(Monday’s study on Mark 4:33-41 was somehow lost in the internet “cloud” and will be redone and sent on Monday, December 4.)
Tuesday/Wednesday Bible Study on the Gospel of Mark 5:1-13
On this day, may you be the recipient of, and the bearer of lovingkindness in all the places in which you find yourself.
Good morning. Yesterday I spent the day sleeping and not feeling very good after my covid vaccine on Monday. So, here we are this morning moving into the fifth chapter of Mark. This is a long passage, but it covers several important truths for us. First: What about Mark's frequent use of the word “immediately”? Second: What about the issue of demon possession? Is it mental illness, or is it real? Third: What about this herd of several thousand pigs who are disposed of at the command of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Let's tackle the first of these questions about this passage in Mark. Mark's frequent use of the word “immediately” tells us a great deal about the approach which Jesus was taking when he approached the people. His entrance into the Gadarenes was intentional. He knew that He was needed quickly for the sake of this man who was hiding in the tombs, being self-abusive, and out of control. It is almost as if Jesus leaps from the boat as it hits the shore, to head out to the tombs to encounter this man. Usually, the first one out of any boat is the one who is going to keep the boat steady for others to get out. Here, we find Jesus unwilling to wait for that to happen. He may have even stepped out into the water rather than wait for the landing to take place quietly and slowly. So, we know that it is Mark's sense of Jesus, that He knows there is limited time in His life to get everything done that he wants to get done. That means moving quickly from ministry encounters to other encounters that are equally important for the Kingdom Work. Of course, the Gadarenes are not in Jewish territory. They are in the land of the Gentiles, it is surprisingly obvious that this possessed man knows Jesus, and with some degree of sanity asks for His help.
This brings us to the next question. Is this demon possession a case of mental breakdown, or is it something much more common in Christ's time? I think that we could go either way on this issue. We all know that people deal with mental health crises in their lives quite frequently. This man may have been witness to so many atrocities as the legions of the Roman empire conquered this land, that is suffering from far more than PTSD. He has had a nearly complete mental breakdown. We all know about the mental health issues with which the members of the military return home after serving in places where terrible experiences fill their thinking every day. If this was the case, then Jesus is working to help this man see how the power of God's presence can rid him of this mental crisis, causing the herd of pigs to rush to their deaths in the water, and along with them those things which have brought this man to ask Christ for His help. In our time, we would call this man's health crisis psychosomatic. All as real to him as it could be, and as devastating to his mental condition. So, Jesus' overt action causes the man to be healed. But what about the other possibility? This man may really be possessed. If you have any doubt of this reality, look around you at the inherent evil which in our time is so frequently exhibited by those who would do harm to others, and also to themselves with no explanation for their sense of hatred and anger in the world of people. We should all know that the Jews were certain that evil was lying in wait for them at every turn. And here is Jesus entering one of the most likely places where evil would be waiting, a cemetery at night. But remember, He rushes from the boat to get to this man who so desperately needs Him, confident in His omnipotence. For you and me, we need to know with confidence that Jesus is present with us to bring us healing from the possession of our mind because of life experiences, or to come to our need if we have been overcome by an evil that moves us to harm others with no remorse. Christ is sufficient in the face of all of this.
Our next question about the pigs being destroyed might take us to Christ harming innocent animals. I don't have a solution for you on this one. For the Jews, pigs were considered, and still are today, unclean animals because of their split hooves. But we have all encountered the story of Charlette's Web and Wilbur, the radiant pig. In our world, we do not view pigs with any negativity. In fact, you could buy a pig on the ELCA's Global Barnyard site to give to a family or community which would greatly benefit from such a gift. For me the biggest issue is that we may well object to what Jesus does here. It seems cruel. But where are we when it comes to those homeless camps around the city, or the truly filthy man on the median that I drive by every day? We must remember that one of the ongoing issues for the Jews from the time of the prophets was their unwillingness to care for the people in their midst. So, how are we doing? I weep with every Humane Society advertisement on the television, and there are appeals after appeals to care for abused animals, while we throw up our hands in despair over the probable cost to truly care for the homeless, and to feed the hungry, and to care for so many of these folks who are indeed mentally ill. Christ used that herd of pigs to bring healing to a hopeless case in the cemetery. As the Body of Christ, the Church, what are we doing to bring Christ ultimate gift of hope to all people through both our words and our deeds?
Thanks for being here with me today. I am your partner in Biblical Study and in humility before the Lord.
In Christ's love, Pastor Kim