“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you” (Mark 5:19).
The story of the Gerasene demoniac is loaded with imagery that suggests a story behind the story. It is a description of Jesus’ power over not just a single possessed man or over the religious control of the local synagogues and Temple establishment in Jerusalem, but also over the entire Greco-Roman and pagan culture that had been imposed upon the world by the Empire.
Jesus crosses the lake to the pagan region of the Decapolis (10 cities) and there encounters a fearsome, violent demoniac raging in the burial grounds among the dead. He is inhabited by 2,000 spirits, who recognize Jesus and beg to be cast into the swine. Their name is legion, the equivalent of an entire division of soldiers.
The Romans controlled the region, extracting its wealth and stamping its own economic system and beliefs in the form of markets and temples. The huge herd of swine, an animal considered unclean by Jews, indicates the pervasive control the Romans had over everything from social taboos to diet. The so-called Pax Romana was a co-optative and distorted blend of conquest and capitalism that inflicted spiritual death on its subjects.
Jesus’ power to drive out the demons is evidence that the Kingdom of God is more powerful than any other kind of rule, even imperial power claiming to be divine. Mark is telling us how Jesus is exercising spiritual supremacy over all the powers of this world. He is breaking the spells these powers have cast over people, awakening and liberating them to take back their dignity and destiny.
The Gospel begins in us when we experience this deep liberation and can take charge of our lives from the deadening influence and lifeless patterns of consumption and escapism the dominant culture uses to keep us passive and obedient. We barely know we are being controlled until we break the spell of mindless routine and compulsive obedience to every appetite and whim that summons us and promises to satisfy us. The voices we carry are legion, whispering instructions deep within our consciousness until we cannot imagine any other reality than this half-life of shallow sensations.
We are approaching the season of Lent, a time to stop feeding the beast and start listening to the Spirit. This is the path to freedom and self possession. Discipleship is possible only when we regain control, and God's grace is always there to help set us free.