There are 3 retellings of today’s Gospel; Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39 and today’s reading, Mark 5:1-20. Nothing in the Bible is repeated without a purpose.
Summarizing the three, Jesus leaves Galilee (land of Jews) and crosses the sea to go to the opposite side, Gerasenes (land of pagans or Gentiles). On the way there, even nature itself seems to be preventing Jesus from making this journey and to the relief of his companions, Jesus wakes up and calms the sea with just a simple command. Now he arrives in this foreign territory and his first encounter is with a naked man possessed by demons. The man prostrates himself at Jesus’s feet and the demons ask, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”
Let’s get this straight. Jesus leaves the Jewish land, taking with him Jewish men who followed Jewish law and goes to a Gentile land, which for devout Jews was a defilement all by itself. Once there, they meet a naked man, which would be shameful for any Jew. This naked man is wandering around the tombs and graves, again this would be a defilement for a Jew AND there are pigs in the area which are considered unclean for the Jews. To top all of this off, on the way there, even the very sea rises up to try and prevent them from making this trip.
Jesus knowingly chooses to take the disciples, not just out of their comfort zone but into places they considered inappropriate for any of God’s chosen people to go. When even the sea attempts to rise up and stop them, Jesus calms the turbulence of the wind and the waves by saying, “Quiet, Be still,” and nature obeys. Jesus steps out into an unclean land, greets an unclean man, and listens to him. The evil spirits within the man, instantly recognize Jesus for who he is and address him as, “Son of the Most High God.” The demons ask that Jesus not send them away but only to the swine feeding on the hillside. Jesus agrees and the evil spirits leave the man, enter the pigs and the pigs go running for the sea and drown. The men responsible for the herds of pigs go running back to town, telling what they have seen.
Somewhat surprisingly, the people from the town don’t come running for restitution or to complain that their herds of pigs are gone. Instead, they just ask Jesus to leave. Today’s reading says, “they beg him to leave their district.”
It is interesting too, that in the Liturgical Calendar, this reading comes on the heels of Epiphany and the Celebration of the Conversion of St. Paul. The three wise men were the first of the Gentiles to worship Jesus and recognize him as King. St. Paul, who by his own words was the most zealous of Jews, following his conversation becomes the Apostle to the Gentiles. In Scripture, between those two events, we have Jesus venturing out to the territories of the Gentiles to cast out demons.
We might paraphrase the demons’ question and ask, “What does this have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”
When we say that we follow Jesus, it is sometimes easier to follow the platitudes and to stay within the confines of our comfort zones and be content with being a good person. Jesus shows us here that following him means following him out into the places where we aren’t comfortable, to be with people who our rules label shameful or unclean. The first reading from the letter to Hebrews lists our forefathers who lived lives outside the comfortable norm “in order to obtain a better resurrection.” We can expect that when we too live outside our societal norm, we too may endure mockery and torture. It may even seem that nature herself may rise up and try to stop us. But we follow the One who calms storms with a word. Even the evil we will meet along the way recognizes our God as the Most High and while they do not follow him, they know the Truth when they see it.
After the demons are cast out and Jesus is asked to leave, the man asks Jesus if he can come with him. Instead of taking him along, Jesus sends him back to his family to “announce all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” As we stretch and through grace begin to live outside ourselves, as we go out to our human family to listen and share what the Lord has done for us, we too will be able to cry with the Psalmist, “ How great is the goodness, O Lord, which you have in store for those who fear you”.
What is waiting for you just outside your comfort zone?
If you catch Sheryl sitting still, you are most likely to find her nose stuck in a book. It may be studying with her husband, Tom as he goes through Diaconate Formation, trying to stay one step ahead of her 5th and 6th-grade students at St Rose of Lima Catholic School or preparing for the teens she serves as Director of Youth Evangelization and Outreach in her parish collaborative. You can reach her through her through www.youthministrynacc.com.