I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the thoughts and words of this reading that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
Luke 8:26-39 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes,[a] which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn[b] no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus[c] had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times 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 wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons[d] begged Jesus[e] to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they 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 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes[f] asked Jesus[g] to leave 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[h] sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
One of the many strange, out-of-the-ordinary things Jesus did was to take his disciples to the other side of the Sea of Galilee often.
Many New Testament manuscripts refer to the “Country of the Gadarenes” or “Gergesenes,” rather than the “Gerasenes.” It doesn’t matter much, because Gerasa, Gergasa and Gadara were all cities to the east of the Sea of Galilee. They were Gentile cities filled with citizens who were culturally more Greek than Semitic; this would account for the pigs in the biblical account. Gerasa and Gadara are accounted for in historical accounts (by writers such as Pliny the Elder and Josephus) and by archaeological research. Today they are the modern towns of Jerash and Umm Qais.
A third city, Hippos, was similar in character to Gadara and Gerasa, and it may fit the biblical account even better. It was located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, whereas Gerasa and Gadara were several kilometers east and south of it, respectively. Hippos, Gerasa, and Gadara were all counted in the Decapolis, an informal grouping of Greco-Roman cities in eastern Palestine.
Scholars debate the correct site of the story and modern translations have multiple readings of the Gospels. (Just look at the footnotes in your Bible to see the confusion!)
Imagine that you are living in Gergesa, situated on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It’s 2:00 am and it’s dark, really dark, outside. There are no streetlights. You and your family and the animals that are part of your household have been in bed for several hours now.
And you hear it again.
It’s a sound you’ve heard for years. It begins as a low moan and builds to a wail — and then a howl. And it’s coming from the cemetery. You know what it is, of course. Everyone knows about the strange, scary man who lives among the tombs. He is a fierce man who is not in his right mind. Everyone living in and around the towns of Gerasa and Gadara and Hippus on the Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee knew that you don’t go near the tombs by yourself.
The howling man lives among the tombs and everyone says that the man has demons. People have tried to restrain him, but no one is strong enough to subdue him. He’s broken all the chains and leg irons anyone has ever put on him in an attempt to contain him. And night after night, he howls and wails and cuts himself with sharp stones.
Oh, he has a name. And once he had a family. But now no one knows his name — and his family no longer acknowledges him. Everyone agrees — He’s a lost cause. Too far gone. No one can possibly help him.
It’s a really strange story—a spooky story that has a Stephen King kind of feel to it. This story is clothed in the aura of an ancient way of looking at things that is quite foreign to us.
Jesus crosses over the Sea of Galilee to get away from the crowds pressing in on every side. They meet a storm at sea, and Jesus calms the storm and the hearts of the frightened disciples. But no sooner do they arrive on the other side, when they are confronted with this man who obviously has serious mental health issues.
The people in the region were terrified of the man. Wouldn’t you be? They say he has super-human strength. More than once people have tried to restrain him with chains and he just broke them like they were nothing. Today we would say that the man was severely mentally ill. The way people undoubtedly treated him or avoided him altogether must have fed his mental illness. Imagine the isolation. Imagine how he learned to cope. Knowing that the tombs were unclean and places people avoided, he chose to live among the tombs. No one would bother him there.
One Sunday morning when I arrived at the church, it was very early—still dark. I’m always the first to arrive. There was a young man sitting by the west door. He was homeless. He didn’t ask for anything, except that he wanted to talk. I talked with him for a few minutes and prayed for him before I went into the church. One of the things he told me was that he had been sleeping in a cemetery because he felt safe there. No one would bother him in a cemetery. Perhaps the man lived among the tombs because he could be left alone.
Jesus asks the unclean spirit, “What is your name?” to know one’s name is to know much about the individual-to have power over him, according to ancient belief. And the man’s reply has given a phrase to our English language: “My name is Legion.” The word legion is borrowed from Latin and refers to a Roman army unit of six thousand men.
Perhaps this man saw the Roman legions marching back and forth across his land…and thought to himself: “I am like them: a mob, rather than a man.” There were many persons warring within him, clamoring for attention, pulling him this way and that.
Jesus healed the man that day. He became whole and would tell his story the rest of his life.
There is a hymn in our hymnal that ties this story to our own lives. I offer it for your meditation today:
“Silence, frenzied, unclean spirit!”
cried God’s healing Holy One.
“Cease your ranting! Flesh can’t bear it;
flee as night before the sun.”
At Christ’s words the demon trembled,
from its victim madly rushed,
while the crowd that was assembled
stood in wonder, stunned and hushed.
Lord, the demons still are thriving
in the gray cells of the mind:
tyrant voices, shrill and driving,
twisted thoughts that grip and bind,
doubts that stir the heart to panic,
fears distorting reason’s sight,
guilt that makes our loving frantic,
dreams that cloud the soul with fright.
Silence, Lord, the unclean spirit
in our mind and in our heart;
speak your word that when we hear it,
all our demons shall depart.
Clear our thought and calm our feeling;
still the fractured, warring soul.
By the power of your healing
make us faithful, true, and whole.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster