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Read, Mark and Learn – Day 12

We now begin longer, more detailed stories. The amount of detail in the stories indicates close proximity to eyewitnesses. Peter is most probably the source behind the story of this famous exorcism story. In the earlier exorcism stories Mark uses sparse and immediate language. The story is told in just a few sentences. By doing this he establishes the main point of the story: Jesus has authority over demons. It is the same with the healing stories. The story of Jesus healing Simon’s mother in law takes just a few short sentences.

Now Mark begins to tell the exorcism and healing stories in more detail. He wants to show us Jesus at work. These stories raise lots of problems, and it is because of the difficulties in the stories that they sound all the more authentic. When a story is neatly tied up with all the details fitting together perfectly we suspect that it is a story that is either a fiction or a true story that has been doctored. Stories from real life are as messy as real life. It is this “messiness” of some of the stories in the gospels which therefore bear witness to their authenticity.

Jesus and the disciples come straight from the excitement of the calming of the storm to this next dramatic story. No doubt Peter remembered the sequence of events clearly and related them to Mark. By crossing the sea they had come into the territory of the Gentiles. We know these people are not Jewish because the man lives in the cave tombs and the people herd pigs. Pigs were unclean to Jews. No Jew would touch a pig, neither would the live in tombs. The dead were unclean.

This chapter therefore also marks a shift is Mark’s gospel because Jesus is now ministering to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. So Mark teaches that this Son of God, this Lord of the Sabbath, this one who even the wind and the sea obey, is also the Lord of the Gentiles.

The demon possessed man was so strong he could not even be bound with chains. This is a much more violent case of demon possession. Remember the earlier demonic possession the man was actually in the synagogue. He was not the raving demoniac we see here. Mark is probably indicating that the problem of possession amongst the Gentiles was even worse than it was among the Jews. Remember this gospel is being written to the Christians in pagan Rome, so they will be very interested in how Jesus reacts to the Gentiles. The Gentile demon possessed man shows preternatural strength and a violent, raving tendency. Nevertheless, he prostrates himself before Jesus.

The next section is disturbing. Jesus identifies that there is a host of demons within the man and he allows them to go into the swine. This is not something a gospel writer would have made up. The details is so strange and mystifying. Why did the demons ask to go into the pigs, and why did Jesus allow them to?  We can only conclude that Jesus saw the pigs, as unclean creatures, to be worthy hosts for the demons.  By running off the cliff into the sea (which for Jews is the place of chaos and darkness) Jesus taught the lesson that the demons–those unclean beasts–would eventually go to the place of darkness and chaos where they belong.

Another interesting detail which could not have been made up is the way the people of the town reject Jesus. Mark seems to be hammering home the point that there are plenty of people who will see the marvelous acts of Jesus, but reject him. They are like the ones who cannot hear the parables and will be damned. Many will see miracles and rather than turn to Christ in repentance, will ask him to leave.

What are Mark’s main teaching points? The pagans see the amazing works of Christ, but they reject him just as many will. Nevertheless, many see his work and they are at least amazed and want to know more. Most of all, the man possessed by demons is now in his right mind. Jesus came all that way to save him, and so he comes to this world to seek and to save that which was lost–even though many will reject him.