and the people went out to see what had happened. they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
The story of the Gerasene Demoniac is filled with fear. The community is frightened of the possessed man. The demon that possesses the man is frightened of Jesus. And in today’s verses, the community in turn, is frightened of Jesus. It is interesting to notice that while this is a story of Jesus exorcising the demon from the man, both the demon and the community attempt to exorcise Jesus. The words given to the man to say by the demon when Jesus appears are obviously meant to influence Jesus to leave them alone. ‘Don’t torture me,’ they say. Then, even more obviously, the people plead for Jesus to leave them. They attempt to rid themselves of Jesus. One writer suggests that in this episode of the story, the demons have returned to take a second shot at ridding themselves of Jesus and maintaining control of the community and the man.
When we think about it, this reaction to Jesus is not all that unique. In Luke, after Jesus’ first sermon, some of the gathered crowd wishes to throw him from a cliff. In the story of the rich young man, when Jesus reveals that the young man must sell everything and give it to the poor in order to join him, the young man leaves. He cannot accept Jesus on these terms. Even Peter, when confronted by the fact that Jesus will go to Jerusalem to be crucified, argues, will not accept that this will happen. A strange phenomena reveals itself. That as humans, we are often more ‘comfortable’ in the brokenness that we experience than with the possibility of that brokenness being healed. Feeling powerless to change the experience of being broken (or to continue the metaphor from earlier, being possessed) we adapt to it, make peace with it.
Henri Nouwen writes, '“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”
Jesus many times has to say to his own disciples, ‘do not be afraid, have faith.’ Faith is newly defined for us in this way. It is not simply believing the proper doctrines or being optimistic that everything will turn out ok. It is the willingness to face the demonic, the broken in our lives, and in our communities and societies, to enter into that brokenness with the compassion of Jesus and trust that his presence can bring healing and restoration.
What about following Jesus frightens you the most?