The Gadarenes had a problem.
Well, no. They had two problems—two demon-possessed men, “exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way” (Matthew 8:28). They lived in the tombs of the area, a hazard to travelers and residents alike, and there was nothing the locals could do about it.
They’d certainly tried. Mark and Luke focus only on one of the possessed men, and they note that “no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:3-5). Luke adds that this man had “had demons for a long time. And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs” (Luke 8:27).
If you’re on the tourism committee for Gadara, that’s a problem. “Come to Gadara! We have great views, and also there’s a naked man with superhuman strength living in our graveyard! You’ll probably be fine!”
Forget the tourism committee—if you’re anyone in Gadara, even just a traveler, that’s still a problem. And this had been going on for, as Luke noted, “a long time.” That probably means years, not months. Mark said he had “often been bound with shackles and chains.” The people of Gadara had been trying to solve this problem for quite a while, and they just couldn’t—which is why what happens next is so perplexing.
Jesus and His disciples have just crossed the Sea of Galilee, and immediately they’re confronted by these two men. One of them—the man Mark and Luke focus on—is so filled with demons that they collectively refer to themselves as “Legion” (Mark 5:9; Luke 8:30).
Not a problem for Jesus. He casts them out, but the demons make a strange request: they want to be able to go and possess a herd of pigs grazing on the hillside. “And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea” (Mark 5:11-13).
[FUN BUT IRRELEVANT FACT: Did you know that, because of this Bible story, the English language gained the word “Gadarene”? It’s an adjective that means, “Involving or engaged in a headlong or potentially disastrous rush to do something.” So that’s pretty cool.]
I’m not exactly sure why Jesus allowed that to happen. It’s not hard to imagine why the demons asked for it—just another opportunity to cause mayhem and destruction—but Christ’s reason for acquiescing isn’t quite as clear. Maybe it’s because pigs are unclean meat, and they were obviously being raised as food. Maybe it’s something else. I don’t know; we’re not told.
Whatever the reason, it got the townspeople’s attention: “So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind” (Mark 5:14-15).
There was their problem. Solved. Christ had fixed in a matter of minutes what they had been burdened with for years. The crazy man who couldn’t be chained, who roamed the tombs, naked and howling—that man was sitting calmly, clothed and in his right mind.
“And they were afraid” (Mark 5:15).
Not grateful. Not excited and rejoicing.
The herdsmen repeated the story and “told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine” (Mark 5:16). And then comes the perplexing part: “Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear” (Luke 8:37).
When the Gadarenes saw what Christ was capable of, they panicked. They came face-to-face with the Son of God, the Being with the power to change their world forever, and they said, “Please leave.”
Why? Jesus had just performed an incredible miracle—and one they desperately needed, at that!
…But He had also been indirectly responsible for a herd of 2,000 pigs charging to their deaths. It was probably a lot to take in for the locals. They were probably wondering, “If this guy stays, what else might change?”
And to me, that’s a huge lesson we can learn from the Gadarenes. When Jesus comes into our lives, He comes with the power to change things. To help us overcome things we’ve been wrestling with for years. The difficulty for us is that He doesn’t just change the things we want Him to change. He changes the things we need Him to change, whether we like it or not.
The Gadarenes probably would have been ecstatic if Christ had exorcised the demon-possessed men and then let them keep their herd of pigs—but it didn’t work like that. It doesn’t work like that for us, either. He isn’t just going to fix the problems we don’t like and let us keep the ones we do like.
Following Christ means being transformed (Romans 12:1-2). It’s an intensive process and, like the Gadarenes, it can be a terrifying one if there are some things we’re not quite ready to lose.
Paul knew the secret. He knew that following in Christ’s footsteps would mean loss and sacrifice and difficult moments, but that didn’t stop him: “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him … that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).
The Gadarenes were afraid of what might happen if Jesus stayed with them, but we don’t have to be. When we understand the destination our Lord and Savior has in mind, it’s a lot easier to part with the rubbish that’s in our way.
Until next time,