The story of the Gergesa Demoniac (Mark 5:1-20) is one of my top three favorite stories in the Gospel of Mark. Because of its length, I will break the story into three parts.
Part 1 – the Context
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. Mark 5:1-5
After the storm, Jesus and the boys come to shore. Because the early manuscripts are unclear about the location, the most likely candidate for landing is Gergesa near Kursi (see the map above). It is located right on the shoreline “across to the other side” from Capernaum (Mark 4:35) and near the region of the Decapolis (see the above map). The closest city was Hippos, one of the two controlling cities of the Decapolis. NOTE: This is why I call him the “Gergesa Demoniac” instead of “Gerasene Demoniac.”
The Decapolis was the only region around the Sea of Galilee not governed by Jews. The Northeast was governed by Philip, King Herod Antipas’ brother, and the western half, Galilee, is governed by Herod himself. Although some Jews lived in the Decapolis area, the region’s government and worldview were predominantly Gentile. The text supports this because the herders tended pigs, not sheep and goats. Pigs are not kosher, so they would not be a mainstay of agriculture in a Jewish region. Note: Remember way back when I told you geography plays a major role in Mark?
The stage is set for Jesus’ encounter with a very troubled gentile (non-Jewish) man. This man lives among the dead, is aggressive, and very strong. He runs around like an animal, likely naked, howling and cutting himself. The text says he has an unclean spirit. What a set-up for a showdown!
I live 49 miles from Times Square in New York City. A guy like this is commonplace on the streets of NYC. Recently, one threw a woman in front of a subway train. It is clear that Jesus sees these people as being worth saving. Do we?
Please help us be your hands and feet and eyes and ears to see the troubled people around us. As repulsive and scary as they may appear, they are your children made in your image, and we must have compassion and mercy.
I pray in the name of the One who has mercy on me. Amen!