“They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. (Mark 5:1-5)
This is the most dramatic of Jesus’ exorcism ministry. He has just landed on shore of the region of the Gerasenes, a pagan land where pig herding is part of the local economy (work Jews considered unclean). He encounters a man driven mad by a many demons living among the tombs, who the people have tried repeatedly to restrain with chains.
I have one questions today: Were the people trying to chain this afflicted man to the tombs to KEEP HIM AWAY from the community for their own peace and safety? Or, were they trying to KEEP HIM WITHIN the loving protection of the community by chaining him, and preventing him from running off alone to the tombs to live in dehumanizing isolation?
I have often read it the first way, picturing the demonized man ostracized from the community, chained like a wild animal in the tombs safely away from the rest of the people so as to prevent him from doing harm to the others.
Upon further reflection, I think (and hope) that it is the other way around. You see the Enemy’s work always has as one of it’s aims the destruction of relationships and community, and driving people into isolation and loneliness. The work of Jesus and the Kingdom of God has as one of it’s core aims reconciliation, the healing of relationships, and the formation of loving community that sacrifices for the well-being of the “least of these” and moves toward those afflicted.
Time and time again we naturally gather with people like us, who have it all together and avoid those “messy” people drowning in sorrow, battling depression, prone to violent outbursts, rough around the edges, plagued by psychoses, or just plain mean. Yet, if we learn anything about Jesus’ ministry, we know that Jesus focused his time and energy hanging out with the outcast, unwanted and unruly. And in this story, we find Jesus out among the tombs on the countryside (“We’re not in Kansas anymore”) keeping strange company with a naked, crazy guy.
A Jesus-shaped community sacrifices personal comfort and peace of mind, and does everything in it’s power to keep the poor, afflicted, demonized connected and embraced in grace-filled community. Would our churches today keep such people chained in or outside the community?
This can be a difficult question to navigate when you consider how a church might handle having a recovering sex-offender wanting to plug into a church. How can a church welcome and love this person while also doing diligence to protect the rest of the congregation? It’s easier to keep such a person (chained) out of sight and out of mind. But what would Jesus have us do?