A few days ago, the Gospel reading for the Morning Office was Mark 5: 1-20. Anyone who is Christian will know what it is about when I say that it is the story of the Gaderene demoniac. For those who might not know, this is the story of a man who somehow had wound up with a legion of malevolent spirits living within himself. The story gives no indication of why or how he found himself in this lamentable plight, only that it had severe repercussions for him.
Mar 5:3 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:
He lived in a graveyard, away from family, and friends he may have once had. He lived among the dead, an appropriate place, for his life as such, was a kind of living death. The last part of the sentence is telling. Why would he need to be bound? I surmise that it was because he behavior was out of control, no matter in what situation in which he found himself. Perhaps he was given to fits of uncontrollable rage – for demons are filled with rage and malice – expressing himself by blasphemies, throwing of objects, or physically attacking others. Whatever his actions, he was persona non gratia in the town from which he had come, and all attempts to bind him had met with failure. Thus he was hounded out to the graveyards where he spent his life.
Mar 5:4 Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.
Mar 5:5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
His violent and unsociable behavior was not restricted to others. The demons within drove him to commit acts of violence against his own body. This is common in situations of demonic possession. The hatred and malice of the demonic world would be all to glad to express itself in the utter destruction of every human being on the face of this earth – and the more agonizing, the better. I cannot say for sure what percentage of destructive behaviors in our world today are demonic and what percentage are merely human stupidity, but I cannot image that this:
to be anything less than the handiwork of a malevolent spirit. So are a high percentage of the numerous addictions which plague our world – from sexual, drug, and alcohol, to the more respectable lusts for money, power, and prestige. There is a host of enslaving passions which keep human beings from being what they were created to be – joyful children of God, created in His image and free to love others.
The story of the Gaderene demoniac is a familiar story to me, having heard it in many sermons and gone through it as part of reading the Bible. Yet the other day, something came to my attention at the very end of the story. For some reason, as I read the narrative of this man who had experienced such a stunning deliverance from the powerful forces which enslaved him, the thought came to my mind of how ecstatic he must have been to have been freed from the passions which had driven him for years.
Mar 5:15 And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.
I can relate to this in a deeper and more powerful way than the average person, for in my teen years to my early twenties, I was driven by impulses and passions I could not control. I could easily have become the tattooed person in the above picture. My life was, as many other addicts have expressed it, completely out of control.
It is incomprehensible to the average person what it is like to wake up one morning and realize that for the last three weeks, you have not been driven by desires you did not understand and that deep within, you knew were warped and immoral. The visual distortion and psychological ravages of my LSD-induced mental breakdown were gone, along with the despair that I would never be normal again. On a snow-covered December day in 1972 I stood on the beach in Virginia Beach, Virginia and looked out on a world that had changed from dark and foreboding to bright and clear with promise for the future. The world was fresh and new, and a peace reigned in my heart that has continued to grow over the years. Like the man from the Gadarenes, in the depths of my gratitude, I wanted to follow Jesus anywhere:
Mar 5:18 And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him.
The word “prayed” is not a good translation. The Greek expresses a fervent desire, a deep, longing passion to be with Jesus, to follow Him wherever God’s will might take them together. This verse and the next stood out to me as I read. Can you see with me the worshiping love in the eyes of the Gadarene for the One who had delivered him from the nightmare in which he was trapped? Do you hear his voice, filled with deeply impassioned pleas to be allowed onboard the ship with Jesus and the disciples. Look at how he prostrates himself before the One he has in an instant come to love and wish to give his whole life. Here in this place remains only the bitter memory of days and years of isolation, torment, and self-destruction. What lies ahead is a future with One who loves him in a manner he has never to this day known. Surely this love will let him go forth with Him.
But Jesus does not:
Mar 5:19 Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.
Do you hear the love in Christ’s voice? I close my eyes and I see Jesus gently kneel down to the prostrate figure, begging to be allowed on the ship to go with his beloved Master, touching him with the hand of love and tenderly but firmly saying, “No. I need you to go tell your family, your friends, and your town the great things that the Lord has done for you.” He lifts the formerly-possessed man to his feet, looks him in the eye, and tells him, “You will do far more good than you realize if you do this for Me.”
It is the hardest thing the Gadarene has ever had to do, but how can he deny the request of the One who has given back to him his very life?
At the end of Peter Jackson’s wonderful film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Gandolf is about to board a ship which will take him from the Hobbits. Suddenly the remaining group are informed that Frodo will not be staying, but instead leaving with Gandolf. What follows is a very touching scene as the hobbits bid an sorrowful farewell to one of their number who is so deeply loved by them. Pay attention to the final hug between Sam and Frodo. The intense, passionate embrace between these dearest of friends is what I imagine when I think of the Gaderene bidding farewell to the Lord with a kiss on Christ’s cheek and tears in his eyes (this is a common expression of friendship for men in the Middle East). With one last look and nod of the head, he turns to fulfill the great commission he has personally been given.
Mar 5:20 And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.
After finishing the last verse, it occurred to me a way in which the Lord may have used his act of obedience. In a short time, Christ would be crucified, buried, and resurrected from the dead. When the news of this arrived in Decapolis, the Gaderene would be a living testimony, more powerful than mere words, that this Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Master over all spirits and flesh, the awaited Messiah.
“Yes, this Jesus is the man who freed me. He is our all-powerful Messiah. Do you remember what I was when you drove me from the city? He is my Lord and Savior and I believe He has risen from the dead.”
That I understand also. I couldn’t wait to tell anyone who would listen to the story of how the Lord had made my life whole. I actually made quite a pest of myself, looking for any opportunity in a conversation or crowd to tell people about my experience of God’s grace. In gratitude I have tried to follow the Lord who delivered me from my addictions and gave me my life back.
Why is this story so appropriate for me today? Because now I find myself in a place I did not foresee and from which, had I been given foreknowledge of this destination, I would have gone in the other direction – as fast as I could. But inasmuch as I firmly believe there are no accidents in God’s providence, I know I am here, as uncomfortable as it may be, for some divine purpose which I cannot see. I spent a year in agony after being betrayed by those who should have been close friends and mentors to me. How often I had to pray “Not my will, but thy will be done.” I may not come to see the results of my struggling to obey God’s will, but I am determined to believe that despite the hardships I am facing now, good will come some day. And on days that are especially difficult, I am determined to continue to go to Confession for my failures, then once again take up the cross I have been given and walk in obedience.