The Strong Man of Gadara, Pt III

Mark 5:1-20

            My good friend has been at a week-long global missions conference recently, one we had attended together for the past two years. Every day or two, she sends me texts or e-mails filling me in with news of friends there and of new people she has met.  

            How can a paragraph or two explain all that she has experienced?  all that was said in these encounters? I can make certain inferences concerning the conversations that have transpired, but I am not privy to those conversations.  She tells me all I need to get the gist so I can enjoy the experiences with her. 

            And I do. Because I have been there, I can imagine the scenes. Because I know my friend, I can imagine the kinds of conversations she had that led to her highlights.  Because I have been given a functioning mind, I can fill in the logical details (such as the fact that to get to Bangor from Belfast, she either took the train or a cab rather than the slower bus or to have gone by foot).  

            Likewise, I pause here to consider the events that have just occurred on the coastal mountainside of Gadara. What exactly is happening in the spaces of time that fill out these few paragraphs in the final acts of this story?  What can be gleaned from these inferences?

The Herdsmen

            We don’t know how close the herdsmen were to the actual conversation between the strong man and Jesus, but they most certainly experienced the phenomenon of 2000 pigs as they suddenly stop grazing and break out in a bee line down the mountainside and into the waters. According to the geography of the area, they most likely had to run across a beach of sorts and into the sea, rather than fall off a cliff (as I once envisioned it before I researched it); this is a bit more deliberately suicidal and entirely unlike the nature of pigs.  Nothing about what happened was normal.  

            It appears that the herdsmen knew the reason for the loss of their swine. It was because of the healing of this man, whom they had all known as extremely dangerous and completely mad.  A switch of identities had happened before their very eyes. This man so well-known for his uncontrollable madness was, like the storm of the night before, now calm.  The pigs who calmly grazed the fields were now suddenly overcome by this same destructive madness in a remarkable scene of tremendous waste and very personal loss. Something very powerful had entered their country—a very unique man who seemed much more than a mere man, and some followers. This needed to be heralded throughout the region!  So off they ran to tell it to everyone they could.

The City Crowd

            It was such a remarkable, unbelievable story!  The people listened in wonder as the herdsmen breathlessly related the events.  “They are all still there,” the men urged their listeners. “Come and see!”

            The people dropped whatever it was they were doing and came in crowds to see.  I expect no crowd would have come to see a man healed, even this one.  But the nature of the healing was hugely notable–this exchange of powers from one “possession” to another, the destruction these powers wrought on 2000 swine at one time, and the fact that all this authority over the spirits transpired at the command of one man!

            This man was somehow strangely related to the storm and sudden calm on the sea the night before.  They knew all about the spirit world, having their daily lives filled with rituals to appease them. That there was a man that exhibited real effect over the spirit world when all they had before for their efforts was dumb and impotent silence—that was worth traversing down into the valley and up the coastal range to see.  

            What feelings must have been in their hearts and what thoughts occupied their minds as they made their way over rocky soil, splashed through the rivers and streams, and climbed in the nearing-noon heat? It seems strange how drawn to the source of our fears we are as humans. We are anxious, but still we must see for ourselves!

The Restored Man from Gadara and Jesus

            And now we come to consider the man and the Savior who has healed him.  There is a space of time here between the healing and the time the people arrived and saw the man “sitting down, clothed, and in his right mind.”  I think about these negative (unspecified) spaces of time.  

            First, he is sitting down, at rest.  From this we can infer that the man apparently had been so crazed that his wandering and physical movement was ceaseless, directionless, and panicked.  What a change! There is repose of mind and body.

            Second, he is clothed.  From this we can infer that he had previously been not clothed or pitifully clothed.  Where did he get the clothes? I look for precedence in the whole of scripture. Just going by Jesus’ normal acts, Jesus once told the disciples to gather what food was available to feed the multitudes when they were hungry. Jesus may also have instructed the disciples to “collect” what clothes they had literally on them to spare in order to clothe this man.  

            Further, I wonder: had the man taken a dip in the cool waters of the Sea to be cleaned first? Or did someone bring the sea to him as they carefully washed his bleeding wounds with the fresh water? It would seem logical to me from precedence that something of this symbolism of cleansing took place.[1]  To me, this speaks volumes.

            Third, the man is now in his “right mind.” We have already seen from scripture a description of the condition of his mind. Now his mind, as well as his body, is at rest.  God cares for us body AND soul.  There is no bodily peace when the mind is fractured, and there is no mental rest when the body is in pain.  Again, we see that there is perfect unity in the healing of Jesus.   

            Fourth, the man is with Jesus (and his disciples). What transpired between Jesus, the disciples and this man by way of conversation during this time after the herdsmen left and before the people arrived?  Did the man ask questions of Jesus?  Did he tell Jesus his life story of how he came to be possessed by demons? Did he ask to be forgiven? Did Jesus ask the man searching questions in order to lead the man to understand his nature of sin? Did Jesus say something to the effect of “Your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more” as He had previously in another act of rescue (John 8:11)?  Or had He commended the man’s faith, weak as it had been under the circumstances? Had he said, as he would in the events back home afterward, “Be at peace! Your faith has made you whole” (Mark 5:34)? 

            Of course, we cannot definitively know what was surely said between them; but we can see evidence of a great compassion on the part of Jesus and the disciples to care for this newly healed man practically and holistically: Jesus ministering counsel and comfort where the man had no counsel or comfort before; the ministering fellowship of the disciples instead of isolation from the humanness of compassion and physical touch; instruction for ignorance; a future and a hope for all his despair; health and healing for sickness and self-inflicted wounds. 

            Don’t let this space of time elude us!  Jesus and his disciples stayed with the man and ministered to him in word and in deed. This is the nature of our Christ. He restores the broken and the repentant to fullness of joy and teaches for the path ahead. Our God loves…practically.

Meditations

            Jesus. I want to stay here for a while on the mountainside. I want to soak in all that Jesus is and has revealed Himself to be for this man; because who He is for this man, He is for me.  I want to stay here for the healing and the loving and the wise and sensitive counsel. I want to stay here with the disciples as they watch their Master lead by serving.  Such power over the elements of this world! And yet he bends low to touch a vile and broken man and bring him to wholeness.  

            Jesus went OUT of his way to be there for this man; Jesus went out of his way for me to die on the cross and rise again to set me free.  Jesus upended prejudice and ministered to the man outside Jesus’ own religion.  A Jewish Jesus healed on a pig-pasture.  Jesus, who had no place to lay his head, deigned to enter a prosperous country and quietly, but significantly and poignantly, raised the value of man over the value of the things of this earth.  Jesus, ever the Teacher, brought his disciples along for the ride and showed them rather than told them of the greatness of their God. He bolstered their faith by modeling His own.  

            The Strong Man. Then there is the man from Gadara.  He is still there, sitting at the feet of Jesus in most probably literal terms.  He has not gone off full of himself as did 9 of the 10 lepers who were healed (Luke 17:11-19); rather, like the one leper who remained to offer thanks to his healer, this man remains to not only thank Him but learn from Him.  His concern is not his replacement in society, but His restoration to God. 

There is yet more…

            I said this would be the last post in this series, but there is more and I want to rest here on the hillside for a while with my Lord first.  Will you stay here with me and consider?  

            “Heavenly Father, I cannot rush on and miss the beauty of your Holiness this scene gives. It didn’t just happen then, Lord, You have happened to me and I want to remember this deeply.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for rescuing me from my own destruction! Thank you that You are my Healer, my Savior, my Teacher, my Wonderful Counselor, my Mighty Sovereign God over all creation and powers and principalities, my Everlasting Father, and my Prince of Peace.  You took on my dirty uncleaness and restored me and called me your own.  You have adorned me with gifts and talents to be used for Your glory, and you have called me beautiful.  Before I move on to realize the purpose for which you have saved me, and you bring to me the people I need to tell about you, let me just thank you and enjoy the riches of your grace for a while.  Bless those who read this passage in Mark.  Reveal Yourself to them through your Word in love, and extend to them the power you give to overcome their sin in Jesus’ name, Amen. 


© Sept 2019 by ReadPsalm119.com.

Footnotes:

[1]Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”; Matt 10:1 “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out,  and to heal every disease and every affliction among the people“; also Matt 8:16; James 5:14-16; Matthew 14:14.   Casting out demons and healing go hand-in-hand. 

2 thoughts on “The Strong Man of Gadara, Pt III

  1. Thank you for that, Aretha! Yes! The word ‘phenomenon’ comes from the Greek ‘phainein’ (“to show”). God reveals Himself through His Word and through His very real and mighty acts in and around us every day. Psalm 119 teaches us to pay attention to both. Even though Psalm 119 was written before Christ, Christ Himself is the Word Made Flesh, the Word fulfilled in visible form. What a friend we have in Jesus, indeed! Thank you so much, Aretha, for commenting your mutual praise of Him and letting me know you dropped by.

    Liked by 1 person

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