In the gospel of Luke, Jesus exercises his power of exorcism four times. This will probably sound strange to us who live in a world in which the experience of material existence is primary.
The spiritual world, for us, is mainly conjecture. Nonetheless, we often live alongside psychological disturbances which are dealt with by psychotherapeutic remedies. In the case reported in this story Jesus has entered a foreign world on the other side of the lake. He is confronted by this man who has emerged “from the tombs.” He can no longer live in the city because of his state. He now lives in a liminal state between worlds. He is naked because he no longer has clothes and he cannot be restrained by normal means. This is the meaning of demonic possession in the ancient world.
Jesus meets him and brings release to him, for which he has not asked. By the end of the story we find the man calm, clothed and sitting before Jesus in the manner of a disciple. The presence of Jesus is so powerful that at the very sight of him the demon realizes that the game is over. The man expresses surrender by his exclamation, “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High. I beg you don’t torment me.” This is a partially humorous comment coming a it does from one who has already been tormented for years by a demon.
Knowledge of the demon’s name was a tool of trade for the exorcist. But here the conversation is between Jesus and the man who is possessed. He replies “Legion.” Not just many but a Roman Legion of about 6,000 men. Thus, we have a symbol of disruption and oppression caused by occupation of the land by the invading Roman force. In Jesus the power released by the counter reign of God is a superior force.
Consequently, the fury and the power of evil forces runs amok amongst a herd of pigs which again adds to the humor of the story. Pigs do not form herds and there are overtones of reference to the constabulary. The swine are eventually driven off a cliff into the lake where they are destroyed.
The word gets around about what Jesus has done. The city folk were terrified by the mere knowledge of these events. So, Jesus is invited to leave town.
The one who was possessed has now assumed the role of evangelist declaring God’s gracious deliverance wherever he goes. God is not left without a witness. First and foremost this has been a story about God and what God is doing in this world. This early evangelist to the gentiles finally got it right.
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