Much is made – and rightly so – of Jesus’ repeated expectation of those who profess belief in him to put substance to their profession and follow him; either by literally following him about the countryside (Mark 1:17) or by following his instructions and obeying his commands. (Matthew 16:24) That’s why I find Jesus’ request of Legion, the tomb-dwelling demoniac of the Gerasene region whom Jesus healed; at first perplexing, then instructive and finally profound. (Mark 5:1-20)
Scripture doesn’t say how this poor man – who is never fully identified – became so overwhelmingly possessed by demons; nor does it convey what part he may have contributed to that possession. It does, however, relate how thoroughly miserable be was and how frightened everyone else was of the strength of his ranting and raving. (Demonstrating the insidious spread of the effects of evil from person to person; contaminating an area, region, city, state, nation, etc.)
Having been confronted by this legion of demons while attempting to pass through the country-side, Jesus cast them into a herd of nearby pigs; who instinctively destroyed themselves by rushing head-long into the sea. (This herd of swine hinting at a mixed population of Jews and non-Jews in the area or of a non-observant secular Jewish population – Judaism strictly forbidding the eating of pork.) But instead of rejoicing with and for this man who was now calm and in his right mind, the people of the surrounding area were even more fearful. (Possibly not fully believing what their eyes seemed to be telling them or over-awed at the power necessary to perform such a miracle.) They actually begged Jesus to leave and let them be; which Jesus did, the now-healed demoniac begging to be allowed to go along. Here-in lies the unusual reply. Jesus actually said no, telling him rather to go home and tell “them” what had happened and who was responsible.
Some may cast this as a “home” versus “foreign” missions story. I don’t think that’s the case at all because I believe Jesus expects us to be open and willing to minister to whomever/wherever we are. We could, however, pose a few questions concerning this man and his situation. Did he desire to follow Jesus because he genuinely wanted to share in his ministry, or was this an emotional response to what had just occurred? Might he have been seeking a sense of safety in numbers; having been possessed by so many demons, was he now attempting to surround himself with other followers of the man who had rescued him from his plight? (A natural response to his circumstances.) Could he possibly have had a dependent personality that would have gotten lost in the crowd of other followers, being less productive than he might have been on his own? As a result of that separation from Jesus’ tight-knit group, would he learn to rely more heavily on the leading of the Holy Spirit and thus reach his full potential in ministry more readily? Were his gifts more suited to a “local” ministry, in a pastoral setting as opposed to a state-wide or national ministry? Did he need to mature more in his faith, in a more secure – less demanding environment; before moving on to a larger, more taxing ministry later on? (Which at times can sound a bit condescending, local ministries sometimes seen as less impressive than an “engagement” abroad.) The last scenario, I believe, comes closer to the truth than the others; establishing a pattern of preparation for productive, long-term ministry throughout church history. (See Luke 12:48 & 16:10) Attention-grabbing crusades have their place, but follow-up ministry is a must; and that is best provided by people who have a connection with the community they are trying to minister to. In this case, due to the fear and mistrust of the people for Jesus and the demoniac, the most effective way to reach them was for there to be a daily testimony of change and interaction. For from such, lasting ministry grows.
Sometimes hidden in the telling of this tale is where Jesus ultimately instructed the now-cured demoniac to go. He did indeed tell him to, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you,…” But where was home? Legion lived in an area called the Decapolis, a collection of ten cities in close proximity that exchanged goods and traded gossip on a regular basis. The natural progression of personal evangelism having its start among family and friends, branching out to acquaintances and business partners, then being taken to anyone else who will listen. Thus the stage was set for this man to do great things where he was, the possibilities being endless as he obeyed the initial advice to “go home” – however that was defined. “So the man went away and began to tell all over town and (throughout) the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And (now, instead of being afraid) all the people were amazed.” Mark 5:20 & Luke 8:39 (Combined for clarity)
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