said to him, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim….”
The power of God is unmistakable in this story. In fact, the power of God is unmistakable in the wind and sea being calmed. “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” That’s the question we need to ask. “Who then is this?”
he knows our details
Perhaps we don’t have problems so large they are virtually inexpressible, but we do have things that only Jesus, the storm-stiller and demon-killer, can fix. He knows the details of our lives, all the things that need the help only he can offer.
What are those “virtually inexpressible things”? I’m sure we are well-acquainted with unclean, hurtful things that haunt us. And, don’t think for a minute that the town-folk did not know that madman running around the countryside. He had a name, a real name that told who he was, before he was “Legion.” He had a family before the demons. He had home before the tombs. They knew exactly who he was, and when faced with the man sitting clothed and in his right mind and when looking at Jesus, they knew what scared them.
We know some of those folks Jesus has delivered; we saw them restored to their names, their families, and their homes. And, we know what’s in our lives that only Jesus can fix. Oh yes, we know what haunts us, leaving us to wander among the unclean and dead things in our lives.
And the only way to answer that question, “Who then is this?”, is to let him break our chains, to let Jesus set us free from unclean and dead things. We do have things that only Jesus, the storm-stiller and demon-killer, can fix. “Who then is this?”
We can answer that question when we ask Jesus: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High?” He’ll reach out a nail-scarred hand and say, “This.”
A text for the table: Mark 5.1-20.