Jesus and the Demoniac: The Cost of Compassion
If you think your trouble-filled life is bad, this guy had it worse. Separated from people, a crazed maniac, in constant torment, crying out and cutting himself with stones to feel something else other than the despair he was feeling. This man lived a life of oppression by demons. Underneath that oppression was a wonderfully gifted person, loved by God, created in His image and placed on this planet with a unique destiny to fulfill…but one that would never be realized until the oppression could be lifted. He not only had a demon, but this demon was named Legion, signifying lots of demons. A Roman legion was about 6000 troops—that’s a lot of demons.
This man’s oppression is symbolic of so many today around the world who also face oppression that covers over dignity, destiny, and hope–People oppressed by war, poverty, hunger, racism, lack of clean water, slavery, all forms of injustice. In a land of freedom and prosperity, we can look at the billions of oppressed people around the world and naively think, “Why don’t they just change it? Why don’t they just take responsibility for themselves and get out of that situation?” It’s a modern version of “Let them eat cake,” conceived by people who are out of touch with reality. Those forms of oppression drain all initiative, all dreams, all hope. Until the oppression is lifted, those things stay covered over. For this man, this was clearly the case.
It makes you wonder who tried to help the man. We know they tried to tie him up unsuccessfully, but who tried to help him? Did anyone? Maybe, maybe not—but in his case, the reality is that they could not have done much any way. They needed a power beyond themselves. They needed the power of God, the power of the gospel—not just good intentions. He needed more than temporary help. He needed eternal hope.
In this man’s life, this demon-oppressed person, he was without hope up until this story. We don’t know if anyone ever tried to help him or not, but what we do know is that Jesus decided to. The fact that Jesus did so is remarkable. The passage says that he went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes, which was not normal. Good Jews stayed away from this region for two big reasons. First, the region was populated by Gentiles, non-Jewish people that they looked down their noses at. Second, the region was known for raising pigs. Pigs were considered unclean, so you never saw a good Jew down at Red, Hot, and Blue eating a pulled-pork sandwich. This region raised pork to feed the Roman soldiers garrisoned in various places in Israel, and it was a despised region.
The fact that Jesus decided to purposely travel to the Gerasenes was a big deal in itself. Good Jews like the disciples would have never done that. But I love the quote I got from Zan Holmes said “Bridges are just walls turned sideways.” Zan then said, “Jesus never saw a wall that he couldn’t turn into a bridge.” Jesus is a wall-builder, and he just shows up where the needs are the greatest. He does so now through us, but in this story, he builds a bridge to the Gerasenes. And the story simply says he sailed in and then just as quickly sailed out after this man was released from the oppression. Did Jesus come all this way for this just one guy? Maybe. We don’t really know. Yet, he did come.
He lands, and the demoniac comes to him. This man who was isolated from everyone, living among the tombs, comes all the way to the shore to greet Jesus. Notice what he does, he then falls on his knees before Jesus and shouts out, “Jesus, son of the Most High God? Swear to me that you will not torture me?” Who’s doing the talking? Not the man but the demon. Demons are angels who joined the angel Lucifer, now Satan, in rebellion against God. As created beings, Satan or any of the demons are not God’s equals. They can only do what they do underneath God’s sovereign control. The demon, or in this case demons, know that this is Jesus, and they beg not to be tortured, likely asking that Jesus not send them early into the eternal torment reserved for them. Jesus simply orders them to come out of the man and asks the demon to state his name. The demon answers with the Legion answers, and begs Jesus not to be sent away but instead to be able to inhabit the pigs. Jesus obliges their request, and they go into the pigs, 2000 of them, who then quickly charge into the lake and drown.
But forget about the pigs and remember the person. This man was released from his oppression. The love of Jesus transforms a life. This man is now completely released from this horrific oppression. But notice something in the passage. How do the people respond? How many do you see celebrate this amazing life change? No one. Zero. The man is transformed, but that is not what people are focused on.
Instead, what do they do? They beg Jesus to leave their region. Why? Because of the 2000 pigs! Their economy just got slammed. They just lost 2000 pigs from their herds. If Jesus stays around, what might happen next? They are fixated on the pigs. How much is one man’s life worth? Not 2000 pigs! Maybe one or two, but 2000? They just want Jesus out of there. They don’t want their lives disrupted any more than they already have been. They beg him to leave.
And here is where this story challenges the heck out of me. How much is one life worth to me? How much disruption am I willing to introduce into my life in order to help release someone from oppression, whose life is covered over by hunger, poverty, slavery, or injustice? How much am I willing to disrupt my way of life, my own economics, my own comfort, to see lives transformed?