He lives among the dead. Naked, crazed, violent, desperate, driven. He’s the crazy one, not right in the head. His people do not know what to do with him, so it is a relief when he flees to the tombs and stays there, tormented and alone. Forgotten.
Who knows how he had come under the power of these demons? Perhaps he had actually invited them in himself. Perhaps they had simply seen his weakness and seized it. We only know that he is there, dying with the dead. Day by day he cries out, and no one listens. Day by day he cuts himself, and no one seems to care.
He stands upon the shore of the sea, still marveling at what he saw. A furious storm howling around him like his own torments, hurling waves over the rocks. He had been driven out into that storm, had stood there letting it lash him, wishing it would swallow him up and end it all.
A sudden swoosh, like a flash of something forgotten, and the storm vanished. Disappeared. Calm settled over the sea in quiet stillness. Stars blazed overhead. He felt the power, and fear and hope surged up as the war within his soul grew frenzied.
Now he stands, watching the speck in the distance become a tiny boat that moves ever closer. He waits. The powers in him pulse with fear. His own heart, so long a prisoner, beats hard.
He does not know the Man, but the spirits in him recognize the Son of God. They throw him down in terror at those holy feet. They beg.
The Man speaks, his body jerks, and suddenly his soul is as calm as the untroubled sea. He is still. He is free.
He doesn’t even notice the disciples staring slack-jawed at the thousands of pigs squealing and hurling themselves into the water. He looks into the eyes of his Savior, who looks right back with a smile on his face. This Man sees straight into his broken soul and doesn’t flinch away.
The people come running. They see the man they feared, sitting still and calm, and they see a whole herd of pigs floating away in the sea.
They are terrified.
They don’t know who this Man is, only that he has just destroyed their livelihoods and won over one they had learned to fear and hate. And just as the demons begged to be released from this powerful presence, they beg him to leave. No questions asked. Just go.
Sometimes our healing takes different forms. Sometimes it happens all at once; in one glorious moment, the storm within us evaporates. Sometimes it looks like everything we hung our hopes on rushing down the hill, away from us, and plunging into the sea.
I wonder what would have happened if those people had asked Jesus to stay. If they had just heard his voice, listened to what he had to say. If they had stepped through the fear of the sudden unknown and asked.
What are you doing here, Jesus?
And yes, why the heck did you just destroy our pigs? And what do we do now? And why is this crazy man suddenly sane, and what is that light in his eyes?
I wonder what he would have said. Where he would have led them. What wonders he might have done, and how their lives might have changed.
But they were too afraid. And instead of laying hold of the gift that was right there—right there!—they fled from it. They sent it away.
The King of the Universe had just sailed to their shore, and they asked him to leave. They preferred the safety of their grazing pigs to the miracle of the healed wretch.
The life he calls us to is always better than the one he calls us to leave behind. If he drowns your herd of pigs, you’d better believe that’s what you needed. Maybe it’s the only way to get rid of the demons in your life. Maybe it’s the only way to be free. How will you know unless you listen?
You have to wonder about a city that has a man possessed by thousands of demons. You have to wonder about a people who would send away the Man that others were flocking to see. It must have been a place full of darkness. A people full of fear.
What is the story of this man whom Jesus healed? How did he come to be in such a desperate situation? Did anyone in that place still know him as the man he had once been? Did anyone still love him?
For so long he had lived without love. He had lived with the dead, waiting for death himself. When he looked into the face of Jesus, he saw love that set him free. He saw the joy it brought Jesus to do this. He saw peace, power, compassion.
He saw hope.
Surely anyone who came from such darkness and who then looked into that face and saw the truth of Jesus would never want to leave him, would beg to stay with him forever, just as that man did.
But behind that man stood a host of people just like him. They may not have been demon-possessed, but they came from the same world, the same influences.
They had also seen the man in his raving. They themselves had bound him with chains and watched him break those chains in madness. They had seen his demons. They knew who he was.
They knew his secrets. His shame. His nakedness.
Who wouldn’t want to get as far away from that as possible?
And while the healed man was looking at Jesus, they were looking at a heap of dead pigs.
Though they may have stood in judgment, they were imprisoned in the same darkness. They needed the light; they just didn’t know it.
But Jesus knew it, and he sailed right into their lives and upended everything with a single word. He wasn’t about to let them go now. They were too afraid to listen to Jesus, but maybe they would listen to one of their own.
“Let me come with you,” the man begged.
Jesus shook his head, smiling gently, and pointed at the people watching from a safe distance away. “They need me. And you can show them.”
He must have looked a little desperate at that point. Me? Stay in this place? Among these demons? With the people who hated and feared me?
“Tell them what I have done for you. Show them the way.”
Sometimes following Jesus means going back home. It means watching everyone else sail away and standing there alone, wondering what comes next. Then you follow that well-known path back among the people who gawk at you in suspicion. You go back into the place of your death and you open your heart to those who have seen your deepest shame.
Jesus knew that man had everything he needed. He had been through death and found life.
And it seems the man knew it too, because he obeyed. He went back and told everyone what had happened. He told them of his shame and of his healing. And the people marveled. They wondered about this man Jesus. And just maybe, as the man lived among his own and they saw the change was real, just maybe they began to seek this Jesus too.
From the archives