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31. The Demonized Man of the Garasenes (Luke 8:26-39)
James J. Tissot, detail of 'The Swine Driven into the Sea' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.
"If it only helps one person, it will have been worth it," we piously say after one of our missions or outreach programs doesn't seem to have much effect. Inside we feel like a failure, but thinking about just one person makes us feel better. Denominational bean-counters and bishops may frown a bit, humph to each other, and mutter about "inefficiency in evangelism." The truth is, however, that one of Jesus' most famous missions was to reach a single, solitary man, and a pretty messed up man at that, the "crazy man" of the Garasenes. And Jesus left the area with only a single convert. Why?
Because all people, even messed up people -- especially messed up people -- are very precious to the Saving Man from Nazareth. Don't ever forget it! Jesus' disciples never did.
"26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, 'What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!' 29 For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. 30 Jesus asked him, 'What is your name?' 'Legion,' he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. 32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 'Return home and tell how much God has done for you.' So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him." (Luke 8:26-39, NIV)
The Region of the Garasenes (Luke 8:26)
Apparently the incident of the demonized man of the Garasenes follows closely on the heels of Jesus giving the Parable of the Soils. Jesus has been surrounded by huge crowds (8:4, 19). Soon after ("that day when evening came," according to Mark 4:35), Jesus says to his disciples, "Let's go over to the other side of the lake." That evening Jesus calms the storm (8:22-26), and the next morning, I would imagine, the bow of their boat crunches up on the rocky eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, a somewhat barren country inhabited by Gentiles.
Location of the Decapolis (larger map)
Luke describes it as "the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake (Greek antipera, "opposite") from Galilee." We are used to thinking of Galilee as a lake, but first Galilee should be seen as a district under the control of Herod Antipas. The district of Galilee was on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, with its borders at the Jordan River, both the north end where the Jordan enters the lake, and the south end where it flows out on its journey to the Dead Sea. On the northeast side of lake was the Tetrarchy of Philip, Herod Antipas' brother, and on the southeast side the Decapolis, a loose confederation of ten cities (deca, "ten" and polis, "city").
Exactly where the incident with the demonized man took place, we're not exactly sure. Early manuscripts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a variety of readings -- region of the Garasenes, Gadarenes, Gergesenes.266 As I drove around the Sea of Galilee in 1997, I looked to see where this might have taken place. The only location where steep cliffs are near the lake is by the modern village of Kursi, identified by Origen as the location of this incident. The ruins of a cliff town and a fifth century monastery are found nearby.
The Demonized Man from the Tombs (Luke 8:27, 29b)
The disciples have sailed across the lake, with a ferocious storm in the middle. Jesus calms the storm, and for the rest of the night the disciples are quiet. Who is this man that even the winds and water obey him?
By early morning they are across the lake, which is only about 7 miles wide (13 km.) at its widest point. But as Jesus steps ashore, all of a sudden, a wild man, buck naked, comes running towards him, and soon begins screaming at the top of his lungs. What a welcoming committee!
"When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs.... Many times [the demon] had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places." (8:27, 29b)
It doesn't take much spiritual acuity to realize that this man is in trouble, even before the disciples hear about his sad history of being chained up. There are no drugs to sedate him, no mental hospitals to confine him. Chains and a guard is all that is available in the first century, and that is considered humane. His townsmen have been trying to keep him from hurting himself -- and terrorizing the community. But their chains haven't succeeded. Like stories of people strung out on TCP that take several strong men to subdue, this man is uncontrollable.
But this is more than mental illness, as difficult as that sometimes is. There is clear demonic activity. As I explain in my article "Demonization and Deliverance in Jesus' Ministry" in the Appendix, our English word "possession" makes it seem like black and white, completely possessed or not-at-all. The Greek word sometimes used, however, is daimonizomai and probably should be translated "demonized." In this passage, the text describes the man as, literally, "having demons for some time." Some people have a small degree of demonization, perhaps a strong oppression or difficult temptation. Only a very few are so completely demonized that they no longer have any control of themselves. But the demonized man of the Garasenes is one of these few. For whatever reason, he has been almost totally taken over by demons.
Demonic Request for Mercy (Luke 8:28-29a)
"When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, 'What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!' For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man." (8:28-29a)
This tormented man begins to shout when he sees Jesus. But it isn't his voice that is speaking, but the voice of a demon speaking through his vocal system. I know this sounds weird, and it is, but I have heard this, and so have many others. When the demon seems to take over, the person's normal voice and personality can switch suddenly to that of the demon. It is as if the demon is "channeling" through the person. This switch is often recognizable, and sometimes pretty scary. It makes you quickly realize that you are dealing with a spiritual power, not a natural one.
In this case, the demon recognizes Jesus immediately. Jesus has not visited this area before, as far as we know, and it is unlikely that the demonized man has attended any of Jesus' meetings -- or he would have been delivered sooner. But Jesus is well-known in the spirit-world. His power is felt. His commands are obeyed. And he has commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. This evil spirit understands much better than the Pharisees and chief priests exactly who Jesus is -- "Son of the Most High God." When demons have shouted out who Jesus was in public meetings before this, Jesus has quickly silenced them (4:33-35, 41) so that their accurate, but demonically-inspired revelations don't discredit his ministry.
Now the spirit speaking through the demonized man is shouting at the top of his lungs, "I beg you, don't torture me!" The word translated "torture" is Greek basanizō, and can refer to the kind of torture or flogging that prisoners regularly received before they were questioned by the authorities.267 Jesus' command for the spirits to come out of the man is creating a tremendous amount of stress within him, spiritual stress. The demon has made its home in the man for many years, and is now being forcibly wrenched from his grasp on the man. The demon is in agony.
And so the demon begs Jesus for mercy. What an interesting scene -- a demon begging for mercy!
The Legion of Demons (Luke 8:30)
"Jesus asked him, 'What is your name?'
'Legion,' he replied, because many demons had gone into him." (8:30)
The legion was a Roman military unit of 5,000 to 6,000 soldiers. This doesn't mean that there were 5,000 to 6,000 demons inside the man (though the herd of 2,000 pigs drown themselves according to Mark 5:13), but is probably a figurative expression that corresponds to the demonized man's answer in Mark 5:9, "My name is Legion, for we are many." Here is a case of demonization by more than one evil spirit; Mary Magdalene is another famous case (Luke 8:2). Though ancient exorcism practice was to ask a demon's name to gain control over him, that doesn't seem to be Jesus' purpose. Ed Murphy, in his Handbook of Spiritual Warfare, observes, "What Jesus is doing is what most deliverance ministers do. He requests information from the demon to know better what is occurring in the life of the poor man."268
If you've can imagine being tormented by a single terrible sin or habit or thought, what would it be like to be bombarded by hundreds or thousands of them? The demons are pleading not be tormented, but think of the torment this man has suffered for years!
Terror of the Abyss (Luke 8:31)
"And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss." (8:31)
Notice that it is no longer a single demon speaking, but "they begged him...." The demons recognize Jesus' authority to command them (Greek epitassō), but seem to be terrified of the Abyss. In Greek the word abyssos means "abyss, depth, underworld."269 In classical Greek, abyssos is used for the depths of original time, the primal ocean, and the world of the dead. In the New Testament it is a prison for the antichrist (Revelation 11:7), scorpions (Revelation 9:33ff), and spirits (Revelation 9:1; 20:1, 3, 7).270 It is here that Satan is shut up for a thousand-year period, before he is released for a short time, and is finally thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:7-10).
The Herd of Pigs (Luke 8:30-33)
"A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned." (8:30-33)
When I read these verses, I think of the economic tragedy that the loss of 2,000 pigs represented to their owners. Why didn't Jesus just consign the demons to the Abyss and leave the pigs alone? To be fair to Jesus, we must recognize that Jesus didn't kill the pigs, the demons did. But why did he allow this? we wonder. Why? As is often the case -- even in life today -- we don't know why. The more useful question for disciples now -- and in Jesus' day -- is rather: What can I learn from this? The part the pigs play in the story suggests to us several things:
- Pigs, considered unclean by the Jews, would seem a fitting abode for unclean spirits.
- The demons fail to avoid being disembodied, since the pigs soon end up in the "deep" (as the KJV puts it) anyway.
- The drowning of the pigs demonstrates the awesome power and terror of demonic influence. In the light of 2,000 pigs destroying themselves, we shouldn't be surprised at the self-destructive history of the demonized man.
- The drowning of the pigs prevents us from our modern scientific tendency of passing off demonization as merely an archaic way of describing mental illness.
If we're to take this narrative seriously, we must conclude that Jesus believed in spirit entities that can afflict both human and animal bodies. Whether WE are willing to believe in them depends on whether we are more convinced by the shifting sands of modern psychological theory, or the teaching and ministry of Jesus. I believe that some of what we call mental illness today is caused by demonization. But I think it would be unfair to conclude that all mental illness is caused by demons.
The Townspeople's Request for Jesus to Leave (Luke 8:34-37)
"When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left." (8:34-37)
Neither the pigs' fate nor the economic loss to their owners is the saddest element of this story. Deeply troubling is their reaction to the now-cured demoniac who is now "sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind." He has been a bizarre fixture in their community for years. His self-destructive behavior and tremendous strength are legendary. His family has been both disgraced and pitied ever since he had been like this. But now that he is clothed and in his right mind, the townsmen act out of fear rather than wonder.
They have witnessed a miracle, but all they can see is the destruction of their property rather than a man set free. Luke is quite clear that this wasn't just a wealthy swineowner's rejection -- "All the people of the region asked Jesus to leave them." How very sad. The Savior who has come to save his own Jewish people is on their own soil for perhaps once in his lifetime, and they can't accept him but send him away.
But this, too, is true to life. When the Pharisees, law experts, and priests see Jesus threatening their cherished values, witnessing miracles does not change their hearts. Miracles only impel them to plot his destruction (6:11). In the Gospels, it isn't just Jews that reject Jesus, but all whose lifestyle is closed to what Jesus represents.
The Healed Man's Request to Stay with Jesus (Luke 8:38-39)
"The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 'Return home and tell how much God has done for you.' So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him." (8:38-39)
The delivered man has several reasons to want to go with Jesus.
- First and foremost, he knows Jesus loves him. Of all the people he has met, most have been afraid of him, and won't even come close. When he comes near the town, they run him off. But Jesus isn't afraid of him, and clearly loves him. He is where he belongs, sitting at Jesus' feet!
- Second, of course, Jesus is his rescuer, the one who has set him free. He owes everything to Jesus. He is eternally in his debt.
- Third, he now wants to soak up everything he can from this wonderful man. He is like a dry sponge wanting to saturate himself with Good News.
- And probably fourth, he expects that it'll be difficult for anyone in his hometown to really accept him fully. He'll always be followed by whispers and stories. Small towns are like that.
Jesus listens to the man's repeated plea.271 Then he tells the man something he doesn't want to hear, but something that is best. "Return home and tell how much God has done for you." Sometimes it's very tempting to go somewhere else to begin our life again where nobody knows our history. But in this man's case, his history culminates in the saving power of God. His townsmen knew how powerfully demonized he had been, and they are forced to contrast that with how free he is now. Wherever this man goes his whole life long, the story of Jesus' deliverance will be repeated again and again.
This formerly demonized man, in fact, is the witness Jesus leaves behind to proclaim the Good News to this Gentile territory. They have rejected Jesus out of fear, but they can't reject their townsman's testimony nearly so easily. Forever after he is a walking testimony in their midst.
There are a couple other factors involved, too, I believe. While the man had been demonized for years, he had developed many coping mechanisms that could have made some sense in that demonized state, but have no place among normal people. My own experience with deliverance tells me that people who are freed from demonic oppression are free, but not socialized. They need to be loved and gradually helped back to normalcy. This is an important role for the church -- not to make the bizarre feel at home, but to bring full healing to those who have been wounded. It is a process that requires patience. Jesus, I believe, knew that this Gentile ex-demonic wouldn't fit well with Jesus' mission to the Jews of Galilee and Judea. (Though Mary Magdalene was able to join Jesus' mission after having been delivered from severe demonization, 8:2.) The Garasene man's place is with his own people. They need him and he needs them.
A Disciple's View of the Incident
You are one of Jesus' disciples. You are on the boat as it pulls away from the Garasene shore, and you wonder: Why did Jesus bring us here to see this? What are we to learn? What does it mean? Jesus' disciples are processing the following:
- You have seen Jesus cast out demons before in his healing meetings, but never someone so completely overtaken by demonic power as this man. You realize that Jesus is no mere mortal. He can command thousands of evil spirits and they must obey him. In a single day you have seen Jesus calm the fierce winds that would have swamped the boat, and you have seen him deliver the worst of the worst. You are shaken by the awesome power you have seen.
- You realize that no one is beyond hope. Nothing is impossible with God. Jesus has stripped back the boundaries you have placed on your vision of human healing. There ARE no boundaries any more. For the rest of your life you'll recount this incident and remember that nothing is impossible to Jesus.
- You have seen how Jesus can love the man who so recently has been obsessed with the demonic. You see him clothed now and sitting at Jesus' feet. Jesus accepts him as a learner, and you see lived out in one more way Jesus' inclusive love for people. You won't be so quick to reject strange people after this. You'll see possibility rather than being put off by outrageous behavior.
- You know that Jesus has made a special trip all the way across the Sea of Galilee to help this one suffering soul. He doesn't wait for an invitation from hundreds, but he comes because he feels the anguish of one very lost and troubled man.
- You see Jesus give the man the shirt off his own back -- literally. The man who is naked, Jesus clothes.
Oh, maybe there was extra clothing in the boat, though I doubt it; they were travelling light. Or Jesus could have asked one of his disciples to give the man his cloak. But in Jesus I don't see a leader who casually orders his followers to make personal sacrifices he is unwilling to make. Rather he leads by serving (22:24-27).
Yes, the disciples have learned. In the rocking of the boat they are contemplating what they have seen and heard. As they look back to the shore behind them, they can see the man still waving, waving good-bye to Jesus.
And when the newest disciple can no longer see Jesus' boat in the distance, he finally stops waving. Tears are running down his cheeks into his beard. Yes, he feels sorrow at this parting. But more, these are tears of joy and love. And even though he can no longer see the boat, he lifts his hand one more time and waves once again. Then he turns, and begins to climb the steep bluff to the town in which he will live once more. He has begun anew, not following his own preferred future -- no. But in obedience to Jesus whom he now serves in love, he climbs up the hill to help his own people find freedom, a fitting beginning to a wonderful new life for the man once called Legion.
Lord, sometimes I am tempted to insulate myself from weird, filthy people. I don't want to deal with them. But you never flinched. You go out of your way to deliver the hurting and hopeless. Let me be like you. Let me have more faith in your power than my little scientific mindset can logically handle. Help me to love the unlovely. Help me to obey you, even when it goes against what I want to do. Help me. In your powerful name, I pray. Amen.
"Return home and tell how much God has done for you." (Luke 8:39a)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
You've probably met people who see demons behind every tree and rock. Let's not go there in our discussion this week. But let's not ignore what this text says to us about a subject most of us don't know much about. Be gentle and wise with each other, my friends.
- If we take this account seriously, what does it seem to teach us about demons? (Realize that our view of demons may be more influenced by sermons we have heard or movies we have seen than by the text of Scripture. Let's stick to the text here in Luke 8.)
- Why do we feel we need to apologize helping just one person like Jesus did on this occasion?
- What do we learn from the account about the pigs that we wouldn't have known if they hadn't been mentioned?
- Why did the healed man want to go with Jesus? Why didn't Jesus let him?
- Where did they find clothes to clothe the healed man, do you think? Why does the story mention the man's nakedness?
- How does Jesus react to the rejection of the townspeople of the Garasenes?
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 Gerasa, modern Jerash, is a city about 30 km. SE of the Sea of Galilee. Gadara, modern Um Qeia, is 5 km. SE of the lake. The traditional site is at Khersa on the lake side, in the vicinity of which are cliffs. Marshall (Luke, p. 337) concludes that the variations are attempts by later copyists to correct the original name, which they didn't recognize, with other nearby cities they did recognize. Josephus (Life, ix, 42) refers to the city of Gadara as possessing territory "which lay on the frontiers of Tiberias" (= the sea of Galilee), and its coins often bore a ship on them (Lohmeyer, 94).
 Basanizō, BAGD 134.
 Ed Murphy, The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare (Nelson, 1992), p. 282.
 Abyssos, BAGD 2.
 J. Jeremias, abyssos, TDNT 1:9-10.
 The Greek word translated "begged" is the common Greek word deomai, "ask" (BAG 175), but it is in the imperfect tense, suggesting continued action in the past, so that "begged" is a good equivalent. Deomai is also used in 8:28 where the demon begs Jesus not to send him to torment him. The word translated "begged" in the NIV is Greek parakaleō, "request, implore, appeal to, entreat" (BAGD 617).
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