Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Special thanks to Peggy Graff and her guests for providing this uplifting and inspiring addition to us in her Hymn-a-Day May series. I pray that these paired daily selections will uplift your spirits and feed your soul as much as it does mine.
Mark 5:1-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac
5 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.[a] 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 Then Jesus[b] asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits[c] begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus[d] to leave their neighborhood. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus[e] refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
Jesus and his disciples crossed over the Sea of Galilee to get away from the crowds pressing in on every side. Not only that, but Jesus often took his disciples over to the other side to rub shoulders with people different from themselves because “the other side” was Gentile territory. As soon as the boat reached the opposite side of the Sea, Jesus encountered a man who lived among the tombs.
The people in the region were terrified of the man. Wouldn’t you be? I can imagine the townspeople talking about him: “They say he has super-human strength. More than once people have tried to restrain him with chains—chains I tell you!—and he just broke them like they were nothing. I hear tell he’s got super-human strength. You know if you’re quiet on a windy night, you can hear him howling! You know, he’s dirty and doesn’t even wear clothes!”
Imagine the stories the kids told each other about the man. He was mysterious, scary, unknown, without a name, different, unclean. So, people in the region were scared of him. 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 places people avoided, he chose to live among the tombs. No one would bother him there.
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” (v.7) the demented man cried out to Jesus. If you think about it, that is a question that has been put to Jesus in one way or another by individuals and societies again and again. “What have you to do with me—with us—Jesus of Nazareth?” “Leave us alone. Mind your own business. Keep your hands off my life.”
Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. It did, and as a result a herd of pigs – two thousand strong – rushed down the steep bank into the sea.
How did the townspeople feel about this remarkable event taking place in their midst? A man had been made whole. A man who had been tormented and fragmented became whole. That should be cause for celebration, right? But, there was a problem. It came at a cost. It cost some of their property and when it comes down to the choice between people and property, those townspeople chose property. The predictable routine of their lives had been disturbed and people generally don’t take kindly to having their lives disturbed.
The reaction of the townspeople challenges us to ask some questions. If someone came to us and said, “I can give you a world which will be a better world…a world without poverty or war or oppression. But there is one catch to it: you will have to sacrifice some of your comfort in order to achieve it,” what would our answer be? It’s not really a hypothetical question. Rather, isn’t this the question that confronts us in every age—including this one? Can we live more simply so that others of God’s children can simply live?
So, what did the townspeople do? They asked Jesus to leave. He was bad for business. The crowd who valued their pigs more than their strange neighbor. Perhaps the question here is “Who are the possessed in this story?” The people’s eagerness to reject Jesus, to get rid of Him, shows that they, too, are “possessed”…subject to evil powers hostile to the kingdom of God. What has happened to them can happen to us all. Our possessions can possess us.
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