Driving Jesus Out of Town
All three synoptic Gospels contain an account of the deliverance of men possessed by demons in an area referred to as Gadarene or Generasene. (Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26) Matthew writes of two men and emphasizes the response of the swine herders and the townspeople:
When Jesus came to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. They cried out, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?
Some distance away a herd of many swine was feeding. The demons pleaded with him, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go then!” They came out and entered the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned.
The swineherds ran away, and when they came to the town they reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district. (Matt. 8:28-34)
A similar account is offered by Mark. (Mark 5:1-20) focuses on one man. It contains more details of this encounter between heaven and hell, as it was played out in the way of life of this tragic demoniac. The torment he endured was so severe that he lived in abject loneliness and fear, dwelling in tombs.
The evil controlling power which they asserted over his freedom was so intense that the man could not even be contained by fetters and chains. Mark also gives us greater detail of the ongoing relationship between the man and the Lord after he was set free by the power of God. Finally freed from the torment of demons, he sought to follow after Jesus as a disciple.
Instead, he was commissioned by the Lord to share the Good News throughout the entire region:
Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decap′olis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled.
I want to focus our attention on the response of the neighbors, to draw some insights which might help us cultivate our own response to the Lord’s action in in our lives. After all, He has been raised and is still among us.
The Neighbors Wanted Jesus Gone
This man’s dramatic deliverance should have been a cause for great rejoicing by his neighbors. The proper response would have been a celebration and a decision to turn away from the disordered appetites and sin in their own lives. Instead, they drove Jesus out of their neighborhood.
Have you ever wondered why?
There are reflections in the Christian tradition as to why. Some suggest the neighbors may have responded in this manner due to their commercial concerns. They note that pigs are involved in this account. They suggest the probability that these were gentiles in this region, after all they were involved in pig farming. The neighbors had probably lost substantial profits as a direct result of this entire affair. After all, the demons went into the animals and 2,000 of them ended up drowning — driven by the evil spirits into the sea. They then derive from all of this a suggestion that it was a disordered love of financial profit which blinded them to the presence of heaven breaking into this tormented man’s life.
Certainly, a disordered approach to economic matters can blind us to seeing the Lord at work in our own lives. That may give us insight as to why they were blinded to the wondrous works of Jesus. It also cautions us concerning our own approach to proper engagement in commerce.
Even His Home Town Wanted Him to Leave
The account of the deliverance of the demoniac always reminds me of the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. After returning from the desert experience where He confronted and overcame the temptations of the devil, “empowered by the Spirit,” (Luke 4:14) Jesus, the Living Word, began to teach in their synagogues.
It was in Nazareth, the synagogue of his youth, where we read of a similar reaction to the neighbors of the man who was delivered from the legion of demons. The neighbors who reacted to this incident were Jewish. They were not concerned about commerce in this encounter. After Jesus read a selection taken from the Prophet Isaiah, he broke open for his neighbors its deeper meaning. He suggested that it was fulfilled in Him. (Luke 4:14-21)
After initially “speaking highly of Him,” these neighbors realized where he was from. They began to question their initial response. They succumbed to pettiness and gave way to the proclivity to sin which is a part of the human condition. In this instance, they succumbed to the root of all sin, the cardinal sin of pride.
They wondered how this fellow, from a carpenter’s family, could purport to understand the deeper meaning of the great Hebrew prophet Isaiah — and then have the audacity to claim that He was its fulfillment. They took umbrage at his response to their lack of faith implied in the reference he used to the widow and leper — of which they were quite familiar — in his rebuke of their behavior.
So, they drove him out of their neighborhood. They became so blinded by their disordered emotional reactions to the manifestation of heavenly power that they actually tried to throw Him off of a cliff! They lost the great treasure, the gift of an encounter with God Incarnate — and all that it could have entailed.
What is Common to Both Stories?
What is common to both stories is that each group of neighbors encountered the Lord and witnessed the manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Yet, they not only rejected all that could have been theirs if they had responded appropriately, they gave in to their own disordered emotional response patterns and sinned. In doing so, they became blinded to the glory of God as it was fully revealed in Jesus Christ and missed the opportunity for their own deliverance and liberation.
We can hear or read these Gospel stories on so many levels. That is part of the reason why the Scriptures are such a great treasure. They need to be read, re-read, prayed over, and read again and again and again. I suggest we take these two Gospel accounts as an invitation to ask ourselves a sobering question: Where are we refusing to allow Jesus into our own lives? Where are we, in effect, driving Him out of our own neighborhood?
Remember, Jesus wants to dwell with us. He wants to commune with us. (Revelation 3:20) He has promised He would be with us. Walking with Jesus is not “life as usual.” Powerful things happen when He is around. But we dare not cast Him away. Let us not fear and let us trust Him and abide in Him.