Mark 5:6-13

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 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.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.

Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 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. Mark 5:6-13

Even from a distance, both men recognized what they saw. The tormented man amazingly saw Jesus for who he was, the Son of God, but he was afraid that Jesus would make things worse, “do not torment me.” And Jesus, clearly seeing the man’s distress, offered both diagnosis and treatment in a single sentence, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

There are two more surprises.

The first is Jesus speaking, not so much with the newly healed man but with the unclean spirits that have controlled him. The spirits – which are many – the guy obviously has a lot of problems – beg Jesus for mercy. How weird is that?

And then Jesus obeys the unclean spirits – very strange – and sends them into a huge herd of pigs. Who then rush into the lake and drown.

Certainly, this is a story of a miraculous healing. It is a story of the compassion that Jesus shows to those who suffer. But then there are all these little details that would be so easy for us to miss. The evil spirits recognize Jesus when the religious leaders don’t. This all happens across the sea, in foreign, Gentile, territory. Only Gentiles would have anything to do with pigs. And a herd of 2000 pigs approaches farming on an industrial scale. Almost lost in all of this is a dazed man who has been returned to his right mind. What do we do with all of this?

Some – certainly not all – mental illness and mental stress is a maladaptive response to trauma and shame. It begins as a barrier of protection against pain. Then it takes on a life of its own. Like the old line about alcoholism: First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man. The man first sees Jesus as a threat, not unlike a person suffering from bipolar mental illness in a manic state, or an addict in their disease, might resist treatment.

But none of that stops Jesus. He comes with love, responds with compassion, and gives a suffering man new life. Because that is what Jesus does.

Then there are those pigs. The story doesn’t end well for them, not to mention their owners. There is a cost involved in the cure of the man in the tombs. We will see how the locals react to that next week.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, it is strange how resistant we can be to those things in life designed to help us. We like sugar more than vegetables. We resist doing what is helpful because of our fear that it will be worse than what we have come to know as normal. We need you to move us toward healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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