The Gerasene Demoniac story re-enforces the Jesus as superhero image that made me so uncomfortable during my fourth Καρποφορειν visualization. My perspective after studying the fifth chapter of Mark in Koine Greek is that superhero Jesus is another example of an ancient social norm embedded in the Bible that I must wrestle with because it will never perfectly translate into contemporary US culture.
In Mark 5: 1-20, the demoniac sees Jesus’ boat while it is still far off. The demon-possessed man runs from his dwelling place among the tombs. makes it to the beach just as Jesus steps ashore, and prostrates himself before Jesus. Instantly assessing the situation, Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man. In response the demoniac loudly cries out, “What business is it of yours, Jesus, son of the God of the highest? I adjure you by God, torment me not!”
I’ve always imagined that the man ran to Jesus because he wanted to be healed. I assumed that even in his demented state, he somehow knew that Jesus was the only one who could save him. So, he rushes up to Jesus and begs him for help. This interpretation nicely fits with the other two healing stories in the fifth chapter of Mark; however, this is not how the scene came across when I read the Koine Greek version.
From the way the scene is ordered in the Greek, it reads as if it is the demon-legion possessing the man that could tell from a distance who was in the boat. The demon-legion then rushed to get to the beach so that it could give Jesus a proper greeting. I’m floored. Jesus’ superpower is so potent that it works at long-range and can force demons to observe etiquette?
This unexpected behavior is even more striking when compared to those of the father with a dying daughter and the hemorrhaging woman in the next pericopes. The father falls to his knees at Jesus’ feet, πίπτει πρὸς τοὺς πόδας (v. 22), and begs for a healing. The woman slams to the ground, προσέπεσεν (v. 33), and admits to a healing. The demon-legion does a face-plant before Jesus, προσεκύνησεν, it kisses the ground at Jesus’ feet, and shows deference to a superior.
That’s not the only surprising and puzzling behavior exhibited by the demon-legion, either. In response to Jesus’ words of exorcism, the legion appeals to Jesus and to God. “ὁρκίζω σε τὸν θεόν,” or “I implore you by God.” These are oath-making words. The legion wants Jesus to swear an oath, to be bound to a promise, that Jesus will cease his attack. Since when do demons invoke God when eliciting an oath?
Clearly, the supervillain in this story recognizes that it has met its match. The legion know this is Ἰησοῦ υἱὲ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑψίστου, Jesus, son of the highest God. There’s no use fighting such power. Instead, the legion tries to negotiate the terms of its surrender.
That the demon-legion, not the man, ran to Jesus is also evident from the opening question, “Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, Ἰησοῦ ?” Literally, “What to me and to you, Jesus?” The demon-legion is making an oblique reference to the man it possesses. The statement is a verbal shrug; the man is merely an it. What’s it to you, Jesus? Why should you care about it? You are the Highest God’s son. Why take the time to make this nothing-of-an-it your business?
At first, Jesus also ignores the man; his attention is on the villain. Jesus begins by pounding the demon- legion with commands. “Get out of the man!” “Tell me your name!” Jesus’ words are like storm waves buffeting (βασανίσης) the legion from all sides and tormenting it. He doesn’t take the time to answer the legion’s question; he just keeps hammering away at it until the demon-legion finally agrees to end the possession and take up residence in a nearby herd of swine instead.
However, the swine herd is not the haven that the legion expected it to be. Even from within the herd, the legion still reacts to Jesus’ superpower, is repulsed by it and is driven away.
Only at the end of the scene does Jesus speak to the man. The locals ask Jesus to leave the area because they are so awestruck (εφοβήθησαν) by his superpower. The man wants to accompany him, but Jesus orders him to go back to his own people and tell them about the theophany that saved him.
The story of the healed demoniac and the stories of the folks at House for All Sinners and Saints keep swirling together in my mind. Nadia Bolz-Weber shares her and others stories of brokenness and healing in Accidental Saints. Nadia found and then founded a church that offers a glimpse of Christ to those trapped in unhealthy behaviors. Even from a distance, they recognize their savior. They are drawn to that power, repeatedly submit to its healing, their chains start to fall away, they find their people, and they offer their testimony to their new community.
This is the kind of church that I want for every tormented soul. For all who have ever felt like an it, a nothing, I hope that they will encounter Christ through a ministry that is freeing and that they will discover their tribe in a church that is inclusive. The reports coming out of House for All show me that such a church is possible.
Between the way Jesus is portrayed in the gospels and the way House for All is described by Nadia, it doesn’t look like I will be shaking the Jesus-as-superhero image anytime soon. The challenge then will be to find a way to abide in grace and rely on that divine power to make me brave, assertive, and faithful when the actions of the Church and the behavior of Christians disappoint.