Thinking about the Gerasene Demoniac

I don’t often write about my faith, but I am going to start doing more of it.

Years of gaming and reading fantastic fiction have conditioned me to read the New Testament in a weird way. When you have a guy who was raised on Tolkien and Howard, then became a philosopher, and THEN became Catholic, you get an idiosyncratic approach to Scripture. All those novels, comics, and movies tend to make me see the New Testament as a story first-- the story of Jesus Christ and the eventual formation of the Church. Of course, it also contains teachings and wisdom and moral guidance and prophecy, all Divinely Inspired. But I always return to the story. Especially the parts of the story that are omitted.

Note -- I don’t mean “omitted” in the “mutigenerational conspiracy to hide the Truth” sense. I mean it in the much more mundane “things we know happened but the New Testament doesn’t talk about” sense. For me, at least, there are two big ones -- “What was Jesus’ childhood like?” And the related “What about St. Joseph?” Almost no detail of either of these things is given in Scripture. Of course, the two are related. Perhaps it’s the parent and husband in me, but I have always had a fondness for the Holy Family and often wonder about what ordinary life was like for them.

There is a third thing I wonder about a lot: “What were the lives of those touched by Christ like after that encounter?” Here I am specifically thinking about those who were blessed by Jesus’ miracles. Something amazing happened to them at the hands of Christ. They were healed, fed, or even raised from the dead. Then what?

All of them are wonderful and fascinating and bring up all sorts of questions -- did people come over to the host of the Wedding at Cana the next day and confront him about the rumors they heard of a man turning water into wine? But the story that really fascinates me is the Mark version of the Gerasene Demoniac. (This is Mark chapter 5, verses 1-20 if you are following along at home).

This poor man fascinates me. Living amongst the graves, stronger than chains, constantly engaging in self-harm -- it’s difficult not to pity him. His community has both cast him out and, in some backwards way, tried to help him. When Jesus finds him, the possessed man begs Jesus not to harm him or send him away.

As a bit of an aside, I think this is an important part of the Christology. The Demoniac recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, but immediately thinks Jesus is here to punish him. The recognition of the power of Jesus, but a misinterpretation of what that power is for, is a common New Testament theme.

Then, there is the famous line “Legion is my name. There are many of us,” which, if you are a guy who has read a bunch of horror novels and seen a lot of movies, you cannot help but hear delivered in the most creepy voice imaginable. Jesus casts the demon out into the swine, they all drown in the sea (probably making a huge mess and putting some poor swineherds out of business). The man is free from his demons. He puts on some fresh clothes and quietly sits with Jesus.

What’s the (former) Demoniac thinking about? This fascinates me. Confused -- probably. Grateful -- undoubtedly. Perhaps still shaking from his encounter with the power of Christ? Or finally calm and still for the first time in years? We don’t know, and only have our imagination and the experience of our own varied encounters with Christ to give us a clue.

The Demoniac’s life is undoubtedly transformed after that. He doesn’t just go home and try to figure out how to deal with all those guys who just lost 2000 pigs. I see him as knowing he can’t go home, really. After an encounter that transformational, you can’t just pick up where you left off (What was his family like? How were they faring?  How long had he been possessed?). He begs Jesus to take him along, but Jesus gives him another job -- go be a Witness by telling everyone what the Lord has done for you.

And then that’s it. Mark tells us he wanders the Decapolis and tells his story. “All were amazed.” How could they not be? This guy’s story is fascinating, even the little bit we know. And in all the spaces we don’t know rest even more questions. Questions, I think, that have helped me encounter Jesus in my own idiosyncratic way.


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