Week 2: READ: Mark 5:1-20
The story of the exorcising of the demons from a man in the gentile area called the Decapolis is the third scene of an act tied together by their location: on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (See Appendix 2). In the first scene, Jesus gets into a boat on the sea so the crowds gathered around him on the shore can listen as he teaches about God’s kingdom in a series of teaching stories called parables, “the kingdom of God is like…” Jesus taught about the farmer sowing seed; the secret way seeds grow; and a little mustard seed (4:1-34). The second scene told the story of Jesus falling asleep in the boat at night following the long day of teaching. When a storm arose, the disciples awoke Jesus in fear and he rebuked the winds (4:35-41).
The details of the man possessed by the legion of unclean spirits are captivating. The place of the dead is an ancient symbol of great fear. It was here among the tombs that this crazed man had been bound by chains in an attempt to restrain him outside of the city. The evil within him was so strong that no shackles could contain him. He was wild and endangered himself by bruising his body with stones as he ran loose among the graves shouting in loud outbursts. This man had so many demons, it took two thousand pigs to host this legion of unclean spirits. There was no Hercules strong enough to recapture him.
So what do we do with this story in the twenty-first century? Walter Wink, in his book entitled Unmasking the Powers: the invisible forces that determine human existence, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986, distinguished between outer and inner personal demons as well as collective demonic activity. He defines inner personal demonic, By the inner personal demonic I mean a split-off or unintegrated aspect of the self which is not alien, but intrinsic to the personality, and which needs to be owned, embraced, loved and transformed as part of the struggle for wholeness…The biblical reference point for inner personal demons is not the stories of exorcisms, but Jesus’ instruction concerning inner evil:
Jesus said, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile…For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, (Mark 7:14-15, 21-23).
The way forward to integrate and pursue wholeness within oneself is not exorcism but rather finding God in the shadowy places of our person. It is as we receive the love, acceptance and forgiveness of God and apply it to ourselves that we move toward wholeness. Because God is with us in the darkest valley or the valley of the shadow of death, is not God also with us in the dark valley of murder, adultery, deceit, slander and pride? If we choose to live in the shadow of death and refuse God’s comfort, then God cannot lead us out of the valley to the table which God has prepared a cup that overflows in life. So too, if we choose to remain in the valley of shame and guilt over past sins, then God cannot lead us out to a table with dishes heaped and overflowing with forgiveness, healing and new life.
When it comes to collective evil, it does not take much recall to think of times when a group, or gang were enraged and rushed into action that brutalized one or more vulnerable senior citizens in public, raped a woman or went on a drive-by shooting spree. What causes “good kids” to turn on a dime and engage in blatantly hurtful, harmful, illegal and evil actions?
Wink refers to this as collective demonic activity: Our century has known some of the most bizarre and horrifying examples of collective possession in human history. Charles Manson, James Jones, Adolf Hitler – each tapped a deep longing in their followers to be cared for, to belong to a movement that gave their lives significance, to surrender themselves to the all-wise power of someone godlike. Indeed, the very essence of collective demonism is explicit and avowed idolatry of the leader. Collective demonism is the abdication of human answerability to God and the investment of a final judgement in a divinized mortal (ibid. p. 51).
The story of the man with the legion of demons in Mark 5 is an example of outer personal demons. While rare in our society today, it still happens: These seem to be relatively rare, and are most frequently the consequence of dabbling with the occult or deliberately playing host to alien (outside of yourself) spirits. Automatic writers, mediums, Satanists, and the manipulated manipulators of Ouija boards are often unable to disinvite the guest spirits that they have solicited (ibid. p. 58). It is to this form of possession that Jesus and his followers have engaged in the freeing activity known as exorcism.
Turning back to Mark 5, Jesus had just taught a large crowd about God and God’s kingdom all day, fell asleep on the boat during the night to deal with the crisis of a storm at sea and as he and his followers disembarked from the boat, Jesus is instantly met by the man with a myriad of demons. This is a spiritually conflicted meeting. Similar to the man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue in Capernaum (Mark 1:21-28), this man shouts out Jesus’ identity and pleads to not be tormented as he bows down before him (5:7). Jesus responds by speaking to the demons and asks their name to gain power over them and he commands them to leave this man.
Pigs are an unclean animal to Jews like Jesus and his disciples. The man who had the demons was a gentile (non-Jew) who lived in the region of the Decapolis, which means the ten cities of this region which had a greater gentile population on the East side of the Sea of Galilee (you can read more about the Decapolis in the Week 8 study). This man was a new creation when he was freed from his demons. He was so excited by what Jesus did for him that he wanted to join Jesus’ team. Despite his pleading, Jesus told him to go home and tell others what the Lord had done for him. This is exactly what he did. He proclaimed Jesus in the Decapolis.
I recently visited Gavin Christopherson at the Winnebago County jail. He was interviewed by WREX Channel 13 Rockford, Illinois news at 10:00 p.m. on Easter night (See: http://www.wrex.com/category/133164/video-landing-page?clipId=13254818&autostart=true). Having known Gavin for about a year and a half, I saw a different man on April 10, 2017. While Gavin said that he has always had faith in God, I pressed him and asked what happened to cause him to be the strong man of faith I saw in front of me? Gavin said that when he was arrested this time he was on heroin and methadone, a drug prescribed by a physician to help him get off heroin. The dual withdrawal in jail (cold turkey) caused him to have a couple of seizures in his cell at which time he was transported to the hospital where he had more than ten seizures. Gavin said, “At one point I flat lined for nine seconds and I was brought back with the help of paddles. It was my near death experience, together with the power of God that turned my life upside down.”
Gavin graduated fifth in his high school class at Harlem High School. He received a scholarship to the University of Illinois and was a Pre-Med major. The future looked bright for this charming and smart young man. In speaking with Gavin in jail, it is his desire now to help any young person steer away from or get help to get off of drugs. So what happened in Gavin’s story to move from pursuing a career in medicine to an addict?
No one can ever say that Gavin is not motivated and a hard worker. Gavin had a 4.75 GPA and started a job at age 15. Together with some of his co-workers they began to drink alcohol during breaks for the fun of it. Next came smoking pot with some friends and then doing coke and ecstasy with a family member. By the summer after his high school graduation, Gavin was doing cocaine every day and ecstasy on the weekends. Because sleep became difficult, he tried heroin just once – but then liked it.
Freshman year at U of I was a rollercoaster ride. Gavin at first did quite well with his classes despite using. As the year dragged on however, his grades hit the rocks because he overslept classes. He transferred to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois and his addictions followed him to his condo. In 2008, he had a bad arrest for burglary and forgery. Gavin was bonded out and went into detox.
In 2010 he was again arrested this time for having a “controlled substance.” Gavin completed a 37 day inpatient program. He was clean for over a year (2010-2011) when he started using again. In September 2012, Gavin was charged a second time for possession and bailed out. So began the road of injecting heroin. He was in and out of treatment over the next couple of years. Jail time hit at the start of 2014 for a month and a half. It was back to treatment, half-way houses to finish out 2014. In 2015, Gavin spent six months in prison as the addictive lifestyle continue to unravel.
Upon Gavin’s release from prison, he was clean for the next eighteen months. In May of 2016 he got married and moved to Chicago where he worked long and hard hours while his wife went to school. Old addictions look for the right time to make their return. By July 2016, heroin came back into the picture. After a few arrests, Gavin finds himself back in jail since his arrest on March 1, 2017. While it is unclear where Gavin is going to finish his time, what has become clear is the fact that he is a new man in Christ Jesus.
Faith was a spotty thing at best for Gavin before this near death experience. Prayer was his go to anytime he ran into trouble. Once he got out of trouble however, it was back to the old routine. Gavin decided to read the whole Bible when he was in prison. “The difference between then and now,” Gavin explained, “is that when I first read it I read it much like history or literature. Now when I read, it comes alive and it speaks right to me,” he added. Gavin’s life has done a 180 degree turn. He is not only soaking up the faith, he is talking about it with others in jail. Gavin has become a force for God in the jail. It reminds me of the story of the Apostle Paul who did jail time and witnessed to the Lord as well. God is able to give new life to anyone who is open to be changed. Gavin praises God for the new man he has become in Christ!
- If you were a part of this story, where do you see yourself?
- When the people of the village came out to see the man Jesus had freed from demons, it says they were afraid. They begged Jesus to leave them. Why?
- How do you think this man who had a reputation fit as he went back to his community? Why do you think Jesus did not allow him to join his disciples?
- What do you take away from this story?