They were seized with fear

September 26, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is in a long story from Mark 5:1-20.

They came to the other side of the sea, to the territory of the Gerasenes. When he got out of the boat, at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him. The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain. In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones. Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and prostrated himself before him, crying out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” (He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”) He asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “Legion is my name. There are many of us.” And he pleaded earnestly with him not to drive them away from that territory. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside. And they pleaded with him, “Send us into the swine. Let us enter them.” And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine. The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea, where they were drowned. The swineherds ran away and reported the incident in the town and throughout the countryside. And people came out to see what had happened. As they approached Jesus, they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion, sitting there clothed and in his right mind. And they were seized with fear. Those who witnessed the incident explained to them what had happened to the possessed man and to the swine. Then they began to beg him to leave their district. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him. But he would not permit him but told him instead, “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.

Why were people seized with fear when they saw the man who had been possessed now clothed and in his right mind? Isn’t that an odd reaction to something so dramatic and wonderful?

We just read in the story of Jesus calming the wind and the sea that his disciples had been seized with fear, fear of perishing in the sea. Is there a connection between these two incidents? Moloney states, “As the disciples failed to understand and accept the presence of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus, so also do the people who came to Jesus after his purification of both the man and the countryside. Fear is the rejection of the presence of the kingdom of God, and an inability to recognize Jesus as the one in whom God is pleased.” Fear arises from a failure to accept the presence of the kingdom of God. Hmm, interesting, but it goes along with what I’ve been reflecting upon in Mark’s gospel the last couple of weeks.

We are all possessed by our own demons, at least I am. They live in the depths of me and indeed there are many of them. I try mightily to keep them chained and shackled, but they repeatedly break free and wreak havoc for me sometimes even causing me to inflict pain or bruises upon myself. These demons cannot live in the presence of Jesus, though, and they recognize that. They recognize that when I live in Jesus and accept that the kingdom of God is present in him they lose their power over me.

Perhaps the people who were seized with fear in seeing the possessed man healed and at peace realized that the exorcism of their own demons rested in Jesus’ hands, which required that they accept that the kingdom of God was within him. Why would that make them fearful? Because none of us really wants to change; I don’t. I really don’t want to give up my demons — my addictions, my compulsions, my self-centeredness, my darkest desires even when I know they are self-destructive and separate me from both God and others. They are part of me; I am deeply attached to them. I fear giving up part of myself; I fear what I will lose; I fear that I will somehow be left empty. My fear is the rejection of the presence of the kingdom; my failure to accept that it is here and now and in the person of Jesus and in me if I let it be.

These people lived in fear, but they projected all their demons onto the possessed man — no wonder he said they were legion. If his demons were cast into the swine and drowned in the sea, what was left for them? They were then forced to confront their own demons, which meant accepting the presence of the kingdom and changing, transforming. They weren’t able to overcome their fears and thereby lose the lives they were comfortable with. So, they asked Jesus, the presence of the kingdom, to leave. They remained enslaved to their demons, keeping them from living lives of peace in harmony with God and each other.

When I am not willing to renounce my demons, allowing Jesus to exorcise them, I find it impossible to live in the presence of the kingdom, live in peace and in harmony with God and others in my life. I remain enslaved to my unclean spirit. The only way out for me is to accept Jesus’ invitation to enter the kingdom now and to remain there sustained by God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy. When I do, I am charged by Jesus to proclaim to the world what he has done for me — and they will be amazed. But not as amazed as I am.



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