The Rev’d Penny Body
Click here to read the Reflection
Reflection 1st February 2021
The Gospel Mark chapter 5 verses 1 to 20
5 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.
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
In verses 3 to 5 we are told about the condition of the demon possessed man. This is such a graphic description – as always Mark conveys to us, in a few simple words the absolute torment of the man. No one is strong enough to subdue him, he has broken his chains many times and now lives as an outcast among the tombs. What did he find to eat or drink in those wild places? What did he look like – was he wearing rags for clothes – or none at all? His hair matted? His eyes full of fear? And Mark tells us that he cried out night and day and cut himself with stones.
It is not possible to read this account without feeling the utmost compassion for this soul in torment.
I’d never really noticed the phrase “he cut himself with stones” before I began reflecting on this reading for today – but it puts me in mind of what we now call self-harming behaviour when people – often so young – cut themselves with knives and razors. Perhaps you know someone who suffers in this way. There are so many reasons why this happens but one is that it takes the sharp and visceral physical pain of a knife wound to bring the sufferer away from their mental torture and into the reality of the here and now – at least for a time. What pain must be in their minds to cause this desperate act? What pain was the man in the tombs living with?
So he sees Jesus, and Jesus calls out the demons and sends them into the swine, who run over the cliff and are killed.
The people tending the pigs went back to the town and others came out to see what had happened.
They saw the man, who had been so tormented, sitting down – still – not thrashing and hurting himself. Not crying out but quiet. He is clothed – did someone give him some of their clothes to wear? I’d like to think that someone had helped to gently wash him and comb his matted hair as well, and maybe given him some food – but we shall never know.
Jesus showed his huge compassion, called out the demons, and restored the man. Not only to his right mind, but also to his place in the community. No longer an outcast, he could once again live normally. His life has been changed as much as it was possible to be.
Then as Jesus was leaving, the man begged to be able to go with him. But Jesus did not let him and instead told him to return to his own people and tell them how much the Lord had done for him, and how he had had mercy on him. So the man told the people in the Decapolis – that is the ten cities – how much Jesus had done for him, and they were amazed.
Maybe we don’t feel our story is quite as dramatic as the man who was possessed by demons and who was restored to his right mind – or maybe we do – but we all have a story to tell of how much Jesus has done for us. What’s your story? How has Jesus helped you, answered you prayer, succoured you, restored you – and how did that change your life?
We would never hesitate to tell the story of how a kind neighbour has done something for us, so let’s tell our stories about Jesus and what he has done for us – not in the Decapolis – but in the four parishes of our Mission Community – let’s tell each other, tell our friends and families, praising him for his goodness and mercy, building each other up in the faith as we go and amazing those who have yet to know him. Amen
The Collect for the 4th Sunday of Epiphany
God of heaven,
you send the gospel to the ends of the earth
and your messengers to every nation:
send your Holy Spirit to transform us
by the good news of everlasting life
in Jesus Christ our Lord.